THANKS to Mikhaela Barlow for her words and recognition of the problem racism poses to all of us. (Little white lies).
As an Australian with brown skin and dark features, I have sadly experienced the harsh reality of racism my entire life – but especially over the last few years since moving to South Gippsland.
My experience in South Gippsland has included written and verbal racism from local individuals and groups of all ages. My experience has also included apathy and indifference towards racism. Like Mikhaela my experience also “suggests there is a deep undercurrent of racism that exists”.
There have been racist notes left and racist social media posts shared by members of the community stating things like “everyone has the right to be a bigot”, South Gippsland is for “Australians not Asians”, calling for “refugees to leave Australia”, calling for the “abolishment” of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and even the Act itself.
There have been numerous racist comments directed at me, even by complete strangers. There was the time in a local pub where the owner presumed that I could either not speak English or had poor English as I “look Asian”. She yelled in my face, overly pronouncing as she addressed me “Dooo yooouuu undeeerstaaand? Move!” Demanding I remove myself from a table, where I was waiting while my husband was ordering our food, so two white-skinned patrons could sit where I was sitting.
Far more hurtful, harmful, ostracising and marginalising than the blatant racism itself has been the apathy and indifference of others. Unlike any of my previous experiences of racism, bystanders in South Gippsland have more often than not supported the perpetrators rather than the victim.
According to statistics, cultural diversity is very low within most regional areas of Victoria, including ours, and people like me are in the minority. Like all minorities, my sense of belonging depends on those who form the majority, who are in a position of power and privilege to help others rather than harm them. We rely on you to be inclusive, supportive and to speak up when you witness and/or hear about racism within our community. Rather than the opposite.
I have received a loud and clear message from some members of the South Gippsland community that the ideals and values that apply to white-skinned people within the community do not equally apply to those with coloured skin such as myself, especially if we try to speak up against such prejudice and wrongdoing. If we do, we are very quickly pushed back into your box and our token is taken away.
When people choose neither to support us nor to speak up – choosing instead to be apathetic and indifferent, or to just ignore, devalue and deny the racism – they are not only enabling and normalising racism, they are perpetuating it. The failure to stand up to such harmful attitudes and behaviours has wider and often very serious ramifications. This includes the mental and physical impacts experienced by victims of racism, be they an individual or a group.
There are countless contemporary and historical examples of this, as Mikhaela also pointed out in her article. We need just look at some of the personal and public accounts and statistics of individuals and groups with brown skin, including Indigenous Australians, asylum seekers, Muslim Australians and the like, victims of the very serious mental and physical health impacts racism creates. History has shown us the serious damage racism can cause to our humanity.
Growing up in Melbourne, I didn’t realise how broad the problem of racism is in our state, let alone our country, as Victoria is one of the most progressive and diverse places in the world. As I moved from Melbourne, first to the Mornington Peninsula and then to South Gippsland, the issue of racism became more and more prevalent.
I have spoken with a few other brown-skinned South Gippsland residents. Some say they have experienced similar racism to me, others not as much. Some have told me of the pain that racism within our community has caused them, while another person advised me to accept it, that “it’s just the way it is”.
Due to these experiences since settling in South Gippsland, my husband (a fair-skinned “white” Australian) and I have been considering selling our dream block of land and moving. In the meantime, we have also been spending most of our spare time within South Gippsland’s neighbouring region of Bass Coast.
We have found the residents of the Bass Coast community to be more welcoming and inclusive than South Gippsland. This is important to note given Mikhaela's experiences and observations of racism as a Bass Coast resident.
While I have brown skin and dark features, I also have Anglo-Celtic Australian heritage. In fact, my Anglo-Celtic Australian grandfather and his family settled in South Gippsland generations ago.
I am a confident and articulate person, who has voluntarily worked in the areas of multiculturalism and human rights, and I have a sound understanding of my rights and responsibilities as an Australian citizen.
So if I am feeling such despair at the entrenched racism I’ve encountered in South Gippsland, I am deeply concerned about how other non-white Australians within our community (and those who may come to our community) might feel – particularly those who may have darker skin than me, or dress or look different culturally, or who may not be as confident, articulate or experienced.
I wholeheartedly agree with Mikhaela when she says “you can’t be a little bit racist. You are or you aren’t. And if you are, then you are the enemy of humanity, the enemy of a better, more equitable and more peaceful world. Most of us don’t abuse people of other races or commit hate crimes but nor do we speak up when we see racism”.
Sincerest thanks to you, Mikhaela, for your insightful words and recognition of the problem racism poses to all of us, particularly as we work to build stronger and richer regional communities in West and South Gippsland. For someone who has felt the hurt, harm, ostracism and marginalisation caused by racism, for me your article was not only moving but also a relief to read.
Rinchen Wilson is an Australian of Tibetan, Irish and Indigenous heritage. She was born in Dharamsala, in India, a Tibetan refugee settlement that is home to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. She is a member of the South Gippsland Rural Australians for Refugees and has recently joined the Bass Coast South Gippsland Reconciliation Group. Rinchen has voluntarily worked with government bodies, such as the Victorian Multicultural Commission, The Australian Human Rights Commission and The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in the areas of multiculturalism and human rights. Through this work she was invited to sit on the Governor of Victoria’s Roundtable of Victorian Leaders to help develop Victoria’s multicultural policy All of Us.