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Article

Race Against the Odds

content warning: racial slur

The social construction of race and its dominance

Throughout this column, I have discussed different aspects of the whole system that is racism and white supremacy, from colonisation to Black Lives Matter (BLM) to intersectionality to cultural appropriation to representation. There is so much more to talk about and understand as racism and white supremacy still dominate most, if not all, aspects of Western culture today. Writing this column has helped me express issues I have dealt with and understand more about ‘race’ as I've experienced it.

 

Why do you have to make everything about race?

I must make everything about race because everything is already about race and once people understand this, we can begin to decolonise and recognize the unnoticed consequences of racism. Race was invented as a justification for slavery and exploitation and is still understood by many as a biological fact, when in reality there are no distinct genetic differences between racial groups. Race is however, socially, politically, and culturally real. Although there isn’t a fixed definition of ‘race’, I would define it as a system that categorises people mostly according to, but not limited to, physical differences, the primary one being skin colour. Different places and cultures have different ways of defining or categorising race. For example, I am identified and treated as ‘Black’ in Australia but in South Africa, a biracial person like myself is labelled ‘coloured’. To be considered white, particularly in America and even in Australia, it requires a level of racial ‘purity’.

The default whiteness promoted by brands such as Band-Aid has made it harder for brown and Black people, with the concept of ‘nude’ itself referring to white skin tones. In school it was normal to refer to a pinkish colouring-pencil that resembled white skin as ‘skin’ colour. I would ask “can you pass me the skin-coloured pencil?” without a second thought, even as someone who grew up in a predominantly Black country. In the University of Melbourne there are buildings on campus named after racist people who studied eugenics. In Australia, there are countless streets and suburbs named after colonisers. The Australia Day date, a day when we are encouraged to celebrate Australia, is the same day white people invaded Indigenous land and began killing Indigenous people. Race has always been used as a tool to exploit difference for the purpose of oppression, exploitation, and violence.

After BLM gained traction in 2020, brands and white people’s ‘inclusivity’ were being scrutinised and so to save themselves, they tried to ride the waves of performative activism. This involved people uploading a blank black square with #BlackOutTuesday as the caption in an attempt to eradicate racism. It took BLM trending on social media for brands with racist undertones in their products to actually change, such as the Australian brand ‘Coon Cheese’ becoming ‘Cheer Cheese’ to accommodate their white customers’ newfound ‘values’. If it was really about helping people of colour (POC), brands like Cheer would have changed earlier due to the multiple campaigns by POC asking them to. These acts of racism are deeply ingrained in society which is why it’s important to recognise white supremacy as a powerful system that encourages all to participate, even those it negatively impacts.

Thinking you don’t do or say overtly racist things, or that having relationships with POC means you’re not racist is no longer good enough. It may have been good enough during colonial and segregated times where overt racism was the norm but not anymore. White supremacy has managed to convince many, particularly white people, that significant progress has been made and racism is ‘rare’ with historical contexts only becoming relevant when convincing others of “how far we’ve come!” since then. This is despite the impacts of colonialism and slavery still being deeply felt today whether it be through microaggressions at university or cultural appropriation. Bla(c)k people are disproportionately incarcerated, impoverished, and dying, even here in Australia so we can’t just claim it’s just an American problem.

Changing tides

A bloated corpse

floats behind me,

leaving sea puddles

as it follows.

 

An anchor

drowns a girl

with chestnut skin

once coloured by the sun

and ebony hair

that shrinks in water.

 

Bubbles rise to the surface

reaching for air.

The girl climbs the tide

following the sun’s voice

but the sea

echoes her screams.

 

Her tears become water colours

that paint the sea.

Waves consume her mind

as her fist rises to the sky.

 

Above water

where I walk on thin ice,

the corpse looks at me.

 

A man and woman walk towards me-

they see the corpse and jump.

An ice crack runs towards me

my heart tightens

the corpse screams.

 

Ice mirrors the pearl skin

of the man and woman.

Their reflections smile at me.

Their words cut my throat.

Their eyes anchor my body.

 

Crack, CRACK, CRACK.

My hair shrinks.

I see the sun-

They look down at me.

I see white-

I shoot a fist at them.

 

Salt crystallises my lungs

and in this moment,

 happily-ever-after

is just a dream.

My impending doom feels inevitable.

 

Why did I die?

 

I close my eyes

erasing the dimming white light

from the surface.

I sink into abyss

where ghosts cannot reach

and the ocean is still.

 

I find comfort in darkness

for Black is where all colours lie

and hope is still alive.

 

I see changes within the tides.

 

I wrote this poem about my experience as a Black woman in Australia, which has felt like I’m walking on thin ice with my life in the hands of others. I must admit that the world has progressed in relation to racism but are the changes enough or are they merely superficial?  How much real progress can even happen within the system of White Supremacy?  It is as Black feminist activist Audre Lorde said: “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” This Race Against the Odds has not ended and maybe it will never end but as new generations become more aware of these issues, I hope the tides of power will continue to shift, bringing positive change.

 
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