race


I live in a town in Central Australia, a racially diverse community, with a large Aboriginal population.

A white person like me, with progressive anti-racist friends, could choose to try and fool myself into believing that the different races, cultures are living side-by-side more-or-less in harmony. Nobody would deny there’s inequality, poverty, social problems – but we’re all working to fix those historical issues, right?

Wrong. This is a racist town. Perhaps not more or less racist than the next, but any racism is too much.

The racism is here all the time, built into the structures and culture of the place, part of the daily lives of Aboriginal people.

But there have been some recent local incidents which have brought the racism out into the open, got people talking about it.  In July, a young Aboriginal man was murdered by five white men. One charming local man responded to this by producing and selling white power t-shirts. Most recently, a cross erected in memory of the murdered man was  burned.

It takes the really ugly stuff which finally gets us privileged, well-meaning white folks to do something.

A couple of weeks ago there was a community announcement in the paper signed by over 300 locals offering support to the Ryder family and denouncing the racist acts.

Yesterday there was a community speakout against racism. A group of black and white people got together to talk about racism, the recent attrocities, as well as the more ingrained, long term structural stuff.

It was a powerful event. The kind of thing this town has needed for a long time. Bringing it out in the open.

And it was just a start. More is planned.

All of this has made me thing about how to introduce race and racism to Wren. We have not spoken about race yet and there’s a part of me that would like it to stay that way. But it’s becoming more apparent that it is something that can’t be ignored. I love the way he has no (obvious) prejudices now: he plays happily with kids of any colour, smiles at the homeless people in the mall. But no doubt he has noticed differences in skin colour, and over time some significance will become attached to that. It must be spoken of.

He came to the speakout yesterday. There were lots of kids. He was too interested in the balloons to pay any attention to what was being said. But for me, it was important that he was there.

I could try to keep him in a privileged cocoon, pretending there’s no such thing as race. But if he was another colour, it would be a different story. And it wouldn’t be right, not in the long term. If he is to understand the place where he is growing up, the experience of the black kids here, it must be spoken of. If any of us are to address our ingrained racism and privilege, it must be spoken of.

Arwyn at Raising My Boychick has just written an excellent post about the problems with colour-blindness and talking about race with children. She says it all better than me and I love her for it.

Also, I just read her link to this fascinating article, which really shows how trying to get rid of racism by ignoring it just DOES NOT WORK.

Somewhere along the line, I have become anxious. I worry. I frown. I do not relax.

When I go out with Wren, a few bad experiences have left me unable to enjoy myself.  I worry that he will break something, whinge or scream too much, make me chase him when I sit down to talk to someone. Of course, this doesn’t always happen. But even when we have a perfect outing, I ruin it myself by being anxious, waiting for something to go wrong.

At home, I am anxious about all the things I need to get done. It is a rare moment when we just play, laugh, be. When he is asleep, I make myself sit down for a cup of tea. But I do not relax. The cup of tea has become just one more thing I must do. I move inefficiently from one task to the next, leaving each incomplete.

But last night, we danced. We went out together, the whole family, and we danced. The Desert Festival is on and there was a brilliant outdoor concert. Bedtimes were forgotten, anxieties dissipated, hearts uplifted, with music from the coolest people in the Australia, The Black Arm Band, a collective project featuring the greatest indigenous musicians around. All the classics, beautiful, danceable tunes, with politics at it’s heart. If I could wish one thing for Jasper, it would be for him to one day dance like Dan Sultan (well…).

For one night, we danced. For one night, the racial divides eased, as black and white danced side by side. For one night, the town danced. And there was hope.

Wren almost fell asleep in my arms at his usual time, but then got a second wind. He was adopted by a very sweet 7 year old boy, they cuddled and danced together for hours. There were children everywhere. People had come out of their little boxes of isolation we call homes, and were dancing together.

And me too, I danced. And I relaxed. The whole family stayed out until – wait for it – 10pm! That’s past all of our bedtimes.

For one night, we danced.

Today, we are living the consequences. A cranky toddler who didn’t get enough sleep and has become accustomed to constant playmates. A tired, anxious mother, trying to cope with my first day of solo parenting for over 3 weeks (we’ve had visits from both grandmothers).

But in my head I sing “Blackfella, white fella…”, “Fish soup and rice…” and “Solid Rock”, and I remind myself that for one night, we danced.