July’s People

July's PeopleJuly’s People by Nadine Gordimer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In July’s People, Nadine Gordimer imagines a violent, chaotic end to South Africa’s apartheid system: all-out war between black and white, with other nations getting involved (like Russia, Cuba, the US), mainly to support their own self-interest. Continue reading

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Alphabet

While on a beachside holiday last week, I was reminded (by my social media feed) of an alphabet controversy from last November: an Optus store in Sydney’s western suburbs was bullied into removing signs using the Arabic script, that advised potential customers that they had Arabic speaking staff who could assist them.

The controversy over the signs blew up on Facebook, and an Optus staff member — Dan — has become a social media hero among those of us who want to live in a non-racist society, for his calm & thoughtful response to the attacks.

Walking along the beach, enjoying the early morning sun on the water, the fresh breeze, the antics of the seagulls, and the sand sculptures left by the departing tide, I felt sad that an ancient and beautiful alphabet could stir up so much hatred. Those haters are really missing the point of being alive.

Love-humanity-2016-01-18 09.09.46

Check out other responses to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge here.

Copping it

AM knows how to play - under attack from two small cousins.

AM knows how to play - under attack from two small cousins.

I was at an Australian African Network picnic on the weekend, and got to appreciate once more the benefits of being a member of this organisation. AAN is a group for people in mixed relationships and families, where one of the partners is of African background, and meeting other people at picnics & social events means you get a chance to share stories and experience with people who actually understand the challenges you face.

I took AM’s (half) brothers 50 Cedis, Abrantie and G Ketewa. AM, being now 15, scorns the whole concept of picnics – unless organised and attended by his friends – so of course he wasn’t there.  Lucky I carry his pic in my wallet or no-one from that part of my life would recognise him anymore. In fact, when he got take-away from the latest AAN dinner party, one of my friends didn’t recognise him.

Another reason he doesn’t come to AAN events these days is because they are connected to what he considers my obsession with all things African. I was explaining this to someone at the picnic and she just nodded and laughed and said, “Yes, I’ve got friends who are going through exactly the same thing with their teens”.  Well, it’s great to hear this from another source! I am not the only white parent who’s copping criticism.

I guess to AM it might look like I’m obsessed. I’m very involved with AAN, and as you can tell from this blog I love African music, dance, fabrics, food, etc, etc. I explained to him one day that with limited time on my hands, I usually choose to enjoy those things when I get the chance, rather than doing something more mainstream. Especially when African musicians like Salif Keita only come to Australia once in a blue moon! And also I like to learn about African history, politics and culture because – well, it helps me navigate all my different friendships and relationships. But there are also things about my own culture that I love just as passionately – literature, language, roast dinners, sponge cakes, bagpipes, Irish music, Dr Who, dry humour – the list goes on and on. 

I like to think I’ve got a balance. But I’m not sure. Maybe he’s right to call me on it. It hasn’t been awful, angry criticism – more teasing really. Sometimes when watching TV he’ll accuse me of having a crush on a black character. “Don’t deny it, you know it’s true! Racist, racist!” he’ll crow. My denial only feeds his triumph over having scored against me. Or the other night I was helping him with a school assigment about gender and suggested he search online for pictures of super models – like Naomi Campbell. His response was something like “Ha! gotcha! You only thought of her because she’s BLACK! Ha ha!” I hurriedly cast around in my mind for a white supermodel. Ok, I confess, it took a minute or two to come up with Elle McPherson. “Racist, you’re racist!” he accused. “Oh yes, I’m so sorry, I do my best not to be, please, please forgive me!” I cried, pleading on my knees.

Now before you start worrying about us both, please note that this was all quite playful, even though the content might sound harsh. It ended in laughter, not tears. Play has always been an important part of the way I parent since AM was a baby. Kids are naturally playful and I believe that play helps them work through things that trouble them, express things they can’t in other ways, experiment with roles and power, become closer to their parents – and of course have fun. If as the adult you can stay light and relaxed when kids bring up hard stuff in play you can build trust, gain a lot of insight into their lives and help them heal from hurts. AM’s no longer small but I think these things about play are still true for him.

As well as that though, what he’s raising in this case is a real issue for me too. After all, he’s the black person in this scenario, so perhaps – probably? – he’s got a clearer perspective on my interests than I do. And it’s certainly true that white people often do objectify black people as exotic, fascinating, sexual, other. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that at times. It may not be vilification, but it is still a kind of racism because it gets in the way of us seeing their full humanity. This has been historically embedded in my culture for centuries, it’s part of how we see and think of black people. As white people we need to be aware of that, reflect upon it, and stop doing it. Self-awareness and a willingness to change is more useful to everyone who cares about equality and justice, than getting defensive about a spot of unaware racism.

So when AM accuses me of being racist I don’t worry about the truth of it, I don’t take offence. Instead, I try and figure out how to keep the playfulness moving us forward. I take it as a good sign that AM can raise these issues with me in this way. A very good sign. For him, for me, for our relationship, and for the future.

Here are my two favourite resources on how play helps build closeness between parents and children:

http://www.playfulparenting.com/

http://www.handinhandparenting.org/

And an article about the role of white people in ending racism: http://www.rc.org/uer/index.html

Harmony Day

racism-free pageSaturday 21 March is Harmony Day in Australia, a day to celebrate our diverse society. It is also the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This is not a coincidence – it’s just that our government, in their wisdom, didn’t want to have a day that had the “R” word in its name. Instead they decided to call the day something that emphasised the positives about living in a multicultural society. Well, I’m all for that, but let’s not forget that racism’s still out there.

The date chosen in fact commemorates what came to be known as the Sharpeville massacre – when in 1960 police opened fire gainst a peaceful demonstration against apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa, killing 69 people. That’s  something we should never forget, although nearly 50 years on we can look back with pride and relief at the changes in the world, and the progress we’ve made against racism, since that shocking event.

