22 December 2016

I used to be (more) racist.

I used to be racist.

Oh, not the overt sort of racist. I didn't call people the n word or think black people were inferior or anything. In fact, I thought everyone was the same and we should all be treated equally. I was the good sort of racist! One that doesn't think they are racist at all.

 When the first season of Australian Idol aired in 2003, with several of the contestants being people of colour, I thought "why are there so many non-Australians on it?"

When Aboriginal boy TJ Hickey died in 2004 when he crashed into a fence whilst fleeing from police on his bike, I thought "well, that's very sad, but if he hadn't been running away he wouldn't have died."

When I heard of high rates of disadvantage among Aboriginal people, I thought "well, that's very sad, but there are so many programs to help them".

When I first heard of white privilege, I got very indignant. I thought "how dare you, my life has been anything but privileged". 

Yep, I was racist. I had a lot of learning to do.

Some of it came when I moved from Newcastle to inner Sydney. Newcastle is overwhelmingly white, and if you turned on the TV, all you saw was white faces. (This is slowly getting better - it's now far more common to see, for example, people of Asian heritage in commercials, where their being Asian isn't the point). In Sydney I could see the real face of Australia, one that isn't always white. Eventually it got to where, when folks back home spoke of playing "spot the Aussie" in Sydney, I could say "they're all Aussies, mate". And that it wasn't fair that people whose families had been here for generations had their Austrailianness questioned, when I - who wasn't even born here - did not. 

A huge bunch of learning came when I enrolled in a youth work course at TAFE, with classmates from backgrounds all over the world, and the most wonderful teacher. I learned, from her and others, and visits to community centres in Redfern, of the appalling police harassment of Aboriginal people, the false accusations, the beatings, the seizure of people's legally owned property. TJ Hickey was fleeing from that, and no wonder. I thought that was all in the past. And it's people's belief that it's all in the past that allows this shocking treatment to continue. 

I learned to listen to the voices of people affected by all this casual and institutional racism. That the lived reality for Aboriginal parents is pervaded by fear; fear their young children will be taken away, fear their older children will be targeted by police

I learned that white privilege does not mean I personally, am privileged. It means that, all else being equal, my white skin has made life easier for me than it would have been otherwise. I turn on the TV and see people who look like me (well, they're thinner, but we'll leave that be). I have never been turned down for a job or a rental property because of my race. I've never had a customer refuse to be served by me because of my race. (For a better explanation of this, check out this piece, "explaining white privilege to a broke person". 

I know I still have so far to go. I know I can't fully appreciate the lived experience of racism in this country. But it's still going on, appallingly. Aboriginal people are still incarcerated at astonishing rates, disadvantaged, their children removed, their life expectancy lower. And if you really believe that "we're all the same", then it's difficult to attribute this to anything other than entrenched racism. It was extremely difficult to watch the footage of Ms Du, who died in jail after the disgusting treatment by staff, who refused to believe her cries of pain; failing to seek treatment until she died from staphylococcal septicaemia and pneumonia.

And she was in jail for unpaid fines. Compare this, if you will, to Kristina Hampel, convicted of cocaine trafficking, who avoided any jail time because it would "embarrass her family", her father being a retired Supreme Court judge.

These are not isolated cases. See the brutal images that defined 2016 for Aboriginal Australians.

Let's stop pretending we're all equal. Some of us are a lot more equal than others. Yeah, I was annoyed and embarrassed when first challenged on my racism. I'm sure I still have a tonne of views that need changing. But we all have work to do here. We need to admit we have a problem, then we can fix it. 

18 December 2016

Ten days of distraction from a shrinking economy

Australia's economy shrank by 0.5% in the September quarter, the largest contraction since the GFC. Such things happen, but of course Prime Minister Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and the rest of the Government quickly and soberly announced plans to get the nation back on track.
Nope, I'm just kidding. The entire government, enthusiastically aided by the Murdoch press, launched a campaign of obfuscation and downright bizarre distraction, refocusing the national pique on issues so marginal, so trivial, that you actually might have to give grudging credit for a brilliant piece of political play. 

In ten days:



  • Immigration Minister Peter Dutton bought into the "War on Christmas", declaring Australia is a Christian country, that people want their kids brought up in a normal environment and that a lack of Christmas carols in schools is - what else? - "political correctness gone mad". 



  • Treasurer Scott Morrison fired up the barbie for a roast of Newstart recipients, condemning the 36,000 recipients of the payment had rejected job offers, apparently choosing "generous" welfare payments and refusing to work.




