I was recently told I don’t “understand racism”...
While I do realise it is a very real and complicated issue, and systemic racism has resulted in entire groups of people continuing to live lives where it’s almost impossible to improve circumstances, it did give me pause to think about whether I actually understood racism.
WATCH: The problem with just saying 'I'm not racist.' Post continues below.
My educated, English-speaking, grandfather wasn’t allowed into Australia despite the fact his (paler) cousins were allowed in the 1950s. Thirty years later, times still hadn’t changed much. In the late 1980s my highly qualified and educated dad was told in an interview that they thought he’d be white because of his name and accent, and was advised the staff wouldn’t be “comfortable” with a “brown boss”.
I was a teenager and with my mum when someone shouted, “Go home black bitches!” at a bus stop, and at high school, I often heard, “You’re smart because you’re Asian” (No, I’m smart because I study and I love reading).
I’ve been called a “n*****”, an “uppity brown bitch”, an “Asian cow” and permutations of the same, at various times by various men through my 20s and 30s — usually because I wouldn’t dance with them, have a chat, date them or let them buy me a drink (doubtless shades of misogyny also inherent there).
I’ve been told, repeatedly, and throughout my life, to “go home”, that I “speak English well” and asked if my maiden name was the name I was born with (apparently it’s a “Westernised” one). And let’s not forget the times I’ve had to listen to comments about “those migrants” or “those Asians”.
I’ve had to listen to my six-year-old tell me about how some classmate told her they weren’t allowed to “go to black or brown peoples houses” (said child is now 11, so not the distant past). I’ve also had people ask me to bring food from “my country” for school bring-a-plate events.
And just last week, I had a delightful human being say to me, “Don’t yous read English?” when I accidentally went to the front of a line (Yes. Yes I do, and I obviously speak it a damn sight better than “yous”).
These are just a few of the countless times where I’ve been on the receiving end of racial bigotry, sometimes vehemently intentional, and others more insidiously unintentional. So yes, despite all that (and the sociology unit on Imperialism and race relations I studied at university) I guess I have no real concept or understanding of racism...