I’m not a racist, but…

Words by Caitlin Johnson
Art by Audrey Chmielewski

Good-natured, fun-loving Aussie racism?

For anyone who’s participated in the hilarious, yet controversial game of Cards Against Humanity, would be somewhat familiar with this statement. Remove the ‘Aussie’ and what are you left with? I’m sure more people would cringe if racism was referred to as being good-natured and fun-loving. Why do Aussies get a free pass? What’s so funny when it’s Aussie? Why are we so passively self-accepting of our casually racist culture?

I’m a first generation Australian. Coming from a multiracial family, my Mauritian-Irish ethnicity turned me into a personified guessing game for everyone I met. The casual racism in my childhood, occurred in safe and familiar environments, either at home or school with friends and family. A particular experience that comes to mind was in my early high school years. I was with a group of school friends when I clumsily spilt my food and drink all over myself; a girl scoffed at me and said that it didn’t matter that I spilt chocolate milk on myself because it just blended into my skin. Because off-handed comments are simply laughed off, I felt guilty and wrong to feel offended.

Now that I’m my early 20s, I can see these casual statements more prominently in my own life and for those around me. I chatted with fellow students to see how it permeates in our day-to-day lives.

Again, in a situation with a group of friends, social work post-grad Naydia, identifies with a similar situation, stating, “We were at the beach when a cargo ship was coming in from the distance, and my friend said ‘Hey, it’s more of your people coming in,’ I had no idea how to react.”

Journalist Yen-Rong, identified with a similar situation in her article, Australia, I’m Tired of Your Casual Racism saying “At work, I have had people tell me, “Welcome to our country”, and then often get accused of overreacting, of ‘not being able to take a joke’.”

For marketing student, Vivien, in her corporate workplace, “People often joke about me eating dogs, which is a perfectly normal practice in many parts of Asia, but was used to make me sound barbaric or alien.” Additionally someone remarked, “Oh, you know I just see you as a ‘normal’ person, I don’t even think you’re Asian sometimes! Like I don’t see colour you know?” finding that people “either disregard my ethnic background, or make it the most prominent feature of my entire being.”

Journalism graduate, Anne, explained; “I was sitting with friends and someone said “you’re our ethnic friend”, and I’ve been told before that a guy likes me because “he likes mixed chicks”.

I reflected on why this casually racist culture is so accepted in Australia. Research from the All Together Now campaign found that “1 in 5 people living in Australia was a target of racial discrimination,” and this statistic has grown over the years. They discuss the strong denial of racism in Australia, potentially because they seep into conversation so casually. No one is born racist, and I will give people the benefit of the doubt that these casual statements don’t come from a place of true hate or are genuinely malicious. But, then let’s think about our culture. Picture kicking back by the beach, beer in hand; Aussies can call someone a “sick cunt” and somehow that’s a compliment. The backwards conversations and ability to say “She’ll be right mate,” can unfortunately create dialogues that are insensitive, inappropriate and essentially awkward.

I spent time asking students where and how they think this casually racist attitude became cultivated and ingrained in our society. Rather than providing me with a clear answer, it raised a multitude of questions such as; does it stem back to the convict roots and the racism against Indigenous people? Is it because our Western culture is quite new when compared to Europe or America? Is it our education in schools? Our multicultural society?

Each of these questions in themselves can snowball into hour long discussions and debates. But, I think the main question it whittles down to is; is ‘casual racism’ okay? I think there is a reason why the examples stated earlier from myself and from our peers, have remained with us for years. Because honestly, it’s not okay. Casual racism, is still racism. If you think your comment or question might offend someone, maybe it’s just best left unsaid. Learn and question other cultures in a respectful way. And I get it, jokes are fun, but next time, I encourage you to keep race out of it. Shouldn’t that be the good-natured, fun-loving Aussie way?

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