  • Never one to be left out, Tony Abbott got in on the act as well, sticking the boot in to those receiving the disability support pension for mere "bad backs, a bit of depression".



  • Completely non biased journalist Sharri Markson bravely informed us - I hope you're clutching your smelling salts - that Year 3 children are being brainwashed into becoming political activists by writing a petition protesting children in detention (both Dutton and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten got stuck into that one). 



  • And finally, Malcolm Turnbull brought it home this weekend by restarting the Republic debate for no apparent reason.

    I was planning to carefully debunk every atom of this nonsense. That Dutton's claim of a war on Christmas and schools abandoning carols was based on a single caller to the Ray Hadley show. That it's almost impossible to even get on the disability pension these days - your condition must be stabilised, so those with cancer, say, or deteriorating conditions don't qualify, so no doubt more than a few of those on Newstart who "rejected" job offers had to turn down jobs they could not physically do because of illness and disability. That my five year old son wrote a similar postcard in our local, mainstream Christian church, and that I'm sick of the politicalisation of compassion. That as Turnbull pointed out, there is no reasonable prospect of public consensus on a republic until Queen Elizabeth dies, which given her genes and constitution may be another decade or more. The numerous Muslim families I saw enjoying the City of Sydney Christmas concert and tree lighting. 


  • And I could go on, but enough. We need to call the government out on this rubbish. We're heading for a recession, house prices continue to grow far beyond income, we are not building the infrastructure needed to keep up with our continually expanding population. These are the issues we need to focus on, not whether a school somewhere had the kids say happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. I'm sick of the side issues. We should look after our own first? Okay, let's talk about the guy who ends up homeless after being kicked off Newstart for turning down a job his disability prevented him from doing. We have a flailing government and an ineffective opposition. Turnbull has been like a rabbit in the headlights since he became PM. He needs to get his shit together and start acknowledging the big issues. Yes, we need to look after our own. 

    12 December 2016

    Australian Trump supporters betray those lost on MH17

    Newly elected One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts is off on his Christmas holidays. He and his family are going to the United States to visit relatives. And whilst I strenuously disagree with his politics, I wouldn't wish Senator Roberts and his family anything other than a happy trip.

    It won't all be fun and games, though:


    Because like pretty much all of Australia's new, and newly emboldened, alt right, Senator Roberts is just smitten with President Elect Donald Trump. From One Nation leader Pauline Hanson toasting Trump's victory with champagne in front of Parliament House (way to show you're in touch with ordinary workers there), to Cory Bernardi proudly wearing a Make America Great Again cap and saying the same sentiment should apply to Australia, to George Christensen, elated by Trump's victory and pondering the lessons to be learned for us, they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude. They believe he stands for what they believe they stand for: the triumph of the ordinary voter over political elites, refusal to conform to that ghastly political correctness business, a refusal to back down from your beliefs, and of course, opposition to the spread of Islam and the fervent belief that Islam is inextricably bound with terrorism.

    Yes, they absolutely hate terrorism. The threat of Islamic terrorism is so great that all Muslims should be barred from entering the country, any practice of Sharia law banned (does this include, say, aspects of Sharia such as observing Ramadan? How would this be enforced - does Senator Hanson plan to pop over to people's houses and force feed them?) Halal certification outlawed, and who knows what other measures to oppress and marginalise one of the world's major religions. There's a terrorist threat, you see. We cannot take any chances.

    Except that the last major terrorist horror involving Australians was when 27 of them were murdered when flight MH17 was shot down with a Russian missile from Russian controlled territory in 2014.  If you don't hear much about it now, that's not surprising. No one on the alt right seems to care much about these Russian terrorists, the Russian president who is resisting all attempts to investigate or bring the perpetrators to justice, or that the new US President they just heart so much has such a cosy relationship with said Russian President he may well be said to be tacitly allowing terrorism himself. The alt right, so incensed by Islamic terrorism, seems to care not a whit about Australians blown from the skies by terrorists if the terrorists are white, Christian and friends of friends.

    Whatever else I'll say about Tony Abbott - very little of it good - at least he acknowledged that Putin himself must be challenged to take responsibility for the downing of MH17 and allow the process of international justice process to take place. The alt right don't do that. And every time the likes of Pauline Hanson or Cory Bernardi sing the praises of Trump - when Trump is at least aligning with the man ultimately responsible for the slaughter of their fellow citizens - they show the hypocrisy of their anti-terrorist agenda and a callous disregard for truth and justice.

