Reflection: Impact of calling out racism

It has been three years since I called out racism on the social media platform Facebook and with Adam Goodes publically sharing his story, I have been reflecting on mine a lot.

Three years on and I can clearly remember exactly where I was sitting when I came across the image of the two Ballarat boys using black face as their costume for an ‘Aussie’ icon themed party. I was sitting at my house on Dja Dja Wurrung country, alone.

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My heart was racing, I was infuriated and deeply saddened at the disrespect towards our culture, my elders, and my ancestors. I felt shame in that I had mutual connections to these two boys and felt this overwhelming obligation to call it out. I wanted an apology.

I felt strong in calling it out, I knew my values and what I do and don’t stand for and I didn’t question or invalidate for a second the way in which seeing that photo made my heart and spirit feel.

What I wasn’t expecting was the added trauma and abuse received when calling something such as racism out, especially in regional towns and communities.

I remember it all happening so quickly. One minute I posted it, and the next it went viral. That’s how it felt anyway.

Something that I will never forgot to this day, is the supportive and non-supportive messages I received.

The ones from total strangers were manageable, it was the ones from close friends/ school friends that really forced me to take deep breaths and just keep strong. I could name right now off the top of my head the school friends that sent me nasty messages, the school friends that sent me supportive messages and the school friends that sat in silence.

The reasoning for linking this so closely with my old school friends from Loreto College is because they were the mates of the boys, hence why the photo was in my news feed in the first place.

I went to work in Melbourne the day after posting, when it was all going crazy, I had old school friends sending me horrific messages, I saw hundreds of Ballarat community members changing their display picture to the photo of the boys, in solidarity with their racist acts. I remember sitting on the tram, heading to Preston for a meeting and one of my closest friends at the time, sent me a very long message explaining to me how disappointed she was in me, I couldn’t believe it. I had my headphones in on the tram and sat their alone in tears. The tears flowed and flowed until I got off.

Our ancestors are powerful, they forever guide us to where we need to be in moments of hurt. My meeting that day was at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, I remember walking through the doors and my tidda Dtarneen just happened to be there. I remember how powerful hugging Dtarneen felt in that moment.

The aftermath was huge, I never felt like there was ever any closure from that moment in time. I remember a few months later I was being assisted by a white BADAC worker, who sat in the Centrelink office with me and argued that blackface wasn’t racists. In that moment I felt like I couldn’t escape it.

There were many lessons though.

I learnt who the undercover racists were, for that, I am truly thankful for the nasty messages

I learnt which friends would stand by my side when it was unpopular to do so, and how important being ‘that’ person in that moment is. There was one person that went above and beyond. This person knows who they are. I am literally sitting here trying to find the words to describe how deeply thankful I am for the true and raw solidarity this person showed me at the time. This solidarity made me feel worthy as a human being, that I was worth standing by.

To this individual, it didn’t matter if ‘they’ knew all the facts about the history of black face, or if it is racist or not (as was being argued at the time), what mattered to this person was how it made me feel, how it made my people feel. And I acknowledge the pain this person went through, due to standing by my side.

And that is the key to standing against racism, don’t wait for it to be popular, don’t use your lack of education or exposure as an excuse for your ignorance.

Connect to the pain of the individual. To the hurt.

Calling out racism is so important, but what is often forgotten is supporting the individual that then becomes the face or name of the situation. I thank Thelma Plum and Adam Briggs for being so supportive at this time.

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