101 Stories of Racism

101 Stories of Racism
“It doesn’t cost much to go back”
Last Sunday I was ‘indirectly’ told that it didn’t cost much to go back. Our neighbour, who has been abusive towards us for many years, had his mate and family visiting them on that Sunday morning. They were in their back deck chatting – two men, two women and two primary school-aged girls. I was in our backyard caring for some plants. The plants are near the fence separating the two properties. I overheard this conversation. It all happened in a few minutes.

Man (sounded like the friend): “Where is she from?”
Man (our neighbour): “Who cares?”
Girl (sounded like the friend’s daughter): “She is wearing weird clothes (laughs).”
Her friend (girl from the neighbour’s family) laughs too.
Woman (sounded like the friend): “Does she speak English?”
Woman (sounded like our neighbour): “We don’t speak to them.”
She laughs.
Girl (friend): “She is from some other country.”
Girl (neighbour): “Ummm, may be Asia?”
Man (neighbour): “Who cares?”
Man (friend): “Wherever she’s from, I don’t want to go there.”
All laugh.
Pause (may be they were all watching me?!).
Man (friend): “It doesn’t cost much to go back.”
Laughter. Talking in a low voice, I can’t hear the words. Then…
Man (friend, in a loud voice): “I said it doesn’t cost much to go back.”
The woman (neighbour) laughs loudly.
The man (neighbour) burps loudly.

Quite often in Australia I am asked if I am an Aboriginal. Many children have shown their fear, suspicion, mockery, ingrained negative perceptions and non-acceptance of a person looking different through rude gestures and insulting behaviour. This time, interestingly, there was some evidence of ‘awareness’ in the conversation – I could be from Asia. The girls must have done some learning in their school about Asia. Thank You, Australian National Curriculum, for including one whole unit on Asia!

Two days after this incident I read about the new advertisement that beyondblue organisation has brought out to raise awareness about ‘invisible discrimination’ practised widely and deeply in Australian mainstream society. The special attention was towards continuing racism in Australia that is causing increasing depression among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are the First Nations peoples. The photo used in the ad – an Australian Indigenous man sitting in a bus with a vacant seat next to him and people (mostly White) standing – suddenly made absolute sense. After all these years now I understand why some white Australians would not sit next to me in public transport. How did M.K. Gandhi fight racial discrimination in South Africa? I want to know again.

Vinathe Sharma


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