I recently witnessed a multi-confronting racist incident. Whereas in the past I have felt compelled to act, this time — in the moment — I was at a loss for words. The nature of the incident, what it conveyed, was quite specific. Quite stark.
I was out with two people. It was close to midnight. We were walking along the Main Street in the coastal village of Thirroul (a northern suburb of Wollongong, NSW, Australia). A car passed us and one of the young (white) men inside stuck their head out of the window and yelled ‘go back to Nowra.’
Nowra is a city to the south of Wollongong. There are some significant socio-economic issues and challenges there. The city also has a visible Aboriginal population. I use visible here, as there is an ongoing history of invisibilising Aboriginal populations: out of sight = out of mind. In simple terms, in Nowra the social implications of widespread structural problems faced by Aboriginal Peoples in Australia are within sight. They are not as easy t0 ignore.
Broadly (not limited ot Nowra), many people in the (white) community inflate structural issues with personal failings. Rather than confronting systemic issues, there is a relational construction (Othering) in which the broader (white) community act to position themselves as not like them (i.e. not like Aboriginal people). This is far from uncommon, rather being quite normative. In short, poverty faced by members of the Aboriginal community is labelled as a result of their own actions, behaviours and (framed-as-an) inability to be a contributing member of society. They are essentialised.
In yelling ‘go back to Nowra’, this young (white) man was identifying the two women as Aboriginal. Putting aside the gender implications of men yelling at women (multiple issues), in affording the label of Aboriginal to these two women is further illustrative of multiple layers of racism. These women are not Aboriginal. The young man conflated and reduced having black-brown skin to being Aboriginal. These women were positioned as multiply inferior. Their skin colour meant they were. Worse (in his mind) they were Aboriginal. Aboriginal and from Nowra — where apparently all Aboriginal people belong. Their place was not in a well-to-do suburb, a predominately white suburb.
I still do not have a simple, one line, retort to such a comment. I am still (as a white person, with years of unquestioned and unearned privilege continually being unpacked and digested) coming to terms with the broader and nuanced inferences and implications of such a string of words.
What I do know is that I am multiply responsible for challenging such actions. As a man, it is my role to confront other men on their sexist behaviour. As a white man, it is my responsibility to confront other white men on their racist actions.
To not do so is to be complicit…