There is a debate on racism in Australia this week, and for good reason.
I have often been stunned by the Australian way to discard and excuse racially motivated remarks as “larrikinism” or “Aussie humour”. So I wasn’t surprised by the incidents and am glad there is a debate that now actually involves historic context and the voices of those concerned and victim by racism. Every single day in their life.
I am careful about the amount of “news” I let into my son’s life – and in his brain. He isn’t particularly drawn to television, preferring all types of electronic games and books, but we watch the news in our house and sometimes this collides with dinnertime.
I try to avoid this : Nemo gets sucked into the shocking images we see – on all channels – when something horrible happens in the world. Or does anyone remember how we all laughed about ‘narrowly avoiding’ the END OF THE WORLD last year due to a misinterpretation of the Maya calendar ? Except that it was not funny for my son who has difficulty picking up humour and irony – and wasn’t expecting it in what he had understood to be news shows. We had to do A LOT of explaining to help with the anxiety that ensued.
I was watching ABCNews in the kitchen this week and the reports on the racial slur against Adam Goodes came on (the FIRST racial slur of the week for him, the one by the 13yo in the stadium).
Nemo walked in on that and I thought it’s a good occasion to talk to him about racism.
Now, I am quite protective of Nemo’s online identity vs in real life, but lets just say that he has a part of mixed ethnicity and there might be a day where actually someone might pick up on his very “black eyes”. As a reminder, he is 7, has Asperger’s syndrome and we live in a middleclass dominantly white suburb of SE Queensland (Australia). We talk.
I asked him : “ Do you know what RACISM is ?”
He said : “Yes. It’s when people are mean to someone because of the colour of their skin. So if one is light skin and the other is dark skin. Mostly it’s against people with dark skin actually.”
Very right. (Nemo says ‘light skin’ and ‘dark skin’ because in his mind, and quite factually, people do not come in either the colour WHITE or BLACK)
I asked him what he thinks WHY racism is mostly turned towards people with dark skin and not the other way around. Here is his answer :
“I think there is MORE RACISM AGAINST DARK SKINNED PEOPLE because there are MORE LIGHT SKINNED PEOPLE on Earth. “
I was a bit surprised. I started telling him in my usual factual approach with my fact-loving kid how the population of our planet is composed of big batches of people who may not be all equally DARK skinned (we had to discuss the colour of Asians and Indians, i mad the mistake to mention ‘redskins’ too..). But they are all constantly the target of racial discrimination while they are most certainly NOT a minority on our planet when compared to the light skinned (as in Caucasian/western European ancestry). I really need to get some data on this..
But then I thought – He is not so wrong! One of the big problems with racism from white to black, as opposed to the other direction (which totally exists in both comedy and as a dangerous mindset) is that the prevalence of white racism is so strong and the voice of their victims has been powerless for SO LONG that you might really get the impression that they are actually a minority Worldwide.
Well, they are not and they definitively hear it all. People of ALL colours are listening, watching and hurting when yet another idiot makes a racist joke and then he, or others for him, finds all kinds of excuses. When this happens in Australia towards the indigenous population which has indeed been reduced to a minority – by the hands of the white settlers – and has clearly not recovered from the invasion of their country.. this doesn’t only make waves here. The world is listening too.
This is not about punishing this or another behaviour of a teen in a stadium or a public figure on the radio. It’s about taking REAL ACTION in the key sectors of our lives – schools, sports, media, culture – to change this attitude and make very clear to everyone, that casual racism is simply NOT OK.
I am hoping that my son will grow up seeing Australia change these things. Because a society that turns real issues into a joke and minorities into a laughing stock has a serious problem.