I’m a white person and I grew up in a racist home. You wouldn’t have thought so, from the outside looking in. Well, the white part was obvious, not so much the racist part, but it was there.
There were no crew cuts, swastikas, Australian flags or glorified military memorabilia beyond some keepsakes from serving members within the family. Growing up, these were the typical images I associated with being racist. They’re not. However, like many of us, I was raised with the unconscious biases handed down through the generations, creating stereotypes. On the outside, these biases seem harmless, until they aren’t.
One evening, I can’t remember how old I was, probably about 12 or 13, and were all at the table eating dinner, and my father made a comment that my brother took deep offense to. I don’t recall what my father said exactly, but it was one of the few occasions of my entire childhood, my brother and I had each other’s back.
Keep in mind, it was the early 1990’s, we were two kids from Brisbane at a time when there was no internet, no access to the outside world beyond music, movies, my beloved metal magazines and whatever was on the 6pm news. In other words, unlike the kids of today, we had no idea of anything other than what we were told.
As my brother slammed down his cutlery, a deafening silence fell across the table and in that moment, my brother called my father a racist. A heated discussion ensued between the three of us. My mother remained silent and neutral.
I can barely remember the details of that argument, but I remember the feeling. It was ugly. It was the kind of ugly you see when someone is intoxicated. They think they are hiding behind the bravado of alcohol, but in reality, they just become extremely transparent and you see all the hurt, and pain. But in those drunken moments, the ugliness is too much and the damage is done. To me, racism feels the same, only alcohol is replaced by ones’ ego. I never invited any of my friends to my parent’s home again.
Not my Lebanese friend in primary school that I’d swap lunches with. I loved her tabouleh and she envied my vegemite sandwiches. I’d go home and ask my Mum why doesn’t she cook food like that? “We’re not wogs,” she’d say. I think of all my friends growing up, who were of different backgrounds to me and the differences between us were never apparent while we were laughing together in the playground. It was only at home our differences were pointed out. This is exactly how racism perpetuates. For the astrologers reading this, you can imagine how confusing this was to me with Neptune in Sagittarius conjoined the descendant.
It never went away though, the racism. Referring to various races as whatever degrading terminology was used at the time, was a common occurrence. I won’t list them here because we’ve heard them all before. Similarly, growing up with red hair, I was on the receiving end of plenty of name-calling. I have experience in what it was like as a child to be singled out for your appearance. Fortunately for me, it barely continued beyond childhood.
It wasn’t just the words, it was the tone. The racist tone was especially unkind and ugly, always underlined with certain kind of snarkyness, insinuating that we’re better. If you make joke of it, or laugh it off, surely, it’s not racist? You’re just “avin’ a go, aren’t ya mate?”
It wasn’t just my household either. I went to school with girls who obviously had parents with a similar outlook toward other human beings. I remember being on the train coming home from school, as we got close to the station where a certain racial demographic lived, she’d make comment about how the train would soon stink.
On occasion, we’d visit relative’s interstate, and it was the same. All wrapped up in jokes of course, but there’s always truth to every joke. I’d hear racist terms being used, but apparently that made it ok because, they had a *insert nationality here* friend.
Growing up, it was confusing territory to navigate. Were these jokes the truth? Were they just being mean? I was raised Catholic, we were meant to love one another, as Jesus had done. Looking back, I’m glad I took more truth from music and books than I did from the adults around me.
Once I finished school and left the cultural void that was my existence, as soon as I could, I got myself to Sydney. I had a lot to learn about life, about people, but I thrived there. I was adopted by so many different families. Indian, Lebanese, Jewish, Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, Croatian. I got invited to the birthday’s, the weddings, the religious ceremonies. There were times barely a word of English was spoken around me. Oh, did I mention the romances? Oh, they were had too! A work colleague invited me to her daughter’s 18th birthday party. My boyfriend at the time said, “everyone will think I’m the invited guest and you’re my plus one!” Sure enough, I was the only white person at the party.
I remember cooking with an Iraqi friend at her house and she said something to me in Arabic. Her daughter said, “Mum, she doesn’t understand you!” and sure enough, somehow, I passed her exactly what she wanted. It was hilarious at the time.
A dear Indian friend of mine had never baked a cake from scratch before. One Sunday, I went to her place and we baked about three different cakes. To this day, I still make a few of the Indian recipes she shared with me.
