Why I'll No Longer Put Up With Low-Key Racism

Why I’ll No Longer Put Up With Low-Key Racism

“With that beard, you look like a bloody bomb thrower!”
“I’m not racist – I just can’t stand the Chinese in groups.”
“I was sitting next to this slopehead on the plane…”
“I can’t believe they’re made to wear those bloody burqa things, the head one, not the whole body – what’s that called?”
 “We should have a little black boy to do this for us!”

Even having to write these sentences sends shudders down my spine. But they are honest recollections of some of the banter I’ve heard being thrown around growing up in Australia. At school once, we were shown a documentary investigating the claim that the rest of the world labels Australians as Dumb, Drunk and Racist. I remember being pretty offended at the time. I mean, we love a good drink or 40, but surely Aussies aren’t racist?

Australia is a nation that prides itself on its sense of mateship, giving everyone a fair go and helping out the underdog. We love to show acceptance to others and band together when things get tough. But it seems these values only extend only to a certain group of people – and to the exclusion of all others.

Being a white Australian and growing up in a predominantly white suburb, I never really had to deal with racism directed against me. But there have been too many times where I’ve let things I witnessed slide. When I was young, I just fed off whatever people around me who I respected said. I took on the opinions of people in my home, my school and my community. I used to sit there and let friends, family, other people’s families and strangers say what they wanted, because I feared being the “crazy” one who spoke out against casual – and not-so-casual – racism.

Many of the racial slurs I grew up hearing were prefaced with the well-known adage, “I’m not racist but”. If anything, they were defended as low-key racist”, a light-hearted joke or some sort of demonstration of patriotism towards Australia.

It wasn’t really until I started travelling that I understood the complete ignorance of passing off straight-up racism under the term “low-key racism”. The people I met when I was overseas didn’t poke fun at other cultures like people did back home. They didn’t find it annoying when they met someone who couldn’t speak great English. And they didn’t endorse foreign stereotypes, accepting anyone who wanted to join us – no matter their heritage.

The almost comical part of it all is that most of the people I know back home are foreign themselves. We all are. My grandfather’s family were ten-pound poms, and my grandmother’s Maltese parents came here by boat from Egypt. But growing up, I never really understood the significance of that.

Where I’m from, if you’re going to tell someone to stop being a racist prick, you’re the one who can’t take a joke. Either that or you’re being oversensitive, you took it the wrong way or you’ve even gone so far as to ruin the mood. But surely it’s the person being an ignorant twat who’s doing the most damage to the vibe, right?

Don’t get me wrong; I love Australia. I understand that these instances are not reflective of all of us, and I am very proud to call myself Australian and embody many of the great values we as a nation uphold. But I am not proud of our racist undertones.

I’m not proud of public displays of racism, like this one that happened near my home. I’m not proud of the huge displays of racist violence that have occurred in my state, like the Cronulla riots. I’m not proud that everyone is able to ignore the horrific incidents happening in our off-shore detention centres. And I am disgusted that politicians like Pauline Hanson have been given a platform from which to spread hate and ignorance. These are radical instances, and I get that. But our tolerance for them rises from the ashes of low-key racism, and it’s time it stopped.

As a child, I always felt a small twang in my ears when I heard others being racist. But now I hear great metal gongs. I hear the need for change and acceptance, and I will not listen to anyone pretending that low-key racism is acceptable. And neither should you. I don’t mean you have to jump up and down, flailing your arms and shouting, “Racist pig!” in a perpetrator’s face. One of the easiest ways to tell an Australian to straighten up is just the classic, “Come on mate. That’s not on.”

Overseas everyone is kind to me. No one I have ever encountered has hated me for the colour of my skin, the shape of my face, the food I eat or the way I dress. Some people might have disliked my taste in music or laughed at me for the fact I get drunk off just two beers, but no one has made me feel insignificant, unwanted or unsafe due to my heritage and background whilst travelling. And I shudder to think that many foreigners who visit Australia are not received with the same type of love and acceptance.

I have seen people in Spain dancing flamenco in the streets; I have shared drinks with locals in Germany. I have experienced cultural delicacies in Cambodia and the Philippines. I have stayed in the homes of families in Vietnam. Throughout all these experiences, the only thing I found to be true is that everyone laughs in the same language. Everyone’s likes and fears are identical. And just about everyone feels the innate desire to be accepted.

It is increasingly frustrating having to reiterate to the people I know here in Australia that while there are beautiful things that make us all different, it’s the core things that make us the same – and equal. And everyone deserves to be treated as such.

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