• Racism prevents you from seeing everyday beauty. And there is so little of that in this world. (MOODBOARD/AAP)Source: MOODBOARD/AAP
If you're racist, chances are you're denying yourself from experiencing incredible moments of beauty and probably eating bland food, too.
Helen Razer

2 Mar 2017 - 10:48 AM  UPDATED 2 Mar 2017 - 4:34 PM

Your dietitian might tell you to moderate your carb intake. Your local philosopher might not have precisely the same view. Sometimes, it is only between delicate sheets of filo that we can learn what it means to be human.

To be fair, I probably could have learned this human lesson from a sashimi chef, or someone who deals exclusively in low-carb vegan snacks. As it was, though, the knowledge came from my baker. Or, as it turns out, baker-philosopher.

Let’s call my baker Eleni. This is less to preserve her anonymity—Eleni is an open and exuberant person who tells everyone everything all the time, and wouldn’t mind me telling you this now—and more to lock down the details of my local Greek bakery. Can’t have you going in and buying all the spanakopita before I do.

In our good little pocket of multicultural Melbourne, Eleni has sold her little savoury pockets of goodness for years. Like most in the street, she does a good trade. On one side of her, there is a busy store for homesick Indian students and on the other, a popular dentist.

It is quite possible that this competent dentist, whom we’ll call Dr Mahmoud, would have enjoyed a full appointment book without Eleni. But, she certainly helped. “Have you seen him?” she asks all of those patrons she suspects of fancying men, and even, on her most energetic days, some that she does not. “I mean. Have you seen him? If you haven’t seen him, then what you haven’t seen is our suburb’s own Omar Sharif!”

What’s the difference between having a 'type' and fetishisation?
‘Yellow fever’ – a phenomenon whereby men (usually white) fetishise Asian women – is terrifyingly common in the age of online dating.

For the younger reader, you can treat yourself to a Google image search or simply trust me that these four syllables always provoke certain feelings in certain people of a certain age. O-mar Sha-rif. The man is objectively gorgeous. Not, of course, to claim that there is a universal standard of human gorgeousness. Except when it comes to this guy.

Needless to say, the standard of dental health in my suburb shot up when the good doctor arrived many years ago from Egypt. There was, perhaps, not a single untended cavity when his son, a near genetic facsimile, graduated from dental school and joined his father in the practice.

If you are concerned, as you may legitimately be, that I, a woman of Irish lineage, am suffering from that horrid strain of bigotry known as “orientalism”, please don’t be. I have examined my feelings, Eleni’s feelings and the feelings of the gay proprietor of the Indian students’ store and we all agree that we are not treating the Mahmouds as Arabic fetish objects. We are just terrible people who like ogling hotness, albeit in a non-racist way.

A little while back, I visited Eleni for a loaf of her psomi. For the first time in fifteen years, I could tell she was upset. I initially supposed that she’d visited a doctor who’d told her she was gluten intolerant. As it turned out, it was much worse than that.

There are so many different people from so many different cultures here in our nice place of old California bungalows, you just can’t be intolerant.

Mostly, life in our suburb is insulated from the kind of racism we see on the news. There are so many different people from so many different cultures here in our nice place of old California bungalows, you just can’t be intolerant. Our schools are, somehow, still good and there are so many people who bought up cheap in the wave of post-war migration and never moved, that there are generations of people from many different income brackets. For many reasons, this stubborn suburb holds on to that dream from the 1970s of equal and functioning Australian multiculturalism.

A newcomer had visited Eleni’s bakery that morning I went in for bread. She had first asked if there was any “Australian” produce, to which Eleni replied there was nothing but—what could be more Australian than spanakopita? Then, the newcomer asked for the name of a dentist.

“Isn’t that a Muslim name?” the newcomer asked.

Eleni was returned to her childhood. A Greek-Australian kid in a Skippy school marked for her difference, and her early enthusiasm for the garlicky pastry of her forebears. And then, she was returned to the present, where certain Australians choose the easy option of blaming any misfortune they might feel on the hands of a handsome dentist.

Racism prevents you from seeing everyday beauty. And there is so little of that in this world. 

We spoke for a while about the broader social and economic conditions in which this easy-option racism arises. We agreed that when people are, like us, comfortable in their homes and work and lives, they generally don’t bother being open bigots.

Then, we got to the truly tragic moral of the story: this newcomer will never know the shape of Dr Mahmoud’s face.

Racism prevents you from seeing everyday beauty. And there is so little of that in this world. 

Face Up To Racism #FU2Racism with a series of stories and programs challenging preconceptions around race and prejudice.

Watch 'Is Australia Racist', 'Date My Race' and 'The Truth About Racism' on SBS On Demand. Watch 'Date My Race' now below. 

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