If you look at my family tree, it’s pretty standard caucasion stuff.
On my mothers’ side a man stole a horse, and got sent to Tasmania. He had two wives, apparently. Something that was a whole lot easier before the advent of communication.
There is something a lot more mysterious about my Father’s side. There’s a persistent rumour that there was some Chinese heritage And one time when my Dad was working in a surf shop, someone walked in and looked like the spitting image of my Grandfather. My Dad asked him what his heritage was. And he replied ‘I’m aboriginal mate’. Now whether there is actual Aboriginal heritage or not, I’ll never know. Apparently there was a lot of relationships between Chinese immigrants and indigenous people back in the day, or so I’ve been told. And there are definitely plenty of Aboriginal women who have walked up to me and told me I am their sister. But maybe they say that to everyone, I don’t know.
I’ve certainly always had an affinity for indigenous history. Indigenous criminal law and inidgenous land law were by far my best subjects at university It was an uncomfortable subject, I cried a lot. Like how a young indigenous man in Queensland had given a car passing by the finger after they had called him a name. And they ran him over ten times. That kind of thing stays with you. Like how 50 people had seen (and testified) to the fact that an indigenous person had been beaten to death by police after attempting to break up a pub fight and the police walked free, with not even a bad mention on their professional record. That stays with you too.
I’m aware of my racial bias. The way I feel somehow less safe with a dark skinned person walking towards me in an alley. I know how I feel, but I know it’s not real. It’s not based on anything, other than inbuilt racism. Sure, I’ve been mugged (or attempted to be mugged) by people who happened to be aboriginal. But I’ve also been well looked after by aboriginal people. So I know, it’s just that stereotype, ingrained in my brain being reinforced. And I fight against that.
And so when Adam Goodes, after having the courage to point out a racial slur in a game that should have filled him with pride, was called a sook, that ‘ape’ wasn’t a real racial slur; I felt sick.
Sick to my freaking bones.
Let’s allow victims of racism to define what is racist and what is not.
It doesn’t matter whether people from a background of privilege think it should be racist or not.
Let’s allow people who experience racism every day to tell us what it is.
Everyone is racist. Racism isn’t good and bad, or true or false. It’s a matter of degrees. But if you can at least be open to discovering the nature of your bias, then I think that is a start.
And then one day, you might have an experience that will change your world. And that’s a good thing. The world should be changed.
That moment came for me when I realised that the person who had told me he had killed someone was the gentlest person I’d ever known. He was lovely. He had a love of dragons. He had a tattoo on his skull. He was abused by his mother. He was addicted to heroin. In fact, he had injected over a million dollars into his arm. And I always felt safe with him. Always.
I still wonder about him. If he is still clean. If he made a life for himself. If he made peace with his mother. If he killed himself. He always said he would die before going back to Long Bay. I don’t know how his life turned out. I don’t know if he made it. But I do know that my life was better for having known him, even for a short time.
When you work with people like him, you have to look at things in a certain way. Not as life as victory, and death as defeat. Addiction is a war. Winning the war is nothing, fighting the battle is everything. Sometimes, good people fight the battle but lose the war. But it doesn’t matter that they lost the war, because the fact that they were capable of fighting at all is worthy of awe. And sometimes they might just get a few years, before they lose the war. Sometimes a few more. But it’s more than what they would have had.
I had a beautiful man die after several years of being clean. But that wasn’t who he was. That wasn’t the sum of his life. He led a beautiful life. He sung like an angel at St Mary’s cathedral. He looked after people. He loved his family. He did so many things, even if he had a short time to do them. I still think I see him sometimes, but I don’t. He is gone, and I miss him. He was lovely.
And so, the next time you think that someone is being a sook. STOP. And wonder how much you really know about their life. They might not be a sook, they might be the bravest person you know.