I had a very interesting chat the other day with my son regarding racism in Australia and the divergent responses we have when faced with it. Since then I’ve been pondering my own attitudes and the feelings that are roused when I see or hear of behavior that is inherently harmful all based on the colour of a person’s skin, the religion they practice and even their sexuality or gender.
You know what I discovered? I’m as bad if not worse than those who screech vitriol from the rooftops, not because I agree with them, not because I don’t speak out but because I tailor my responses and pick and choose what it is that I give precedence to when I write about such things. What’s worse part of me has always known that I do this but in a secret corner of my mind I rationalize to myself that there are only so many things you can devote your time to. I split prejudice, give it levels of importance, a ranking if you will, when in fact discrimination of any kind is wrong and dehumanising regardless of the topic.
This was brought home to me recently when I saw this picture on Facebook. Now I’ve read about the death in custody of this young indigenous girl a number of times recently as I have others over the years. I find it deplorable that such a thing can happen, whether it be the police or the medical staff who are ultimately responsible it is still horrifying that such a thing could happen. Yet despite my feelings on the matter I haven’t picked up my pen so to speak to write about and express my sympathy, my horror and my shame that it could happen in this day and age.
Yet the recent death of an asylum seeker from lack of medical attention, the ongoing issue of children self harming in the refugee centres and the disgraceful policies of this countries government had me burning with an almost incandescent fury. So I ask myself, why? Why does their plight move me to words and to action and the plight of this young girl and others like her fill me with a cringing shame that has me shying away from the topic lest I expose my cowardice for all to see.
It is there I think I found the answer, shame, pure and simple shame. When our government creates obviously foul legislation, regarding asylum seekers, that runs up against the boundaries of common decency and humanitarianism you have a target. Something to fight, something that can be overturned in the parliament and new laws, better laws and more humane processes can replace those that harm.
BUT when faced with the systemic racism and discrimination of a large part of our society who do you fight, who do you blame? The laws aren’t to blame, legislative process and policy isn’t really a factor, it’s the systemic and inherent disregard for the indigenous members of our society by so many of us. How do you fight something most people don’t even recognise doing and how do you fit that knowledge into your moral value system? The answer sadly for many of us is to play ostrich and hope it somehow resolves itself without getting too messy.
So what to do now that I’ve had this rather unsettling, not to mention humbling, epiphany? I think that there is only one answer to that, grow a backbone or at least strap some steel to my obviously springy spine and forget about how hard it is to deal with those who try to pretend it’s not a real issue and start treating it the same way I do all things which piss me off. In other words stop hoping it will somehow resolve itself, stop thinking of the fact that it is after all this is the 21st century – shouldn’t such ridiculous ideas of racism and other forms of discrimination be long behind us? I think that Roosevelt actually said it the best and I can think of no better way to finish this piece than with his words.