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Racism in families belies simple reconciliation

  • 22 April 2021
Content warning: Contains discriptions of racism and a racist slur. ‘He only got that free kick because he’s an Abo.’ This comment still rings in my ears like it was said yesterday, yet seven years must have passed since I heard it. The comment is still important to me because it marks an end of a relationship — it was a day where I came to the conclusion that things were never going to change and I walked out a door. In a room where I was the only Aboriginal person surrounded by people who heard the comment yet said nothing to the person who said it, nor did they acknowledge me so I felt supported, I finally realised that there was no place for me there. It was heartbreaking.

This may sound like a reasonably normal day in the life of an Aboriginal person in Australia yet there’s a key fact I’m yet to divulge: I wasn’t at the pub where I was surrounded by acquaintances and unknowns. This happened at a family gathering and while I was not related to the person who made the comment, I was related to a number of people who did nothing.

For years, I have been fed rubbish about how those of us who are Aboriginal people of mixed descent apparently have an easy go of things. Our proximity to whiteness is often what people say we need to be accepted and get ahead in this world. As long as we live in a good white suburb, have good white family members, get a decent white education and follow that up with a nice mainstream job, we’ll just blend in. As former Collingwood President Alan McAllister said, ‘As long as they conduct themselves like human beings…’

Well, I had that white suburban schooling. I had non-Indigenous extended family members. I had the white Australian suburban experience. The suburb I grew up in couldn’t have been more monocultural if it tried. Yet I cannot, for the life of me, remember a time when I was thought of as being ‘just like them’. I was always the Aboriginal kid in that environment. And yes, I experienced a lot of racism due to this, but this piece isn’t about that. It’s about what happens when you experience racism in your own family.

The scenario I describe wasn’t isolated. It had followed years of microaggressions. Perhaps social media played a part. It