Racism (when the anger starts)

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by Neil Godfrey

Rather than try to cover for now the many sides to the racism question that Reni Eddo-Lodge raises in her book Why I’ve Stopped Talking to White People about Race, I’ll just mention one thought that has lodged uppermost in my mind as I think back on my reading.

I know the Australian situation better than either the British or American experiences and for the first time, at least as far as I can remember, I paused to try to imagine what it might be like being born into an aboriginal family. Healthwise, what are their chances compared with a white person’s? We know the expected life-span of aboriginals is significantly less than it is for whites. What sorts of supports do children have at home with their schooling and how likely is it that aboriginal adolescents will escape brushes with the police — and what are their chances of seeing the inside of a prison compared with white people? And then why is it that we keep hearing of deaths in custody? Having lived for some years in the Northern Territory did make me far more aware of aboriginal conditions and experiences than I would have had had I never left the major urban areas on the east coast of Australia.

Poor comparisons can also be made with suburban areas where first and second-generation non-English speaking immigrants tend to live. Would a white person feel comfortable imagining being born into one of those communities as opposed to a stable white one?

Thinking of it like that drives home, at least for me, the reality of what is meant by systemic racism. We can expect that Australians would be outraged and governments would act the highest priority reforms and assistance packages to make the lives of (white) people in such communities on a par with the rest of the population with respect to genuine equality of opportunities in life. The rest of the (white) population would, in the main, surely expect the government to take those urgent measures.

What dismays me is when I hear some white Australians, including elected representatives, complain about unfair welfare “handouts” to aboriginal and other minority groups. Those complainants demand “equality” and “fairness” for all — and call for policies to be colourblind as the way to being truly fair and equal. Those calls fail to understand — as Reni Eddo-Lodge makes readers all the more starkly aware — that being colourblind in the current situation is only perpetuating a system that sets aboriginals at a disadvantage from the moment of their birth. And that’s where the anger and hostility start: with the failure to recognize the currently unequal experiences of whites compared with black and brown races. The anger surfaces when there is blindness to the white experience of privilege in what is touted as a multiracial society.

I see from some of the comments on the earlier posts that I am happily not alone having these thoughts. It’s something a white person has to make an effort to understand, I think.