No doubt that sentence is familiar to a large group of Australians. It’s the sentence used by Centrelink for voice recognition software. As I repeated the sentence to create a voice signature, I thought about the weight of that sentence in today’s political climate.
As a coloured woman, my voice is probably the last thing that identifies me in this country. Like many before me, I have been judged by misconceptions based on racial bias. In those moments, it was purely the colour of my skin that identified me, and nothing more.
I went through a cycle of emotions coming to terms with this. The first time I encountered racism at the age of five, I was crippled with sadness. All I wanted was to be the same as everyone else. I hated that my skin was darker, my hair curlier, my lips bigger than all the other kids.
As I got older, the sadness turned to rage. I was angry at the idea that I had to justify my existence in the country I called home. The news cycle at the time was George Bush Senior flexing his muscle over the Arab territory. It was the era that division and polarising nationalism was on the rise. I was angry with the media, politicians, the girls that bullied me all those years ago, I was even angry with my parents. After all, it was their decision to move to a foreign country to raise their children.
In my early twenties, the rage subsided. I moved out of home and learned just how different my life experience was to all the other kids around me. Socially, things calmed down, I was more interested in finding my place in the world than I was in my appearance and how the world perceived me.
When I was 21, the twin towers in New York fell to the ground in a shocking terrorist attack that shook the world. Muslim became synonymous with terrorist. Baby Bush even declared war on ‘terrrr’ (sic)
It was a wild couple of decades after that. Racism leapt from casual faux pas to blatant vilification without apology. The highest-paid radio host in the country started a race riot that made international news. I don’t have the energy, or the inclination to give oxygen to the thousands of other examples over the years in Australian history to justify this point. It happened. It’s still happening.
In an attempt to curb my screen time, I went off social media three days before George Floyd was killed by police in America. I recently went back on and was reminded of the Betoota Advocate article, This Amazing App Tells You Which Of Your Friends Are Secretly Racist.
Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s the weather, potentially it’s the phase of the moon, I don’t know, but when I went back on social media, it was like the internet and humanity were melting down.
I only saw a few posts of people sharing articles, or some memes or a lengthy status update. It was intense. Once again, I was left trying to understand other people’s points of view. Some people were outraged by statues being pulled down because, history, legacy, something, something. As I said, I scrolled through very quickly, TL;DR. One person shared an article outlining George Floyd's criminal record. One person compared the NSW premier to Hitler because she tried to stop the BLM protest. Someone else took offence to Captain James Cook's legacy being besmirched.
Social media felt like a battleground with two, very strong, extremely opposed camps. Each camp had the same amount of rage, hate and desire to be heard. Good on them.
I didn’t partake in the noise. I wasn’t interested, to be honest. If we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, I would have absolutely taken part in the protest. That’s the only kind of noise I want to be involved in.
It’s not surprising, given the gravity of the situation, that emotions are high. I feel like the #alllivesmatter movement is born from a place of discomfort. It’s easier to accept that we are all equal when you’re in a position of privilege than it is to accept the unjust inequality that still exists in 2020. The privilege of being white means you don’t have to be aware of what that inequality feels like. It’s like saying, “I have never seen a tiger, and therefore tigers don’t exist”. If you haven’t seen or experienced racial prejudice, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
This uprising and social change have led to a massive response in people wanting to understand and learn more about the horrific treatment of black people and slavery in America. It has shed light on police brutality and racial inequality all around the world.
I recently watched the Australian Dream on ABC iView. Holy shit… so many tears. Initially, tears of desolation. I was nodding my head, understanding exactly what Goodesy was going through. When Stan Grant talked about “scrubbing the black off his skin”, it took me straight back to being a child, bleeding in the shower with a scrubbing brush, desperate to be white. Then, as the documentary went on, I was horrified. There is no way I will ever understand what Indigenous Australians experience. Genocide, slavery, assimilation camps, and to top it all off, a national day of celebration on the day the devastation began. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around what any of that would be like. As the documentary ended, the tears were hopeful.
Going back to that cycle of emotions, now, I’m hopeful. The chain of events that have led to this moment in time will be a significant moment in history. I’m hopeful that in generations from now, people will look back at 2020 and be shocked at the treatment of people of colour. They will look back and see how a united front of people, stood together in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in our history, to fight for equality, to fight for freedom and the right to be heard. How that fight and those voices echoed across the world. How those voices were heard and legislations were changed. How those voices led to a shift in the paradigm of what we know to be true. This is the power of the people. This is the result of an uprising of oppression, years in the making. This is not the end result. This is only the beginning.
As a white person, don’t feel as though you can’t contribute to the cause. We need as many voices as possible to be as loud as they can for our voice to reverberate across the world and spread this message of unity. To people of colour, stop politely backing away when any form of racial inequality presents itself for fear of starting trouble.
We don’t have to be aggressive to get our point across, we don’t even have to have polarising views, simply educate those that don’t know better. This is not the time to be proud and expect others to know what they don’t know. Take advantage of the momentum that is building, while we have the crowds in our favour.
During a time of immense discomfort, unknown probability and despair, we all have a responsibility to be kind to one another. To open our minds and embrace our differences. Despite the politicised division, elections, and all the bullshit that we are exposed to on a daily basis, this pandemic should be a reminder that we are all humans. Just as this virus doesn’t discriminate, nor should any of us.