Go back to where you came from.
What is that n----r doing on that team?
Isn't every wog in this school your cousin?
Just a few things I've heard in Canberra as a white person.
The ACT government has launched an inquiry into racism in the territory, in response to an increase in racist attacks during the COVID pandemic. The investigation, led by the opposition spokeswoman for multicultural affairs, Giulia Jones, will receive input from the Human Rights Commission and ACT Policing. A discussion paper will be ready by March next year.
The Canberra Times has reported on many of these incidents, and in every story, there is a caveat.
Canberra is a nice place, a victim will say. You wouldn't expect this here.
This doesn't resonate with the city I know, in which racism is rife.
We read about stranger-based attacks, such as rocks being thrown into windows or abuse hurled from passing cars. But I have seen many more slurs bandied about in schools, workplaces and among friends. I've heard shocking things behind closed doors when there are only white people around.
I recall one of my teammates being abused by the mothers of an opposing hockey team, who attended a very prestigious local high school. The teenager was called the N-word and other insults by grown women, who lorded themselves over her in the stand like vicious, cackling hyenas.
Racist jokes and insults bounced off high school walls. Students could either laugh along or shrink away. Anyone naive enough to stand up for themselves would just become a bigger target.
I wish I could say it was never me.
That "wog" comment above - that was mine. I still remember my friend's face when I made the joke. It didn't stop me from making more.
I always considered myself the woke one, the righteous one. Geez Lanie, you're so sensitive. We can't say anything in front of you. When the accents were put on, the slurs bandied about, I would whine: Don't say that.
I was the good one. So I thought.
Australians largely became aware of the Black Lives Matter movement when African-American man George Floyd was murdered by a police officer last year.
Protests were held across cities all over the world. I attended the Sydney one as a student journalist last June.
There was a group chat of journalism students covering the marches for our uni website. A lot of the people in the group were my friends.
I threw myself into preparing for the coverage. I was the white person for the job, I thought. I shared an article by Rob Stott called Australia's media has to share the blame for our racist culture.
Stott, who is white, speaks about the media's culture of dog-whistling on race. He reflects on the shocking lack of diversity in most newsrooms, which are usually whiter than a Colgate ad.
I had never read this kind of analysis before.
After the BLM protest, police capsicum-sprayed protesters at Central Station.
My first reaction was, I wish I was there. A scoop like that might have landed me my first media job.
I shared the impulse with the group. There was silence. I got a feeling I had said something wrong, but didn't know what. I went for a follow-up joke: Wish I'd been capsicum sprayed, then I could write an op-ed on it.
Another white person in the group chimed in: That would make an excellent piece.
It's fair to say the comments didn't go down well with the non-white people in the group. There is a history of white journalists exploiting ethnic minorities for their own career progression. Spend a few weeks with a disadvantaged Aboriginal community, win an award. All of the glory, none of the pain.
Sharing the Stott article indicated I had never thought about racism in the media before (I hadn't).
Immediately I felt defensive. I was a good white person, I thought. I speak out against racism. You should hear what I've heard.
I'm forever appreciative of my friends who explained to me what it was like to be them, especially at a time when they had to relive their own trauma. They calmly explained how the things I had done and said had hurt them, were offensive or ignorant.
This inquiry into racism will focus on the more extreme incidents in Canberra, and the response from the police and other institutions. It will be easy to dismiss these incidents as things we would never do, done by people who aren't us.
I thought I didn't have a racist bone in my body, and I was wrong. A lot of us think Canberra is a bubble of racial harmony and tolerance, and we are wrong.
It's time to be honest with ourselves.
I am a trainee at The Canberra Times. I currently cover breaking news, as well as an assortment of other random topics. I previously worked in digital news. Email tips or cute dog videos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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