explainer

'I've started sharing my experiences of racism in Australia. People are horrified.'

I watch the news and even though I’m sat in my living room in a quiet suburb in Sydney, I see my own experiences in an echo chamber and I feel decades of suppressed racial trauma bubble to the surface.

The years of systematic oppression and racism in America reached its tipping point in recent weeks with the inflammatory police call against Christian Cooper and the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. As people added their own commentary to these events, I was suddenly inundated with comments like ‘This isn’t our problem’ and ‘What has this got to do with Australia?’ across my social media, despite Australia having a long history of police brutality and custodial deaths of Indigenous people.

To instil the everyday realities of what many black people face around the world, I did not share a news story, a link to a resource or a hashtag. I decided to share my own personal experience of racism. And people were horrified.

WATCH: Roxie Washington’s emotional statement about the death of George Floyd. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC

I am third generation Caribbean black British; my mother’s side is Jamaican and my dad’s side is Dominican. I moved to Australia six years ago and when I fell pregnant with my now 18-month-old daughter, my husband and I moved to a quiet suburb in rural Sydney filled with families and good schools in the hopes of exciting new beginnings as a family of three.

A few weeks ago, I took my usual route through the park as my daughter slept in her pram. It was an ordinary, slow day in the quiet slumber of social distancing where many of us had adjusted to a new-normal.

As I walked along the pavement, I noticed a van slow down next to me. I took my headphones off but looked straight ahead and my heart started to race. Now the car was right next to me moving slowly, I looked over and saw three white men in their mid-twenties laughing and talking loudly and despite being a usually calm person, I felt my anxiety rise.

Then I felt something hit me in the chest and I realised they had thrown something at me, I felt it again and again. By this stage I had turned my pram away and thrown my body over the closed hood to try and shield my sleeping child. There really are no words to describe what it feels like to think your child is in danger, the helplessness sent a wave of terror over my whole body like nothing I have ever felt before.

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I tried to process what was going on as I buried my face downwards, terrified that they might hit her with something heavy or get out of their car and harm us. I looked down and saw an empty bottle, an apple core, and some orange peel – I realised they were throwing trash at me. The leftover remnants of what looked like a lunch break. I looked at them and felt absolute rage as soggy grapes bounced off my pram hood. Then in anger induced clarity I heard their collective chants: they were making monkey noises at me. An innocent black woman taking her child for a walk. I lunged towards their van, before they sped off.

I am no stranger to the brutality of racism; I’ve suffered the full spectrum from microaggressions of managers in the workplace to getting physically attacked in my teenage years when I walked back from the corner shop after buying sweets. But I had never experienced racism as a mother and it unleashed an unfathomable layer of terror that I did not think could top my lived experiences of racism to date.

Breathless and scared, I went back home and as I approached my house my daughter stirred and woke up. I lifted the hood of her pram and looked down at her. She flashed me a wide, dimple cheeked smile. Through my tears I forced a smile and my heart shattered at her innocence. How could someone do such a thing to a baby?

To function in my everyday life and be a good mother, I suppressed my experience along with the many other instances of racial injustice I have been subject to throughout my life. In the past, I have tried fighting back and got nowhere and it was damaging to my own mental health. So to protect my wellbeing, I’ve stayed silent. I supported my black community directly and applied my efforts where I felt they wouldn’t be wasted or ignored.

Simone-daughter
Simone and her daughter. Image supplied.
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However, seeing the events of the past few weeks and layering that with my own experiences, I have decided the time to speak up is now. How can people become privy to the hardships black people face if I sit silently on narratives that have manifested into trauma? In coming forward now, maybe it won’t take a grotesque public lynching for my peers to see the truth moving forward.

My circle of friends, colleagues and family were horrified. My white friends were shocked, mortified, embarrassed and upset to know that I’ve carried the pain of situations like this as a personal burden and was too afraid to speak out.

I want to remind people that this is a narrative that no one can remove themselves from as it’s a lot closer to home than you think. Even in a quiet family community in a leafy Sydney suburb racism is flourishing in our silence.

With over a week of momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement and arguably the loudest rally for black lives we’ve ever seen due to the aid of technology, I hope that we all continue to listen and amplify stories, resources and practically contribute to change. I’ve already seen utterances of ‘Ugh! This PC stuff is everywhere! I’m sick of it.’

The next time you feel like tuning out, I urge you to consider this: every time I take my daughter to the park my hands tremble as I push her pram. Please, keep going.

If you have the means to do so, you can actively help the Black Lives Matter cause in Australia and the United States by donating to organisations working towards racial justice, such as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance and the Justice for David Dungay Fund to support the family of David Dungay Junior, an Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney jail. You can also donate to the Black Lives Matter Global Network here. If you can, consider regularly donating to Indigenous-run organisations and First Nations causes.
Other active ways to help include signing petitions, attending peaceful protests, listening to BIPOC, raising their voices, educating yourself on racism and privilege and ensuring we are all taking part in the conversation to dismantle systemic racism.


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