I'm Not Racist But... I Am

I’m Not Racist But… I Am

Alright, alright. Quiet from the left of the room, please. I can hear your shouts of protest from here. Admitting you’re a racist isn’t overwhelming popular. I certainly don’t expect a medal or accolades, particularly from this audience. But before you go getting all high and mighty on me, allow me to introduce myself.

You see, I’m not your ordinary racist. I don’t believe someone’s ability to drive is defined by where they come from. I don’t use words like “gook” or “abo”, not even light-heartedly. And I definitely don’t drive around with a ‘Fuck Off We’re Full’ sticker on my car.

I’m as far from your stereotypical racist as you can get. I’m what Andrew Bolt’s followers would call “lefty scum” before complaining about my breakfast choices. I vote Greens. I run Babes Against Detention, a business that aims to raise funds for refugees and increase understanding of why people seek asylum. So no, I’m not your ordinary Southern-Cross-bearing, Aussie-flag-waving, “like-it-or-leave” racist. But I’m a racist nonetheless.

The realisation of my true nature came to me on a crowded train in Tokyo. It was peak hour; the carriage was heaving with shirt-and-tie types staring intently at their phones, unspeaking.  After watching four crowded trains go by, assuring myself that the next one would be less crowded, I conceded to the mayhem and embraced the local style of pushing your way on like a drunk girl at Splendour jostling through the crowd to make heart eyes at a band.

Face against the glass, one arm holding to the top of the sliding doors, I read the “Police are on high alert – report anything suspicious” announcement that had been flashing intermittently on my daily commute.

The doors slid open, almost sending me sprawling onto the platform as the crowd behind me rushed to exit.  As I climbed back onto the train, I noticed two Middle Eastern-looking men across from me, backpacks slung over their shoulders – not a common occurrence in the largely nationalistic Japan.

The alert flashed to mind followed by an immediate self-accusation: “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

There I was, racially profiling. These two men had done nothing to deserve the xenophobic thought that had so insidiously come to my mind.  So how is it that me, a full-blown lefty, had come to think it?

Because racism isn’t learned. It’s ingrained.

It stems from biological evolution. Like rhesus monkeys are wary of langurs monkeys, humans are predisposed to be afraid of what is different. It’s a survival technique, regardless of what is wrong and right.

This disposition to fear what is different is further nurtured by the media, until it blossoms like a dangerous flower.  Headlines like ‘TERROR SCHOOL: Not far from Australian shores’ from The Daily Telegraph add sunlight. Constant coverage of terror attacks in the post 9/11 world act like water as we soak words like “extremist” and “death” alongside “Muslim”. Can we really be blamed for being racist?

Yes – we can.

Racism might be intrinsic, but with education, empathy and introspection, it can easily be unlearned. We are human, and as such, we can’t expect to be perfect. Thoughts have a tendency to run away with us, but we can control them. I’ve considered chucking a taco inside bread and chowing down on it, but that doesn’t mean I’m inviting mates over to eat Mexican sangas anytime soon.

As the train rattled along the tracks, I had two options. I could leave the thought unchecked, label the men as “suspected terrorists” and nervously count the minutes until my stop. On the other hand, I could recognise where my suspicions came from, call myself an arsehole and continue to push to be better.

I smiled at one of the men. He smiled back.

Cover by Carina Sze