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. 


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