Professor Bob Morgan
Like many others, I watched with interest the recently screened ABC documentary, The School that Tried to End Racism.
The documentary, which examined unconscious racial bias and other associated matters, ignited a broad spectrum of responses; there were those who cited the documentary as a form of child abuse and brainwashing, others saw the documentary as grounds for defunding the national broadcaster, while some wondered whether the documentary would have any impact whatsoever.
But there were also others who thought that it was brave of the ABC to tackle such an issue by documenting a program in which 11- and 12-year-old students participated in a series of exercises that were designed and conducted by qualified and experienced race relations experts and professionals.
The 2021 ABC Australia Talks survey indicated that approximately 76 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that ‘There is still a lot of racism in Australia these days.’
A high percentage of Australians (75 per cent) with non-European ancestry reported that they had been discriminated against because of their ethnicity.
A significant 68 per cent of respondents felt that Australia needs to ‘do more to address past and current injustices against Indigenous people’, and a majority (57 per cent) thought that discrimination was a factor with respect to impeding the economic growth and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
I’ve had my own experiences with racism, and heaven knows I have witnessed the impact of its poison on relatives, and others, who have been the target of racist attacks.
There’s been many experiences, but perhaps the earliest took place at the home of a white school mate, whose house was a short distance from the humpies that we lived in.
We were both around 12 years old and were in the same class at school.
As kids, we hadn’t been infected with the virus of racism yet, so we were oblivious of its poison.
My friend and I enjoyed each other’s company, and shared dreams of the wonderful mystery of life and we would often meet to play games in the backyard of his parent’s house.
My friend had been to my shanty home many times, kids enjoyed a certain freedom in Aboriginal communities so there were very few places where we couldn’t go.
The world was different across the road where white people lived, and my mother often warned me that I must never go inside my mate’s house.
One hot day my schoolmate and I were playing in the backyard and both of us were thirsty so my schoolmate suggested that we go inside to get a drink of water.
I was reluctant, but my mate told me that no-one was home so I followed him inside.
Just as we were refreshing ourselves, my mate’s mother walked in and she told me to leave.
I saw the fear in my mate’s eyes, and heard his mother scold him and that she had told him many times to never bring ‘Abbos’ inside the house.
My mate and I never spoke about this incident, and our friendship slowly died over the remaining school years we shared.
Perhaps it was the shame on my part and embarrassment on his, or maybe it was simply what happens as kids grow and find their own path in life.
Looking back on this experience, I can’t help but wonder if our experience and the friendship we shared would have been different if we had participated in a program that tried to end racism.
Racism, and indeed racists, have been part of the human experience since the beginning of time, and the signs are clear that change is going to be a slow and arduous process.
Perhaps racism will always be with us, but we can work to limit its poison. I’ve always been intrigued with the situation that acknowledges the presence of racism, but it’s my experience that very few people admit to being a racist.
Perhaps there should be a sort of Racists Anonymous established, a place where people could attend and confess that they are racists.
‘I’m Joe Blow, and I’m a racist’.
A 12-step program could be developed to help racists deal with and overcome their racism. Just a thought!
I often find myself pondering; if racism is a sort of virus that is born of irrational fear and notions of racial superiority, would it be possible to develop a vaccine to protect against its toxic infection?
Of course, it is never that simple, or easy, so other measures have to be devised and adopted, measures such as programs to teach school kids about racism and its toxic impact, and perhaps more importantly, the need to eradicate it, in all its forms.
‘We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope’ (Martin Luther King, Jr.).
Professor Bob Morgan is a Gumilaroi man from Walgett western NSW. He is a highly respected and acknowledged Aboriginal educator/researcher who has worked extensively throughout Australia and internationally in the field of Aboriginal knowledge and learning for over forty years.