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What's the Point of Talking About Racism?

04/02/2013 11:31 GMT | Updated 05/04/2013 10:12 BST

Hardly ever does anyone ever call anyone else a racist, to their face. It's such a heavy allegation that people have become extremely hesitant about using it, except as a joke. As a result, I reckon we've lost the ability to talk about racism.

At the moment there's so much power and weight in the word that as soon as you mention it, it makes you feel like one. Luckily, words don't work like that. If they did, nobody would be able to call anybody anything ever.

Saying that someone else is being racist doesn't even mean that they are one. But these days even just bringing up racism, you completely change the conversation. Pointing out racism often has the same effect as complaining at a barbecue about the lack of a gluten free vegetarian option, or explaining how a magician performs his tricks, or worst of all, posting Dexter spoilers to Facebook.

You're a party pooper, you're a killjoy, you're the guy that everyone points at and asks, "Who invited that guy?"

However, ignoring racism doesn't make it go away. It actually does the opposite. Racism in Australia is pretty much illegal, so it's been forced underground, and now pokes its head up and into our everyday lives through a variety of different names and attitudes. In news stories, opinion pieces, political policies, and the views of people we know. This subtle form of racism goes largely unnoticed, is rarely mentioned, and so it creeps in, festers and grows.

Like mould in the bathroom, a workmate with terrible body odour, Bob Katter, Ian Thorpe's comeback and Sydney, it's allowed to spread because we're all trying so hard to ignore it.

There is one massive potential positive. Any issue that thrives on a lack of discussion, to turn all that around, all we have to do is talk about it. Restart the discussion and we instantly begin to demystify racism.

As soon as people start dissecting the plotlines of Packed to the Rafters, the facts behind anything on A Current Affair, or any Liberal Party policies, it's plain to see that it's all complete and utter garbage, and so it is with racism. Which is exactly why I want to talk about it.

Another reason people are hesitant to mention racism is because they feel like they don't know enough about it, and are terrified of getting it wrong and accidentally offending someone. As a group, white people are traditionally hesitant to talk about racism for this very reason. Historically speaking, we have very little experience of it, and any comment white people do make can be cut down by a non-white saying, "What do you know? You're white."

Which I think is unfair. That's like a badger talking about penguins, and then a penguin saying, "What do you know about penguins? It's not like you are one."

One of the main reasons I've been thinking about and investigating racism, is so I know more about it, and can become more comfortable talking about it. Nothing is ever improved by letting one group participate in a discussion, and excluding another, even if that group does have much less experience of what is being discussed. Just because someone's never seen a V8 Supercar Race live, does that mean they shouldn't be allowed to go to one? Of course not. I don't know why they'd want to, but they should be allowed to. That's the point.

If we're all talking about racism, we remove some of that power and mystery from that word, and we're able to better examine some of the more subtle forms of racism that are going unmentioned. Such as the positioning of Mosques, our immigration policy and AFL attitudes to minorities. Because if we know anything about Australia, it's that nothing's more important than AFL. In a recent national survey, climate change, the economy and breathing were all voted as less important.

I think a lot of people who say that talking about racism is pointless, only say that because it's not an easy conversation to have. I mean, I go with the same strategy every time something comes up that I don't particularly want to talk about.

Like I was house sitting for a friend, and when he got home he asked me, "Hey Xavier, why is there a traffic cone in the kennel, and where's my dog?"

I suddenly saw that my argument, that the traffic cone was far easier to walk and would eat less was going to struggle, and thus that was not a conversation that I wanted to have.

Or when the barman said to me, "Sorry mate, you can't pay for beer with skittles." I hated that conversation. It also proved once and for all, that life is certainly not all beer and skittles.

Also there's, "Xavier, where exactly is this relationship going?"

My usual response of, "Your house, my house, or the disabled toilet."

Well that only starts another even more uncomfortable conversation.

A few years ago, I'd just started playing with an amateur football team, and was hanging out at a music festival with them as a pre-season bonding exercise. One of the players was Asian, and his nickname was a common insult for Asians. I'm not going to repeat it, because I don't want to offend anyone. In the great Australian tradition of nicknames, an 'a' had been added to the end, to give it a friendly colloquial feel.

The Asian guy's name was Rob, and after a few drinks he confided in me that he hated the nickname.

"So why not tell them?" I asked.

"I have. Again and again. They just tell me that they don't mean it like that. It's just a joke, and they mean it in a good way. How do you insult someone in a good way?"

"Why not tell the coach?"

"No way", he said. "What would the guys think of me then? And if I want to play for someone else, that's an extra hour drive. If I want to play footy, I just have to put up with it."

"I'll have a chat to the boys", I offered.

He glared at me. "Don't say a fucking word. It's nothing to do with you."

I've had many similar conversations, and they've stuck with me, and that's another big reason I want to talk about racism. So when people want to talk about it, other people actually listen.

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