Letter from a Racist

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Dear culturally and linguistically diverse people of UWS:

It’s not you, it’s me… The most unsparingly utilised break up excuse in the history of man, usually said in order to ease someone’s heartbreak or somehow make them feel better about the shit situation they’ve been subjected to. But sometimes the fact is, you really are the problem.

There was a time when I would have asserted adamantly that I was certainly not racist, that I loved everyone.  I would have quoted a Christian scripture about how in Christ there is no racial discrimination.

I vividly remember year 4, when a new girl arrived at our country school who wore a hijab. It wasn’t long before the lunchtime game of “catch and kiss” became “catch Marwa and pull the scarf off her head”. I shudder at that now, but as bad as it sounds, we didn’t know we were doing wrong. As far as we were concerned, her head was just cold. Apart from the minimal aboriginal students, we’d never experienced any other culture. It wasn’t talked about, and it certainly wasn’t taught. The only Asians in town were the old couple who cooked the sweet and sour pork and spring rolls at the local “Chinese” takeaway. Many a nights we’d sit around the table laughing at racial jokes of all different cultures… The unemployed Aboriginals, the dishonest Jews, the unattractive Russians, the violent Afghanis… But I wasn’t racist. I knew they weren’t indicative of the entire race. I didn’t mean those things. It was just funny. I wasn’t racist.

I admit, it’s taken almost 2 years after moving from the country to the city to sit back and realise I’m a racist and I didn’t even know it. Almost 30 years of participating in the white majority culture that says that anyone who claims racial predjudice just has a “chip on their shoulder.” Geez, we let people in to in OUR country, and we said sorry to the stolen generation. What’s their problem?

Now, that ideation scares me. It scares me because I don’t even begin to understand what I don’t know, what I should have known, what I’m now beginning to know.  I didn’t know I was racist because I didn’t have to see or engage in other cultures. They weren’t MY culture.

The fact that it’s taken me this long to wake up and see the vast Australian culture to which mine is merely one contributor of is a a sign of my white privilege. A culture that I’m both proud and ashamed to belong to.

The truth is, I’m enjoying getting to know more about your cultures… eating your exotic food (that extends way beyond the realms of sweet and sour pork)… going to your cultural festivals… admiring your perfectly woven saris… appreciating the many ways of wearing a hijab… being enlightened by your religious celebrations… Getting glimpses of your heritage.

I’m sorry it took me so long to realise that white Australian culture is only a fragment of a whole history and experience to which I’ve never given much attention. Forgive me for being a complete racist, I’m still learning. I still don’t know how to understand all that I’m starting to see. All I know is that I’m becoming aware and participating in a humbling journey of change. My eyes are open.

It’s not you, it’s me… Except in this instance I’m not saying this as a poor excuse to make a potentially difficult situation more easy. I’m merely standing here in front of you, as one of you, acknowledging that I AM the problem, not you, or your race, or your heritage, or your culture. Seriously, it’s not you, it’s me.

Sincerely,

An unintentional, accidental, racist privileged white girl.

 

 

IMAGE: Naomi

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