New Perspectives are not Always Comfortable


racism image 2

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.

racism imageYou 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.

Image courtesy of Blackfulla Revolution

Image courtesy of Blackfulla Revolution

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.

against wrongBUT 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.

17 thoughts on “New Perspectives are not Always Comfortable

    • Sadly the problem with ‘ideally’ is that it is an ‘ideal’ of what should be not what is. There is always something that comes along to remind us that the world can be a much more difficult place for some as opposed to others.

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  1. You are right Jenni, there is a lot of racism out there and even where it seems to be less, it is really just buried under a layer of white wash. My biggest problem is the lack of transparency by governments, coporations and even individuals. We’ve driven racism underground and now when bad things happen, it is never clear whether it is a result of racism or not. When I see headlines like the one above where someone dies while incarcerated, I often wonder if there was racism involved. But white anglos sometimes die in captivity too. The only real way to know would be to be standing there before and during the death. We have had prisioners here in Canada who have died accompanied by loud headlines charging abuse or racism and when push came to shove they were just trying to make them selves martyrs and engaging in very life threatening acivities that the authorities tried hard to prevent but couldn’t. Mind you there were others that died because of abuse by guards during racist or misogynistic behaviour. There is no way to separate the two without transparency. And transparency has been deliberately denied in virtually all cases. Somehow, over the years, it has been deemed that regardless of the situation, it is better if no one knows what happened. It is so ingrained that it isn’t possible to believe a single word of anyone or any organizaton involved. It becomes so frustrating to have to involve third parties every time in order to get even a glimpse of the truth. And it’s worse with cameras everywhere now. We had a recent case where a number of officers were called to task for beating a woman while she was in custody. Images were offered up as proof. What wasn’t shown was that the arrestee started the fight and beat the cops senseless while they were holding back trying not to hurt her. Eventually it became blatantly obvious that she was not going to be able to be processed until they stopped her from fighting, so they founght back. Tiurns out she did far more physical damage to the police than they did to her and yet the police were being charged with abuse. The case was dropped.

    Anyway, Jenni, To recap, I find so much is hidden these days that I am not even sure when to scream abuse. I doubt anyone could ever accuse you of riding the fence when so much cover-up is occuring. It is only when I am comfortable that enough facts point to abuse that I allow myself to get invovled or even have an opinion. And i do know that that in and of itself is something that the officials hid behind, but what is my recourse?

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    • I understand exactly how you feel and there are times when you could just shake the system for being so convoluted and shady. It’s half being to scared to make an assumption so good people can go undefended and bad people can go unpunished because we’re so scared of the consequences and also what it says about us as people. I think all we can do as people is to say something or make a stand when we feel we must, be it in defense of the police, is solidarity with those hurt, in respect for those who live and believe differently to ourselves and not pick and choose what is easier to fight. I guess I’m trying to say is have confidence in your sense of right and wrong and don’t be bullied by society or our governments into feeling hesitant about pointing it out when we see it.

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  2. Hi Jenni. Great and thoughtful post which made me squirm for those self same reasons you give. Actually squirm isn’t a strong enough word. Perhaps I can offer up a very recent UK example you may have read about Down Under. In Rotherham (a mid sized town in the north of England) systematic abuse of vulnerable girls (at least 1400 – yep, that huge) by almost exclusively heritage Pakistani males has been swept under the carpet for decades because of the implications of targeting a specific minority group with such an accusation. Fear of being labelled racist has played a part in the authorities’ reluctance to believe many stories from these youngsters and their families and carers and it took a brave Times journalist Andrew Norfolk to write and keep writing until it was believed. Now other towns (Oxford for one) are being studied for similar if not quite so significant numbers (one is significant of course but I think you know what I mean). Failure to take a stand and risk being accused of racism was at the root of this. It also possibly says something about the UK that we are more sensitive to accusations of racism (perhaps a result of our Imperial past) than we are of protecting women – misogyny is rife after all. I caught this post by a new young blogger yesterday – http://alexrichards2704.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/why-should-women-have-to-feel-unsafe-when-just-walking-to-the-shops-or-to-meet-a-friend/ – which I know from my daughter’s experiences is just so common. How many times do I hear a wolf whistle, see a leering man making a woman feel uncomfortable and do nothing? That sexism, more than most other discrimination and unacceptable behaviour is allowed to continued because… because it is so commonplace. Because it is endemic. Because most men have either done something similar in their ‘laddish’ youth or been with people who have and stood by. Like you have accused yourself of standing by, I have stood by and, bugger it, I shouldn’t and I shall not. Thank you for the spark.

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  3. Deaths in custody of anyone is of serious concern, but when we see that the majority of death in custody is indigenious Australians, who equate to only 2% of our population, question must be asked. The royal commission twenty years ago made over 300 recommendations to be implemented to stop this, but nearly none have been put in place.

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    • Precisely and when we are also faced with the fact that as a population we are living longer due to changes in health etc but the average life span of an indigenous Australian is getting shorter then there is something very wrong with this picture.

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    • It is difficult to know just where to begin and even more so when we recognise the part we’ve all played in a problem that should no longer exist in this day and age. We like to see ourselves as advanced and open minded and I think that when we come across things that embarrass us as opposed to anger us we tend to shy away and ignore the issue in the hopes that it will just go away. That seems to be a the root of the lack of coverage for indigenous deaths in custody here in Australia, we don’t want to admit that at a very basic level we are still a society that has some quite racist views. So when we see proof of our own culpability rather than a legislative or policy based measure we tend to avoid the entire issue.

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