June 5, 2020

When White Privilege is in our own Backyard.

I woke up to a social media post from one of my favorite local pubs this morning that to me was white privilege in action.

And I faced the first obvious example of this since George Floyd’s death. I’ve always loved this pub, but this particular status angered me.

Business: “Busting our gut dealing with 31 pages of COVID compliance here, which has been declared virus-free. Yet it’s okay and approved by <out state Minister> that thousands of protesters can have a mass gathering in Melbourne Central. Being the heart of the Virus and over the madness of another country. I need a drink and by the way, VB Draught on tap is very good.”

Comment from a follower: “Can’t see a problem with a gathering of about 5000 ferals…As long as they throw a few <insert staff members of recent company who had an outbreak of COVID-19> in amongst them!! Dinner tonight at the pub. Woo hoo!”

Response to comment from business: “Try the duck Bob it’s excellent with a VB.”

As someone waking up to white privilege and wanting to educate myself and act where I can, that starts in our own backyard and sometimes subtly in the community and in some of our favorite places. Though it’s uncomfortable to call out (which is why often the loudest most certain voices in the room are commonly not fully researched or well-rounded, but more one-sided), I don’t agree with this status.

And sometimes speaking up even though loud voices will come back with strong responses is worth the energy for a bigger cause. Otherwise, one opinion is simply reaffirmed by others who agree with them.

I feel for this local business like all local businesses. I do also feel the owner of this pub will land on his feet financially. In fact, one of the earliest reasons for “spiked numbers” of COVID cases in Melbourne was due to well-off members of the community who lived quite close to where the owner of this pub lives in an affluent Melbourne suburb. I don’t mean this to criticise, I just feel it’s an important piece in the white privilege framework.

Yes, people in Australia are protesting because of an event that happened in the United States, but what the author of this status failed to see, is that despite the unspeakable tragedy in the U.S., this has triggered the world to wake up to racism in its own backyard and what it is to be an anti-racist.

Now is an important and powerful time in the world’s history to take action.

Never has the loss of a black life caused this much unrest on a global scale in our lifetimes. So now is very much the time to unite on racial justice.

We have our own long history of indigenous Australians dying in police custody or prison. More than 400 deaths in just the last 30 years. Systemic racism, inequality, and long term oppression all play a role.

If the United States events have stirred the world to pay attention, now’s the time and momentum to voice what happens on our soil too.

For some of us with the privilege to have a loud voice, and for that to be acceptable, now is also the time to listen more. Protesting has always been a critical part of long-term change. The timing is unfortunate in the midst of COVID-19, but I’m not sure you can really time this kind of stuff when it’s in response to such a tragic, unnecessary, world-changing event? I don’t think the four cops in Minneapolis were too worried with the timing.

We’re fortunate as white Australians to be able to have our say every day and have it heard, even respected. To go and drink a beer in the local pub and feel socially accepted, welcome, and like we belong. Some aren’t so lucky, and they’ve been repressed for too long.

I’m not perfect. Far from it. I don’t think I could have called myself an anti-racist before, certainly not the best non-racist even. But the beauty is we’re allowed to learn and change (“evolve” even—it’s what we’ve been doing for thousands of years) at any time. Progress and evolution often happen on the back of violent events.

I think what most of us are realising now is we’re more alike than different. It’s really hard to dismiss or even dislike someone up close. That’s one of the things that keeps racism going—dehumanising people who are different from us. And dehumanising always starts with language.

So, to the person who commented on the status about the “ferals” who will be protesting in Melbourne this weekend, know that one of them is a well-educated 14-year-old with a beautiful heart and a worthy cause on her mind. No disrespect to this man, in fact, I do hope he does enjoy the VB and the duck that the local pub responded with in his comment. How fortunate to be able to even have a share of voice, to speak up like this, and be welcomed into the local watering hole.

Our lack of tolerance or avoidance of vulnerable, tough conversations is what drives disconnection and divide. I hope that this post serves less as an avenue for what political party we support, or for more unhelpful comments like Bobs who will be enjoying the VB and duck, and more as a conversation for positive change and a call to what side of this race issue that I stand on.

I also want to call it and say that speaking up and out like this is a scary and uncomfortable thing to do, which is probably why many don’t when they want to. And probably why many of the voices we do hear in public are the same kind.

This could have repercussions. I may not feel as welcome in some of these favorite places as I used to. But that’s a small price to pay for many who have been feeling more than unwelcome for so long.


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