Do white people have the right to decide what's racist?

Meshel Laurie


Mia, my mentor, friend and inspiration – I must respectfully disagree with some points raised in your piece about the “Racist Delta Tweet” situation. (Editor’s note: You can read Mia’s original post, which explains the context of this particular debate here.)

I’m one of those people who refer to the “invasion” of Australia, rather than the “settlement”. I believe Australia Day is a hurtful and inappropriate talisman of the whitewashing of Australian history. I believe we are living in a kind of apartheid in this country that makes a mockery of any claims we make against the human rights records of others.

I am that person, and as that person I attract a lot of criticism from white Australians whenever I express my views. As I grow older, I express my views rarely unless I’m with like-minded souls because I can’t be bothered with the blowback. Today though, I feel I must come out of my cultural closet in defense of Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain:

I’ve experienced many times the stunned confusion and sometimes unbridled fury of white Australians at the suggestion that this country has a problem with racism. Frankly, I’m just as confused that they don’t realize it, but I don’t bother pursuing the conversation because I am a fortunate white woman who has the option of ignoring it and getting on with my life.

The Twitter picture that started the Delta debate.

Australian racism doesn’t affect my employment opportunities, or my nights out. The media doesn’t ignore my problems, or those of my ancestral homeland.

People don’t openly fear or mistrust me because of my color. I’m not followed in shops by anxious staff. Taxis don’t pull up at my house and then drive off when they see me walk towards them. No one tells their kids not to play with mine. No one worries I might be a terrorist.

As a fortunate white woman, I don’t believe I have the right to decide what isn’t racist in Australia. I’m not the one hurt and belittled by it. Honestly, I find the telling of racial minorities that they are over reacting about racism demeaning.


It reiterates the message that their voices are not welcome in our society, that they are outsiders and we will shout them down if they dare to raise their heads above the bunkers we herd them into.

I’ll take you on about sexism, and fatism, and any other ism I live inside of, any day of the week, but I have to accept that for all my cultural sensitivity, I don’t know what it’s like to face racism.

I have to accept that I will sometimes cross the line myself. Would I have tweeted a picture of me with a blacked-up Seal impersonator? No, but as professional broadcaster I’m sure I’ve made mistakes and will again. All I can do is apologize when those mistakes are pointed out to me. Apologize for making someone feel less than, and I can learn from it.

Nazeem Hussain and Aamer Rahman.

My piss-poor reluctance to discuss race in polite circles relies upon the existence of people as smart, young and brave as Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain. I can let it slide because I know that these guys and many like them will not pipe down, but will fight with everything they have for the Australia I want to live in.

Yes, calling Delta Goodrem, whom I’ve met and like tremendously, a “stupid racist” is harsh, but so is bigotry. It promotes extremes and defensive diatribes, attributes already abundant in the young and passionate.

I can’t help but think that if more people like myself, older, white, fortunate, spoke more openly and confidently about the issues, and were more supportive of people like Aamer and Nazeem the conversation might make some actual progress. Those guys could learn a lesson in diplomacy, and I could certainly benefit from a dose of youthful courage.

Meshel Laurie is a comedian and broadcaster. You can catch up with her on Nova’s Drive Show with Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold 4-6pm on weekdays. You can also follow Meshel on Twitter here.

Did you think that Delta’s decision to tweet this photo was racist?