Australians for Native Title and Reconcililation (ANTaR) have not forgotten the true meaning of the day and are are celebrating – if that’s the word – with a cute gimmick. By clicking on the lovely faces at left you can go to their site and get a sticker like this one (or smaller) to put on your facebook page, blog or website. You can also sign a pledge against racism.

I see red

On Wednesday my plans for this week got turned over in the space of half an hour. At 9.00am I was expecting to visit one of my brothers for our regular Wednesday dinner, and then on Thursday morning hop in the car and drive up to the mid-north coast to see my parents. By 9.30 I was instead planning to go to the 18th birthday dinner of a family friend that night, and ActionMan had been invited to go camping for the long weekend. This meant no trip north until next week, and instead, the luxury of four whole days without my child around!

So this is why I got to go to the 4 Rs conference on Friday, which I mentioned in my last post. I decided to attend the racism stream, although there were lots of other tempting sessions, such as “Popular politics and climate change”, or “Ethnocultural diversity and sport”.

The racism sessions were structured around presentation of the data from the Challenging Racism study (also mentioned in previous post). Mostly academics and policy makers discussed the accumulated evidence for racism in our society, the different areas of life where racism occurs, and what kinds of anti-racism  “interventions” are, or might be effective.

Researchers from the Challenging Racism study, which began in 2001, gave presentations on the geographic breakdown of racism in Australia (based on interviews with people about their attitudes to people of different ethnic groups), and how people who are targeted experience racism.

It was an interesting day with stimulating discussion of a complex issue. I hope the conference organisers will put some of the presentations online. I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail about it right now, because really I’m just using it as a launching pad to have a gripe about another – related – issue.

Several of the presenters showed data which indicated that one of the areas people experience racism is in housing. For example, they’re told a property is available but when they turn up to view it, it’s suddenly “already leased”. I’ve had my own experience of this. At one time after I’d separated from DadaK I was looking for a house with a young Ghanaian friend. The agent seemed friendly and after we looked at the flat she asked us to come back to the agency to put in an application. Mysteriously, in that half hour interval before we got back there, the owner had called and told the agent it was no longer available. Well, you have to wonder.

There have been a couple of other occasions where we’ve been evicted when I’ve wondered if racism wasn’t a factor, although with evictions landlords can shelter behind “moving in” or “renovating” and never need show the real reasons, even though it’s written all over their faces.

Most recently, and on the other side of the rental fence, I wasn’t able to find anyone to sublet my room to while I was overseas. For some unknown reason, perhaps the gentrification of this area, or just the general property shortage, I had a lot of anglo 30-something men look at the room. Ive been subletting for years and never had this particular demographic very interested before. It became increasingly apparent that – athough they were very polite about it – they just weren’t comfortable moving in for four months with my dark skinned Moslem Bangladeshi flatmate.

Perhaps it’s a bit harsh to think of this as racism. They didn’t want to move out of their comfort zone, and of course everyone has a right to live where they feel comfortable and happy. So maybe those individuals weren’t being racist. But the fact remains, its white anglo 30 something men who have the absolute luxury of staying in their comfort zone almost all the time, if that’s what they want.

Migrants to this country, on the other hand, are usually already outside their comfort zones just by virtue of being here. Add in those arch enemies of (almost) all landlords – children – plus a low income, an accent and a black skin, and you are almost assured, if you want to live in Sydney in the middle of the current housing crisis, of being forced to live outside your comfort zone. You will have to compromise on several or more probably all of the following: quality, cleanliness, space, security, location, proximity to work, school, friends and family, and of course price.

I mention this because the other thing I have been doing with my ActionMan-free weekend is a bit of househunting for DadaK and Obaapa. DadaK returns with the children in a few weeks, and Obaapa hasn’t yet been able to find a home for them to return to.  She’s busy with work on Saturdays so I cruised around the internet rental market and popped out to a few inspections. The last place I looked at was a bit small but in great condition and close to her work. But there were also about seven other groups of people looking at it, including two white middle aged couples without children. Was there really any point in rushing around to get the application in before 3.00pm? I called her up and we agreed not.

If there were more properties available, it wouldn’t matter so much, but there aren’t.  I only looked at three today and gave her phone numbers for two more – which are at the top of what she’s prepared to pay and a long way from work. Of the others I looked at, one was in bad condition and the other was too small.

Real Estate agents are starting to complain of harassment and violence from people who are being evicted or haben’t been able to find a home – no wonder! The prospect of being homeless could make anyone lose their cool. Some research institute claims that the rental crisis is exaggerated, but they’re basing this on an internet search that hauled up 20,000 homes in Sydney. Mine today pulled up 7,500 or so, for all properties under $1,000 per week, in the entire Sydney region, including the Blue Mountains, Northern beaches and Camden, so I’m sceptical about the sceptics. Plus I’d estimate at least 3/4 of these were old listings.

Of course if you’re pulling in 100K a year or can fit your family into the “Funky one bedder with stunning views!” for $400 a week that I saw advertised in beachside Clovelly, perhaps they’re right. Umm …. I don’t know many families with budgets like that. Three bedroom places in our area start at $400 a week (just under half the average weekly wage) and the third bedroom is more like a cupboard. And it’s just been announced that Sydney needs 900,000 more homes by 2031 to accomodate the anticipated increase in population. Eeek!

Anyway, the point I wanted to make is, if people are already experiencing racism in housing, then with so few homes available, and the market getting tighter it’s pretty obvious that blue-collar migrants with kids are going to find it tougher than almost anyone else to get decent, affordable housing. Alongside, perhaps, working class single mums on the pension. So this is why I see red.