It was the joy, the togetherness and acceptance that I loved the most. Just people being together and appreciating each other. I got called names too. A friends’ grandmother called me ‘sapheda gudiya’ (white doll) in Hindi. She’d try and match-make me with her grandsons. I also was given other names, some of which were a little cheeky, but they were terms of endearment, not terms of hate.
At one stage, I was working in Parramatta, one of the multicultural hubs of Sydney. At that time, there were mainly Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian people there alongside the white Australians. I’ve always had an estranged relationship with my parents, and up until then, I could count on one hand how many times I’d seen them in nearly 10 years. They were in town for a concert and we arranged to meet up. I picked them up from their hotel and we went to the nearby Westfields for lunch and to take my mother shopping.
Intentionally, as we walked through the automatic sliding doors and into the shopping centre, I looked at my watch. Seventeen seconds is all it took.
S E V E N T E E N S E C O N D S!
Seventeen seconds was all it took for her to say, “Gee, there aren’t many Australians here, are there?” It felt ugly. Instead of my childhood friends being rejected, it was a place, a vibe and people, whom I loved.
It was about another 8 or 9 years later that life had other plans for me. I left Sydney and came back to Brisbane. I decided to live as close to the middle of everything as I could get, and as far as I could from where I grew up.
I reconnected with some friends from my childhood and for the most part, it was like entering a time warp. In the eighteen years that had passed, I’d grown up, experienced life and people in ways that were the antithesis of my upbringing. It didn’t take long for me to feel the extent of racist attitudes from simple minds and inexperienced lives.
Within the first year of my return, my grandmother died. I sat with her on her death bed the day before she passed. The entire day she told me stories, in between drifting off to sleep. She knew her time was close, so she opened the vault. At one point she said, “Cassie, I have to let you know that on the North Coast of New South Wales, there are some Aboriginal families there.” She took a long pause and regained her composure. “They have our name, but I assure you, they are not one of us.” I smiled at her and said, “like everyone else in our family, you don’t know me, Grandma.” When it was time to go through her things, I found photos of her I’d never seen. Having spent a large portion of her life as a military wife, she was a Red Cross volunteer in Malaysia in the 1960’s. In one photo, she was consoling a young Malaysian child in a way she’d never had done for me, nor probably not my mother, neither. Here she was showing compassion to a child of colour, but adamant that I’m not of Aboriginal blood. It’s interesting how bias shows up.
What I’ve learned about racism is it’s a result of one, or a combination of the following;
2) Lack of education
Sometimes racism can emerge from growing up in a place that lacks diversity. If you’re only exposed to your own kind, coupled with what the media or Hollywood informs you, it’s not surprising that you’ll suspect the first Arab you meet is a terrorist, or the first Black person you see is going to rob you. It’s all part of the narrative.
In this case, the sage wisdom of Brene Brown may help, “people are hard to hate close up, move in.”
As we move forward, a lack of education won’t be an excuse, it will be a choice. Black people, people of colour and a variety of nationalities are ready to shed light on their reality. As the Nodes occupy Gemini / Sagittarius for the next 18 months, our job is to take in the influx of new ideas and information. Our challenge is to integrate this new awareness, be ready to shift old beliefs and perspectives that ultimately serve to limit the joy, connection and love we’ll experience.
Our candle doesn’t diminish by lighting someone else’s.
If you are unwilling, you’re either in some form of emotional pain, denial, or, you could just be an arsehole.
What I know to be true about racism is that it’s steeped in history, and continues to be rinsed and repeated. It’s the silent cancer of our civilisation that not only has infected every system and structure within it, it’s also infiltrated us spiritually, energetically and ancestrally.
While changing the foundations of our civilisation won’t happen overnight, we can choose now to change our own thoughts and attitudes. We can choose the words we speak to our family, our friends and most importantly, our children. We can choose to speak up, even if our voice quivers. Even when we don’t know what to say. Even when we might get it wrong. We can choose to begin the process of unlearning what we’ve been told and accepted as truth. We can listen more. Empathise more. Feel more. Take the time.
My parents only passed down to me what they knew, as did their parents did to them, and their parents before them, as yours may have done to you. While each of us may be cut from our parents’ cloth, we don’t have to be of the same pattern.
The cycle can be broken.
We all live under one sky.