I think we should all stop saying, “well it can’t get any worse.” I got a lovely message from a friend in the States today who said she regrets saying about two months ago, “well it can’t get worse.” I know so many Tenterfieldians who said the same thing in December after dealing with an ongoing drought for years and the fires, dust and ash for 10 months. Then 2020 arrived and we watched our little town shut down for the virus.
The world is in turmoil and we are all watching with horror as events unfold in America while it also deals with the ongoing corona virus crisis. These events are the culmination of years, decades and centuries of horrific inequalities experienced by people whose skin is not white. I think now more than ever we need to work on changing the conversation. I read the most amazing piece today but a black American who begged people to deal with their own backyards, to call people out on seemingly acceptable racism in the form of jokes and to change the conversation. To explain to their kids why this is happening and that they need to accept that racism starts at home.
When the kids and I did our first big trip, we were lucky enough to spend three months in the States. One of the highlights of the trip was the few days we spent in Atlanta. I had always wanted to attend a gospel church service and I could not think of a better church than Martin Luther King’s church. We actually attended a service on the anniversary of 9/11 and the choir sung the words ‘heal the world’ over and over again. Such a fitting choice of words for the world as it is today.
Afterwards the kids and I visited the King Centre. After the chaos of big tourist attractions such as the Empire States Building it was disconcerting to be almost the only ones there. Something I realised on our visit was that the kids had no concept of what racism was. It made me happy to know they did not see the colour of one’s skin but rather focused on what was in their hearts. Archie in particular was taken by the story of Martin Luther King and on his return to Australia he became a little obsessed. The kids could not understand why Rosa Parks got into trouble – as far as they were concerned the man was the rude one for expecting a lady to stand.
It was a visit that made such an incredible impression on us all and we were blessed to have had the experience. Funnily enough, when the kids and I went to Evans Head on the day that the restrictions were implemented, I was listening to a podcast about the death of David Dungay. David Dungay died in police custody under remarkably similar circumstances to George Floyd. Yet not his death nor the hundreds of deaths in custody of Indigenous Australians since 1990 have prompted us into action. So maybe we sweep more under the carpet than the Americans do?
Australia is a lucky country, but we also need to start listening. We need to change the conversation. A few months ago, I was filling up the car and went into the service station to pay for my petrol. A rather large man was in front of me and was having a discussion with the attendant about being overcharged for a packet of chips. He let loose with a barrage of abuse at the attendant. Everything from being a towel head to a black bastard to being responsible for stealing the jobs from effing white Australians. He scared the hell out of me, but I also knew that for me to be quiet made me just as bad as him. So, I simply asked him to not speak to the attendant like that as it was unacceptable. He then turned his abuse onto me. I was everything from a fat dyke to a stupid ugly c. Luckily it was pre corona-virus times as he got so close to me I could feel his spittle on my face. He was an awful man filled with hate.
When he left I asked the attendant if he was ok and he said he had dealt with worse. He told me that I needn’t have said anything, and I replied that I had to say something, we all had to say something. When I left, the angry man was waiting for me and he abused me as I got into the car where Archie and Rissie were waiting. Talk about a lesson in hate. I burst into tears, because I am a sook and because that man in the service station said he had dealt with worse. 5 minutes of abuse had demoralised and scared me witless, how the hell can we even understand how people feel when they have been dealing with abuse and judgement for generations?
I didn’t post a black square or use the hashtags as sometimes I think if we really want to be silent, we need to be silent, so the voices that matter can be heard. I hope one day we can change the conversation so that one day, people can be comfortable in their skin and can be judged instead by what is in their heart. Until that day though, we need to understand why people are angry and to work on changing the conversation.