    This may seem like a long bow to draw. It's really not. If Pauline Hanson can refuse to so much as share a takeaway snack with one of her fellow Senators because it's Halal, and Halal funds terrorism, then it is hardly spurious to question Senator Hanson's adoring regard for a President who is happy to let the terrorist deaths of her fellow Australians slide. If President to be Trump is to prove himself as an international strongman who is tough on the deaths of Americans and their allies, he needs to be making it clear in the strongest terms to Putin and Russia that they cannot cover up for the MH17 atrocity any more. There is no use claiming "well, Trump isn't even in office yet, we have to wait and see what he does, he'll raise the issue MH17 then". He won't though. Whether or not Russia rigged the election or what, there's something fishy going on, and Trump won't risk his Presidency by angering the regime that helped get him there.

    The wheels of international justice turn very slowly. It took many years for the perpetrators of the Lockerbie bombing to be brought to trial; countless other atrocities are never held to account. But there will never be any justice for those lost on MH17 as long as the international community is too cowed, complacent or controlled* to demand Russia cooperate with an international investigation. And the relatives of the Australians lost on MH17 deserve better than to watch their politicians' adoring support of a President who's just going to let this one slide.

    06 December 2016

    Bi By Now


    I first had a crush on a girl when I was about 11, I think, in my first year of high school; she was a couple of grades above. But it was fairly innocent, as crushes usually are at that age, and in one of the ancient Advice To A Teenage Girl books still swimming through the school library system there was a healthy dose of homophobia, with some of the less noxious wisdom being that adolescent girls often have crushes on older girls, it's a harmless normal stage they'll grow out of. Considering the great big globs of weirdness I was saddled with in almost all other areas of my life, this was welcome news. Hooray! I'm normal!

    And this was a different time. It was years even before Ellen came out, and that was such big news on the cover of Time magazine. I knew there were lesbians, but I thought it meant you had to crop your hair short and ride a motorcycle. But I liked pretty dresses! And there were no visible bisexuals at all. Homophobic jokes abounded. I'm pretty suggestible, and the whole idea of not being straight just seemed like something best kept buried deep down, never thought of - in the closet, yes.

    I didn't think much more of fancying girls for another ten years or so, when after the worst of the craziness following the breakdown of the relationship with the guy I was absolutely certain I was destined to spend the rest of my life with, attraction to women roared into life. Could it have been I was a lesbian this whole time? I experimented. I dated. I hung around lesbian social groups. I worked myself out. No, not a lesbian. I still fancied guys. (Although my taste has always run to the more feminine, less macho types; at least two of my exes have been mistaken for women, and more than one has pointed out I was more masculine than he was). I never really used the word bisexual - it has so many connotations. (Still does). I wasn't interested in reclaiming the word. It was just known in my immediate social circles that I like boys and girls, and we all got on with our lives.

    Then I met a cute guy out one night, we got married and had a kid. That was it, then. I'd locked into hetero life; I could pass, I didn't have to worry. Except I knew I'm not straight. And times were changing. The culture was getting more accepting. I debated coming out, but it didn't seem right, and even kind of pointless. I thought of how my husband would feel - "yes, I love you and am committed to you for the rest of my life, but I want to announce to the world I'm sexually attracted to women. How would that be?". No. Even though he was always fine about it, I just couldn't do it.

    And then we separated amicably after 7 years, for reasons that had nothing to do with sexuality. And...after a suitable mourning period, you start to notice people again. And the time had come to be honest about who I am. A few weeks ago, my GP wrote me a referral to a psych to discuss all my (rather marvelous) hang ups. And on that referral, in the space for sexual orientation, he'd put "heterosexual". A reasonable assumption to make - I'd discussed my separation with him, after all. But it was the wrong one. I'm not heterosexual. I'm tired of passing. I am not just a straight ally who's been to a tonne of gay bars and was advocating for gay marriage when it was seen as a fringe position. I am bisexual. But what I really prefer to say is - I am queer.

    And now here I am. I'm not going through a phase, not sowing my wild oats or relishing my freedom, and I haven't been turned off men. I'm not even dating anyone. (I never meet anyone, which a sensible person would attribute to the fact I never go out, but I prefer to blame my hips).  It was always there and it always will be. And if I'm going to hell, it won't be for this.