Volume 8, Issue 10
Over the past three years at law school I have had very strong views on a number of issues that those close to me (and some not so close) have been subjected to on a frequent basis.
I think it would come as no surprise to anyone that I am a vocally opinionated person. But in my experience, that has not been the case for many people of colour. In fact, I have met very few people of colour who are willing to broadcast their externally-racist experiences, let alone their internally-felt racism.
I was very fortunate to have a sister, 12 years my elder, who at age 16 stuck a poster of the devil on a classmate’s locker after having overheard him shouting racist taunts at a Chinese girl in her class.
When she was 18 she confronted friends who were making racist comments about another friend, also an Indian girl but who had darker skin.
My sister was dealt the “No, you’re not like her, you’re different” response, as if that was what was at issue. At 21 years, when she was angry and frustrated by White Australia’s refusal to apologise — or accept responsibility — for the devastation caused to the Stolen Generation, she painted “SORRY” in enormous font on the side of a mountain in Kinglake so that passers-by could not escape history.
I have been very lucky to have such a strong role model to show me that my voice is important.
A few friends suggested that I respond to the feature article that recently appeared in De Minimis. It was scornful of the new LSS Social Media Policy. As a person of colour, and a woman of colour at that, I was deeply offended by the position put forth in the article, essentially that freedom of speech is more important than the harm that hurtful speech may cause to others.
Though it was not phrased as such, any attack on ‘political correctness’ is exactly that. Those two loaded words are the defence of many who claim they intended no offence, yet refuse to accept responsibility for it when it is caused.
This position is the culmination of social privilege, a lack of self-awareness, and ignorance of the experiences of minority groups. It is one for which I, quite frankly, have no time.
This piece is not a response to the author of that article. Rather, it is a response to, and a show of solidarity for, the author of the second article, which was positioned at the back of the hardcopy.
It occupied only one of the four pages and ironically demonstrated the need for inclusive language to be at the forefront of all of our minds. I imagine that it was difficult for the author to put those experiences in writing, and I respect that he did so for the education of peers who have led extremely privileged lives and are either unaware or wilfully blind to that fact.
So this is my contribution to that narrative, because this predominantly White and privileged law school could stand to listen to the voices of its minorities more often.
When I was 14 years old, I overheard the boy I liked tell his friends that he would not touch me with a 10ft pole because I was Black. I am Indian. When I was 18 years old, I stood up for a bus driver being racially abused at two o’clock in the morning on the NightRider home.
The abusers turned their hatred to me and proceeded to yell, “Go back to where you came from” for 25 minutes while I cried. I was born here. Two years ago I dismissed unwanted attention from a man on the dance floor at Toff, and he turned to me and said, “Oh no, you don’t get it, this is just what we do in Australia.”
So it is no wonder that when there is an angry white person in front of me, my immediate reaction is to want to speak so that they know that I have an Australian accent.
I can only speak from my own experience, but when I do so I expect that the person listening will do exactly that: listen. My experiences are my own and they are not yours to dismiss, re-interpret or diminish just because they make you uncomfortable.
They make me uncomfortable too, and that is why I have to talk about them, without qualification.
So when somebody chooses to open up and speak to you about their personal experiences as a minority, do not dismiss them based on your own knowledge of the world. Instead, listen and embrace theirs.
Thank you for your article JJ Kim, I hope you keep speaking up.
Sanaya Khisty is a final-year JD student