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Racists cannot be let off the hook just because they are stupid

Date

Aparna Khopkar

Aparna Khopkar

Aparna Khopkar

"Ew, you're the colour of poo!"

"Why don't you just go back to where you came from?"

"F---ing Asian drivers  can't drive"

None of these comments is racist, according to a recent comment piece in the Herald. They're just stupid.

But I can still remember the exact place I was standing when the boy in my year 5 class asked me whether I'd just fallen off a toilet brush.

I can still feel the hot, dark flush of shame rising up my body, the lump in the back of my throat and the shock that paralysed me so I couldn't think of a witty (or any) retort.

I can still remember waiting at the bus stop after high school when the young man with floppy brown hair put his face within centimetres of mine and whispered menacingly that I should go back where I came from. I can still remember how scared and alone I felt as he sauntered off.

I can still remember the anger I felt last year when the old guy yelled at me as he drove past my car, and the worry I felt that my child in the back seat had heard him. I can still feel the regret I had for the next few hours that I hadn't been quick enough to yell back at him before he tore off down the street.

Yep - all these examples can be classified as stupid. The people who said them didn't know better, or made a mistake, or were just aggro morons.

But letting people off the hook for their stupidity ignores the impact their words have on those to whom they are directed.

It ignores the ever present mentality that being from a non-white culture in Australia is to be "other".

It allows the structural effects of racism to fester on, and the harmful effects of unconscious race discrimination to continue.

It ignores the long history of racism, oppression and discrimination that are a part of the world's and Australia's history from which these "stupid" comments stem.

It allows people to continue telling the victims of  racist outbursts to "toughen up" or "get over it" instead of insisting that the perpetrators take responsibility for what they've said and how it's affected someone.

Sure, the comments by Warren Ryan on the ABC and the LA Clippers’ Donald Sterling weren’t directed at any one person, but you’d have to be a special kind of “stupid”  to presume an Aboriginal or African-American person hasn’t been called those terms to their faces.

In fact, you can bet that any non-white person has heard a white person say something "stupid" countless times before your "stupid" comment.

You might be able to write it off as an idiotic remark, a momentary lapse,  but for me, it's a humiliating and infuriating moment to add to a pile of similar ones I'll remember vividly, whether I want to or not.

Aparna Khopkar is a Herald journalist

228 comments so far

  • I will never forget the day my Caucasian daughter came home from school (year 5 as well) and told me that the group of Asian girls she attempted to befriend and have lunch with told her to go away, as she wasn't one of them, and hasn't she got somewhere else to sit, with her own kind. It happened with a number of different groups of Asian girls, over a few months.

    We are harassed by ME males whenever we walk in our Western Sydney shops, for not being "covered", and ignored in Asian grocery stores that have hardly any signed in English.

    We got over it and are told to live with it.

    But do we write countless articles on the topic and deplore Australia as being racist?
    No, we are not allowed to - we are white.

    Commenter
    Whatever
    Date and time
    June 13, 2014, 9:45AM
    • I guess you know how it feels now. Not that nice is it?

      Commenter
      Bruiser
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:08AM
    • Whatever, it's offensive regardless of who does it to whom. If you think white Australians are subject to the same degree of racism, discrimination, abuse etc. as non-white Australians then please feel free to challenge the status quo. But how does that make this a non-issue?

      Commenter
      jofek
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:10AM
    • I'm Mediterranean background (dark skinned) and I completely agree with you. Its not just the asians, the brown or the black who have racism directed at them. The Whites in Australia are targeted just as much by all these groups.

      In saying that, it doesnt make it right. Just pointing out that the minorities aren't the only ones experiencing racism.

      Commenter
      Paul
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:13AM
    • Whatever - two wrongs don't make a right. The way your daughter was treated was wrong, but that is not justification for ignoring blatant racism. Everyone has to take a stand - and maybe that will help your daughter in the future. .

      Commenter
      Thomas Gale
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:14AM
    • It's a valid point but two wrongs don't make a right. It doesn't excuse the behaviour of anyone no matter what their country of origin/heritage.

      Commenter
      Deedee
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:14AM
    • Racism is hurtful and wrong no matter the context. It is not us and them.

      Commenter
      yam44
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:20AM
    • I agree "Whatever" how come its OK to discriminate against US?

      Commenter
      Pommie Bastard
      Location
      here
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:24AM
    • Whatever
      It is a lot easier to "get over it" when you are part of the majoirity.
      The reason these people form enclaves and huddle together is because too many of the majority single them out for being part of a minority. They seek safety in numbers.
      Perhaps you need to broaden your thinking a little.

      Commenter
      Steve
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:25AM
    • I went to bankstown tafe night classes and every week without fail i was harrassed for being "skippy" and had things thrown at me etc. It really sucked and is wrong, racism comes from all races/colours and i think this article is valid to all forms of racial bullying.

      Commenter
      nator
      Location
      syd
      Date and time
      June 13, 2014, 10:35AM

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