For a while now I’ve been reading posts like this one on Justine Larbalestier’s blog with great interest and just a touch of fear. Why fear? I am a white, middle class Australian who grew up in a small country town where I had very little contact with people of other cultures. This had two consequences. The first: a great fascination with people who are different than I am. The second, which I am discovering is actually tied to the first(see Said for that one): racism.
It is definitely not an intentional racism. I was always taught that all people are equal, and I sincerely believe it. I love people of all cultures and creeds. I celebrate the successes of people different than me and I want to learn from them. But I am still racist.
How? I am only still discovering this. Something Justine said really spoke true for me:
"I’m white. I’ve been having epiphany after epiphany about my own white privilege and what a blinkered view of the world it has given me. The shutters have been lifting. It’s a wonderful thing."
This was a comfort to me as, since I moved to Newcastle and started university, and began to come into contact with people of other cultures, I have had similar epiphanies. Attitudes I have possessed which privelege people like me above others, assumtions about people of different cultures.
Here’s one story that illustrates what I am talking about:
In my first year of university I took an anthropology course, and by some coincidence there happened to be a girl from my hometown in my tutorial class. We were talking about discrimination and bigotry against Aboriginal Australians and the other girl mentioned that in her (my) rural town she had many friends who were Aborigines and that they formed a large percentage of our town’s population.
This was shocking to me. I couldn’t remember ever even talking to an Aborigine in all my time growing up in that town. I knew there was an Aboriginal organisation on one of our main streets but I honestly had no idea that there were many Aborigines at all in the area. The difference? The girl in my tutorial had gone to a public school in what I had always considered to be the ‘bad’ part of town, a part of town I was scared even to walk through. I had gone to the Catholic school only a few kilometers away.
It’s hard to admit. It sounds awful. It IS awful. I think part of the problem is that most people who act in a racist, bigoted or sexism manner have absolutely no idea they are doing so. They are speaking from a place of privilege and can ignore the realities of their prejudice easily. I had no idea my attitudes and actions could be interpreted as racist because all the people I knew and interacted with were exactly like me.
I’ve made a concerted effort to seek out the ‘epiphanies’ Justine spoke of. I am an anthropology major at uni. I joined an organisation that links up international students with domestic students so I could make new friendships and learn to confront my "blinkered view of the world".
It doesn’t take away the fear I face about talking about these things. I’ve never commented on one of Justine’s posts because I am afraid that I will make the discussion about me, that I will be insensitive or offensive. I’m sure something I’ve said here would be interpreted as offensive. Every time I meet someone from a culture I’m unfamiliar with, or make a new friends through the ‘community connections’ program at uni, I’m afraid that a latent racist attitude will surface and I will offend my new friend.
As much as I strive to expose and destroy these attitudes, I’m also very afraid to. But I’m still trying. And I think that counts for something.