Pauline, Pauline, Pauline.
It’s not so much that racism bothers me. After all, who can mount a persuasive argument in its favour? It’s more that through simple carelessness, we can create an environment in which it can flourish at all.
A person who has never experienced discrimination on the basis of skin colour cannot know racism’s true impact, cannot know the depth of the scar it leaves behind. So if nature gave you white skin, the chances are racism is not something you’ve felt.
But it doesn’t matter, because people who are capable of empathy, and most of us are, can extend themselves far enough to resonate with those who are discriminated against. Outrage felt on behalf of others is what lifts us beyond the barbarity of tribalism. Empathy is the glue that holds us together. For history has taught us over and over again that tribalism, carried out to the Nth degree, is contrary to the survival of the human race.
So once in a while when we encounter an individual or a group of people who are blatantly racist or who hide their prejudice behind carefully constructed dog-whistling sentences, we express a collective disgust.
As the American essayist Louis Menand wrote so eloquently in The New Yorker in 1992: “The evil of modern society isn’t that it creates racism but that it creates conditions in which people who don’t suffer from injustice seem incapable of caring very much about people who do.”
Racism is not just a word, it’s a lived experience. I remember the white kids in the playground chanting “nig-nog, nig-nog”, their voices so loud they tore through my hands as I covered my six-year-old face. I remember the spit that seemed to come from nowhere dribbling down my coat. The humiliation shrank me.
I can’t forget the large ugly graffiti on the railway bridge that told me to “go home”, the boys who sniffed the air as I passed by and said “Phwoar, what’s that smell? Curry isn’t it?”.
I remember the broken sound of my brother’s voice as he described the unprovoked attack in London that left him clutching his school bag in the foetal position on the pavement.
I can’t forget the large ugly graffiti on the railway bridge that told me to “go home”, the boys who sniffed the air as I passed by and said “Phwoar, what’s that smell? Curry isn’t it?”. London in the 1970s: skinheads, drainpipe jeans, Doc Martins, broken teeth, the menacing grimace – I remember it all as if it were yesterday.
And in Australia, I remember the girl in the ice-cream shop who, during friendly banter said, “you look foreign when you wear your hair up”. And the woman in the library who refused to sit next to me “because people like you smell.”
Small, unremarkable, corrosive experiences. Some people have big, traumatic, vicious experiences. They all undo you from the inside.
For many people who have not experienced racial discrimination first hand, racism is a “concept”. In theory we know it’s wrong. But viewing racism in academic terms hampers our understanding of its human impact. The reality of racism lies in what it does to an individual and the personal devastation it wreaks, not just in the moment when the racist attitude or abuse is inflicted but for the rest of a person’s life.
Racism, in all its overt and insidious ways, has the capacity to sear its mark on a person. It matures into self-loathing. It doesn’t always hurt so much when it’s actually happening. The pain comes in adulthood, when you look back at the wound and realise it’s bigger and uglier than you thought.
Racism, in all its overt and insidious ways, has the capacity to sear its mark on a person.
Delayed trauma seeps into your heart and hardens it ever so slightly. The feeling doesn’t turn into pity. That’s what other people feel. It doesn’t even become despair. It’s just a big solid lump that you carry around in your rucksack for the rest of your life. Your strength and stamina will determine how far you travel with it, how crooked your back becomes, how quirky your gait.
Pauline Hanson is here to stay – at least for the next few years. One Nation wants to abolish multiculturalism and the Racial Discrimination Act, promote assimilation and nationalism, have a Royal Commission into Islam, impose a ban on new mosques and stop the intake of Muslim refugees.
These are the policies of fear and hate articulated by a nest of vipers who lack the wherewithal to extend empathy to those who will suffer as a result of the Pandora’s box they are trying to prise open.
The political class must not waste time calling Hanson and her supporters imbeciles and simpletons. It must scrutinise her policies, tear them apart bit by bit and leave them to rot in the dirt.
Sushi Das is a journalist and author. Follow her on Twitter: sushidas1