Experience of the colour bar
I have just finished reading the opinion piece by Maxine Beneba Clarke (“The monster we will not name”, August 13-19). I am writing to you to LOUDLY congratulate and applaud Clarke for this well-written and accurate account of the insidious racism that has existed in Australia since I arrived here from Singapore as a young teenager in the 1960s. Her statement that “Australia has a serious problem with casual, overt and institutionalised racism” is something that a lot of us (on the receiving end) are aware of, but somehow this is never as openly acknowledged as would be the overt racism of apartheid in South Africa. It is largely invisible except for those of us who have had to endure it. I am now retired and in my mid-60s and I have lived here for close to 50 years. I know about the casual racism because I have lived it every day all these years. I was confronted by loud and racist abuse in a very public place in Western Australia (where I live) during the previous Pauline Hanson ascendancy two decades ago, and I am sure there will be more to come as she now has the power that makes her racism officially acceptable. I followed the then Australian custom of taking my husband’s surname on my marriage to an Anglo-Australian. That, I am sure, would have got me past some initial hurdles when I applied for jobs. Imagine all the people with ability and talent who were not hired and able to make a contribution to this country simply because someone had a so-called unpronounceable name. As a secondary school teacher in a WA country town, I was confronted by raw racism head-on when the school took the students for an outing in town. There was the inevitable mingling with the locals. I remember being deliberately ignored and snubbed by a local man in favour of a teacher’s aide who happened to be a white woman with an American accent. The only reason for that snub? I was of the wrong colour. I want Clarke to know that her article has given voice to what “people of colour” such as myself have known and lived all this time. It is a timely piece because the election of certain senators will inevitably unleash the forces of racism that have always been operating under the surface in this country but will now be empowered to come into the open.
– Gillian Pain, Leeming, WA
An unpleasant reality
Brava, Maxine Beneba Clarke, for reminding us all how far we have to go to call ourselves civilised. Successive federal governments of both persuasions have always known about Northern Territory gerrymandering, continuous Aboriginal inequality and mismanagement and have done little to correct the balance for outreach communities, hiding under the Australian Grants Commission. There is always an official reason for not doing the right thing, the just thing, behaving fairly and, of course, there will always be those who are deliberately blind, even in their hearts. It’s up to all of us to make this country a better place. Thanks to Clarke for calling it how it is.
– Y. Lechti, Dangar Island, NSW
The heart of the monster
If there is a monster in all this, Maxine Beneba Clarke, then it is best named as victimary thinking. In this kind of thinking, to paraphrase Wikipedia, the peripheral victim in our society is disdained while the utopian centre of our society is occupied by the perpetrator. Sometimes this way of thinking is evident as racism or sexism or whatever other “ism” suits. To take one of these names as the best account of one’s experience of being a peripheral victim is to maintain the victimary thinking for the perpetrator.
– Keith Russell, Mayfield West, NSW
Looking for hope
Thank you for an excellent editorial (“Apology expected”, August 13-19). How can we live down what we know is happening? There is a lot to look forward to each weekend. One of those is your paper, which takes human rights seriously, and the terrible things that are happening in our name, with our taxes. Along with a change in culture, we need a human rights act. I could not get the death of Omid (which means “Hope” in Farsi) off my mind. Death by fire must be the worst way to end one’s life. He was a 23-year-old man, a refugee. Or rather one of the hostages we keep, pretending we are saving lives at sea, when we are denying real refugees safe passage from Indonesia. I could not stand to see his name, and his life, lost in the 24-hour news cycle. His family have written a beautiful statement about him, available online. I live in Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate, not so far from his office in Edgecliff. First I tried chalk, then spray-paint, writing Omid’s name, and those of some of the many others who have taken their lives in our camps. And Reza Barati, of course, who was murdered. I did it too many times, and was caught. I should not have spent so long admiring my work. My sentencing hearing before the magistrate is on August 24 at Waverley Local Court. As Thomas Jefferson once said: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” As our East Timorese brothers and sisters say: “To resist is to win.” Keep up the great work.
– Stephen Langford, Paddington, NSW
Time to get real
Although Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg repeats the word “transition” in his dialogue with Karen Middleton (“Meet the minister for trees and coal”, August 13-19), there is no indication that “Mr Coal” believes government has much of a role to play in making this aspiration a reality. Aiming for “affordable, accessible, reliable energy as we transition to a lower emissions future” might have been credible a generation ago, but with 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming – the aspirational goal of December’s Paris climate meeting – now virtually locked in, and plenty more warming in the pipeline, the new minister must set his sights higher.
– Dave Lisle, Mullumbimby, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 22, 2016. Subscribe here.