I wish I’d said something.
These were the words of a friend of mine when she witnessed someone being discriminated against.
A comforting friend might say, Ah well, next time you can…
I suspect that we honestly believe that we would say speak up next time, but when the moment comes, we are presented with a choice.
And the choice not to is easier.
I won’t today because I’m tired and just want to get home
I won’t today because the bloke that said the comment looks like he could crush me through a meat grinder.
I won’t today because I’ve just ducked into this shop for one thing. I’ve got to get back to work.
I won’t today because, well…. do I care enough?
I won’t today because I’m here for work and don’t want to make a scene.
These thoughts are common and normal. I know they are because I’ve thought them.
It’s hard to speak up.
But I always regret it when I don’t.
When I worked in Sydney I had to visit a maximum security prison to relocate a family of birds that had nested in the exercise yard of the prisoners who were severely mentally impaired. To this day I regret not saying anything about the prison officer whose language belittled and made fun of the prisoners.
Did I think, she knows her job and I know nothing about how hard this must be, so I won’t say anything?
Yes, I did.
I also chose to ignore the uncomfortable body language and facial expressions of her colleague whose behaviour was completely the opposite – positive and open hearted.
Personal or External?
When it’s personal, it seems easier to speak up. When a colleague started talking about ‘drowning gingers at birth’ I had something to say. When I hear homophobic stuff I speak up. When I receive anti-Australian sentiments I will voice an opinion. I can do this without thinking because they all affront me personally.
I feel justified.
It throws that energy back at them so I don’t take it on board.
So why is it harder to do for others?
Because we have a choice.
We can choose to ignore.
Subtle versus Smack-in-your-face!
The recent Black Lives Matter campaign has highlighted how so much of racism is subtle.
As Patrick George says, “White people in England can be a bit smarter, they know exactly what they can’t say to be obviously racist, but they’ll do it more subtly. They’ll come for you in other ways.”
Evidently, this is also why large proportions of White people don’t think there’s a problem, because they don’t see it personally. As Patrick George explains, those who discriminate know they have to be careful about how they do it.
But what about when it is not so subtle? Does that still happen?
Can you remember the last time you witnessed racism openly and boldly?
I can. Several times, unfortunately.
It shocked me.
It shocked me because it showed that the racist felt safe to be racist.
They felt that they had support from the White people nearby.
“No, this gentleman is next” said dad as he pointed to the Aboriginal man next to him.
Only then, did the White staff member choose to serve the Aboriginal man who’d been standing there waiting for several minutes – passed over every time a White person had walked up and ordered.
Again…. an Aboriginal man asked us for a lift in our car, but unfortunately 300kms in the opposite direction to our route. We found another family nearby to give him the lift. They were more than happy to until they saw he was Aboriginal. In front of him they screwed up their face, said No and shook their heads.
It’s abhorrent when you witness it.
It’s abhorrent when you realise that people have to change their behaviour to stay safe.
On remote Australian roads, everyone waves at oncoming traffic. It’s gives a sense of ‘we’re all out here together’.
Over many years I’ve noticed that Aboriginal people hold back until you wave first. Then with beaming smiles you get a friendly wave.
A few weeks ago I read about a couple in the USA; he’s Black, she’s White. When they go running, she always runs behind him, so it never looks like he’s chasing her.
Pardon me, but FUCK! How is that okay?
I know it’s easy to say there’s a lot to learn and there’s no easy fix. That’s true. And I also know that Australia, the USA, Africa…. they’re all different. The discriminations have cultural contexts and histories that give each country its own complexities.
But, we do have a lot to learn and by understanding cultures and people different from ourselves better, we can understand the impact of oppression and discrimination and how to change it.
For example, do you know that in many Australian Aboriginal languages, there is no word for ‘thank you’ or ‘please’? The value of sharing and caring is such an important part of Aboriginal culture, its value is inherent. There’s no need for such words (from Clothing the Gap – an Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise)
In Resmaa Manakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands, he talks about the impact of genetic trauma and how bio chemical stress hormones influence what is passed down through generations. These traumas are living within Australia’s indigenous people. Equally, the traumas of slavery (which happened in Australia too) are in the bodies of People of Colour in the USA, the UK and other parts of the world.
Imagine the impact of colonisation on ‘sharing and caring’ people by ‘conquer and take’ people.
The damage starts instantly.
It’s now very old. These are old deep wounds.
We cannot ignore this when considering whether we choose to speak up today or tomorrow or we are regretting yesterday’s lack.
Let’s work to change the record
Let’s work to create new experiences that positively influence genetic trauma
Let’s be part of healing
Let’s make sure that subsequent generations are not dealing with this shit in 50 or 100 years.
You with me?