I have long considered the idea of writing about race, and my perceptions of race relations in Australia. It is not very trendy or palatable content, and it does not sit well on my Instagram account next to a cute photo of my kid. But the truth is, race has become one of my most defining characteristics – the lens through which I see my whole world, as a person, as a woman, and as a mother.
When I discovered feminism, it truly opened my eyes to the magnificence of women; their strength, their wisdom, their experiences, their intelligence, and their diversity. But through feminism I also uncovered many painful truths about the patriarchal system that devalues, oppresses and holds back women (and indeed men, in many, albeit different ways), and I cannot un-see these truths.
Similarly, as I have grown older I have gained a new depth of understanding about the true magnificence of non-white cultures, most significantly the two that dominate my DNA, and that of Indigenous Australians, the rightful owners of the land I live on. Consequently, as I become deeply aware of the strength, wisdom, experience, intelligence and diversity in these communities, and I actively work on unlearning and rejecting white supremacy, I am now constantly and acutely aware that implicit and explicit racism is the foundation on which modern Australia is built. The cost of colonisation and white privilege has been the degradation, exclusion and oppression of non-white people and cultures.
I was nine years old when Pauline Hanson made her maiden speech to parliament, and my life has not been the same since.
In case your memory is not as clear on something said in parliament 21 years ago, she started off by rubbishing the experiences, trauma, and challenges faced by Indigenous Australians. She said white people were in fact victims of “reverse racism” because there were programs in place to support and acknowledge Indigenous Australians, the multi-generational disadvantages that begun with colonisation and the policies that were literally designed to make Indigenous people disappear. From massacres to small pox, slavery to the stolen generation, the outlawing of culture and the stealing and destruction of sacred land that continues to this very day, Hanson swept it all away.
“Today… I talk about… the privileges Aboriginals enjoy over other Australians,” she said.
“I have done research on benefits available only to Aboriginals and challenge anyone to tell me how Aboriginals are disadvantaged…”
“I am fed up with being told, ‘This is our land.’ Well, where the hell do I go?” she asked.
Later in her speech, she moved on to the parts that would go on to affect me more personally.
“I, and most Australians, want our immigration policy radically reviewed and that of multiculturalism abolished,” she said.
“I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians… They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country. A truly multicultural country can never be strong or united.”
From then on, “Asian” became a dirty word, a slur hurled at me and sometimes at people who wanted to be my friend or boyfriend. Hot skater boys scrawled “Anti-Asian” on the back of their books, and carved it into desks or chairs with the end of a compass, sometimes next to a swastika. I even kissed some of those boys, desperate to prove I was better than they, or maybe I, thought I was.
Those explicit displays of anti-immigrant and anti-Aboriginal sentiment hurt many people, and they were seen as extreme. My family and I took comfort in the fact that Hanson and her One Nation party was widely rejected as a divisive racist whose words had no place in parliament, even if they had made their way into the mouths of school bullies. We were confident she would fade into obscurity as Australia became more diverse and progressive, and for a while she did.
Fast forward to the current day. I live in the suburb over from One Nation Queensland leader, Steve Dickson, and on my 15-minute work commute my chest and throat tightens and my hands shake as I pass 10-20 signs for One Nation’s candidates for the upcoming state election. I think they will do very well in my local area, and I am trying to make peace with this. They already hold four seats in the senate and one in the Queensland parliament. Politicians have been making calls to water down the Anti-discrimination Act, halt immigration of Muslims and ban religious garments such as the burqa. They have ridiculed and dismissed the requests made to improve the lives and political participation of Indigenous peoples in the recent Uluru statement, and their horrific refugee policies, condemned worldwide for making a mockery of international human rights expectations and obligations, have resulted in multiple deaths and hundreds of traumatised stateless people, including young children. Meanwhile, white nationalists are hoisting their Nazi flags (or closer to home, the Australian flag) and marching in large, dangerous, droves all over the western world.
It is common watercooler talk that “political correctness” has gone mad… did you know you can’t assault a woman, make a gay joke, or call a black or brown person the n word without someone getting offended these days? People seem genuinely perplexed that marginalised people have voices and that we are using them. They fail to realise we have always been offended and hurt by the discrimination we have faced, even if we have not always had the platforms, tools or confidence to speak up. Now they call us “snowflakes”, which is ironic, because it is our strength and resilience, our refusal to simply melt away, that they find so difficult to cope with.
I recently asked some 14-year-olds how much they valued studies of Indigenous cultures and peoples. One girl said something along the lines of “No offence, Miss, but I’d rather learn about Europeans. After all, they did discover and invent the whole world.” I guess that, at least to her, my ancestors did not exist.
On another occasion, I told someone that if I could, I would return to an uncolonised world and live as my great, great grandmother did on the pristine islands of Tatana, Papua New Guinea, without any signs of an industrialised world, or a white person in sight. His mouth gaped open in shock, completely taken aback, I guess, that I was not grateful my ancestors were liberated from living as savages. My guess is that far more of us than they think would not think twice about handing back our iPhones if we could also erase the rest of the evidence of colonisation from our lives completely. The irony of the fact that without colonisation, my daughter and I would not exist at all is not lost on me.
As a mixed-race person, and the mother of my beautiful, perfect, mixed-race child, I have never felt more lost, alone, unwanted or out of place in my local community and indeed my country. It is a haze that constantly hangs over my head. Where do we fit in? How and why do we live in a community that embraces xenophobia, racism, and the rejection of a multicultural Australia, and who, in 2017, still recite Hanson’s words from 1996?
I no longer feel Australian. In the past few months, late at night, I have trawled websites looking for jobs and houses somewhere else I could feel that I belong. A place I could feel safe to raise my child to truly value the worthiness of her Papuan and Chinese ancestors as much as her British ones. A place where I would feel wanted and accepted. I have booked flights to Papua New Guinea for April, when, for the first time, I will stand on my family’s ancestral lands and learn about my cultural heritage from my Papuan family, with my Bubu by my side. I am (not so) secretly hoping to find a place that I can call home. Due to my mixed heritage, I am not entirely sure that a true home for me exists at all, but I am going to keep searching nonetheless.
Maybe with time, Australia may become that for me, my daughter, and millions of other Australians who belong to non-white migrant families. Is it too much to hope that it could become that for Indigenous Australians as well? It almost seems impossible given our current political climate.
To those white Australians who say their way of life is being threatened by racial diversity and calls for equality I say “good”. I see right through your thinly veiled white supremacy and British-colonial nationalism. You say you have to fight to protect your “way of life”? Please understand that this feeling you are having, it is like dipping your toe into the ocean of what black and brown people the world over have experienced at the hands of your colonising ancestors (and mine), who arrived on their big boats and ripped our children from our breasts, excluding us from our lands, our cultures, our languages, our families and our way of life forever more.
To them I say that if my very existence, and my voice, which gets louder and prouder with each passing year, threatens your sense of privilege in an Australia that has celebrated, prioritised and held you up because of your whiteness and the whiteness of your ancestors at the expense of the people I descended from, and the one, perfect girl, who descended from me, then I could not be prouder.
Maybe it is this voice that will give me a reason to stay.
Pauline Hanson speech: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/pauline-hansons-1996-maiden-speech-to-parliament-full-transcript-20160914-grgjv3.html