Racism: What are we dealing with here?

As we do some reflection over the past few weeks and think about the state of race relations across our community, it’s pretty evident, there remains significant issues in both how we experience racism and respond to it.

I have read and heard much commentary (some of high quality, others I would rather forget) about high profile personalities and their participation in furthering negative stereotypes of First Nations peoples. Like many others I am frustrated that even in a supposedly mature society in 2021 we are still unable to engage in respectful dialogue with each other on matters of colour and creed.

As we are well aware, the topic of the day is centred on racism in football and racism in sports. I find it interesting, that as a collective, as a community we are very prepared to challenge racism in these arenas, in high profile situations or high-profile people. But we struggle to act with such vigour and horror when it happens in our own homes, when we see it play out in our workplaces, school yards and lunchrooms. We adopt a place of ‘ignorance’ when we are the perpetrators or we simply laugh it off as a joke or dart our eyes away from the incident to pretend it didn’t happen.

Whilst it is most concerning that high profile South Australians engage in racist commentary (which extends beyond the events of the past month) and that needs to stop don’t get me wrong. What I find more frustrating our societies willingness to call out the easy stuff, the stuff that’s…”NOT US”… but its unwillingness or inability to deal with it in our own backyard.

From my viewpoint, the state of race relations in our country has a direct relationship with our inability to settle some truths about our history, our disdain to truly define who we are as a nation, our contentment in our naivety or simply our complacency in our discomfort.

Without exploring this, we are unable to define who we want to be. We are unable to settle our future because we have never reckoned our past. We are simply stuck in the 1788 as a Sydneysider or 1836 as an Adelaidian.

When do we get to start our discussion about who we want to be? Isn’t that a much more exciting conversation then the one we are engaged in at the moment… Isn’t that a conversation that could truly set the tone of the generations to come?

What is clear in my work in challenging racism, my work with school kids, in emergency mediation sessions. Is that the system we all live, work and play in is still as much in play today as it was upon settlement. The systems and structures that existed then, still exist now. They still operate in the same fashion and they still exclude by omission (overt and sub verse) First Nation meaningful involvement and participation, just without the ‘hithers’ and the ‘forsooths’.

So, what are we going to do to change? What are we going to do to challenge the fact that racism is still allowed and enabled not only within our social world but also within our legal entities and our rule book?

We can’t just be CAREFUL about what we say. We can’t just be MINDFUL of who might hear us.

There needs to be more meat in this sandwich, and like any good club sandwich it needs to be constructed the right way.

Our dialogue must shift from one that devalues Australia’s First Peoples by dehumanising or dismissing their place in society, to one that celebrates Australia’s First Peoples unique and most special place in our collective society. One that cherishes the continuation of living culture from time immemorial and is seen as a gift to this nation rather than an impediment.

It’s about examining the systems and structures that are in place – and simply making way for this to happen. The Uluru Statement from the Heart provided a very humble and gracious request for this country to stand up and examine the founding principles of our rule book, our Constitution… the piece of work that sets the standards for our society… let’s examine this and make the changes… let’s turn from 1901 to 2021.

So, as we look into the future and examine the racism and the state of race relations in this country. We’ve got a few hard questions to ask, because if we keep to the status quo, if we continue to ignore the rights of First Nations peoples in this country. Then we will continue to see racism, we will continue to see outrage when “OTHER” people do it, we will continue to throw stones from our very fragile glass houses and we will continue to see hurt.

As my 10-year-old shared her wisdom with me this week

It is just not right. That one group of people feel that they are better than another, that’s the only reason isn’t it mum?” To which I simply responded “Yes, it is my darling, yes it is

Racism is a human made condition… so by logic… if it was made then it can be unmade.

So, when I ask, what are we going to do from here?  What is our role in the next part of this story?  Can we please just get on with it and ‘unmake’ racism…  because our kids are waiting… they are ready… and they deserve our attention on this seemingly impenetrable (but man made) curse.


Written by Shona Reid, CEO Reconciliation SA

Reconciliation SA in partnership with ActNow Theatre run Anti-Racism programs in schools, workplaces, sporting clubs and general community forums. Please contact us on admin@reconciliationsa.org.au if you would like more information these programs and bookings.