real life

Racism is alive in Australian schools. Just ask my 14 year old daughter.

“How was work on the cotton fields this weekend?” my daughter was asked when she was 12 years old, by a fellow student at her school. 

“Can I have the n**** word pass?” they continued.

Now, at the age of 14, she has had to grow up real quick. Moving to Australia as a British born, Nigerian family was going to come with its challenges but I had this naïve feeling that my kids would be sheltered from any racism

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To my knowledge, both my kids were until my daughter turned 12. 

I know that most of us deal with identity challenges at this age, regardless of race, gender and orientation, but it is even more complex when you are seen to be the minority. Or should I say, marginalised.

“They are just kids” is a common response when I tell people about what was said to my daughter. But this is an excuse we have used for decades, which allows us to continue to turn a blind eye to comments that are extremely hurtful and insensitive.

And it prevents us from making changes and preventing other kids from experiencing this in the future. 

The truth is, a mean spirited kid, even if they don’t intend to harm, is likely to grow into a mean spirited adult, with stronger intentions, and on the cycle goes.

At the time these things were being said to my daughter, I shared her struggles with a friend. They suggested we move to a suburb where there are more black people – something that could make the assimilation into Australian society easier.

Yemi Penn and her daughter, Leah. 


Let’s unpack that for a moment. Australia prides itself on being diverse and yes, it is. But Australia is still shockingly segregated. 

I understand why minorities feel safe if they are living within a community where other people understand their culture. But remaining in these tight huddles of ‘sameness’ further exacerbates intolerance.

During a joint therapy session with my daughter, the therapist asked her if she was being bullied. She looked at the therapist and said through laughter, “have you seen me? I’m taller than my mum.” 

It was unnecessary shade, but she is right. She elegantly towers at about 177cm. Her notion was that she couldn’t be physically bullied because of her stature. 

But she completely missed the memo that the old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words won’t’ is utterly and diabolically incorrect. Words do and can hurt, whether they have ill intent or not.

So, how can we create change, so that my daughter’s future daughter isn’t asked how her cotton picking weekend was?

It is going to come down to education, and individuals taking on the responsibility to challenge their ways of thinking. 

For the bulk of the 20th Century, this country was built on the ‘White Australia Policy’, outlawing any non-European immigration into Australia right up until 1973. Consider the long term, generational impact of this legislation on the way we as a people think. To change this kind of ingrained thinking, we need individuals to make a choice.

As a white person, to assume you lack privileges as a result of being ‘white’ is naïve. 

Every one of us needs to learn more about other cultures and educate our children. If you are a non-BIPOC (Black Indigenous Person of Colour), the responsibility is on you to learn the grave history that BIPOCs have faced in Australia, and then educate your children so they understand the true essence of a Just, Equal, Diverse and Inclusive world.

When we know better, do better.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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