Brown

People tell me racism doesn’t exist.

That is just not true.

I am a middle-class, brown girl living in inner-city Melbourne.

I’ve experienced and dealt with – let’s call it ‘ignorance’ – since the age of seven or eight, in many different ways, each retaliation relevant to my maturity level.

One year, I simply told the teacher.

Some years later, following an incident, I vowed to ignore the person from that day forth. And I did.

The following year, I wrote a speech about racism, winning a public speaking competition.

In my final year at school, I wrote about media bias, and the way it shaped our perception of migrants – particularly African and Middle-Eastern migrants.

I joined the social justice team.

I dated a boy who endearingly referred to me as ‘round and brown’ behind my back.

His friend nicknamed me Latoya.

I wrote to the paper in defence of African refugees who were being branded as thugs (this was eight or nine years ago, and still relevant today). My piece was published.

I once saw a portrait drawn by a girl that didn’t like me, who’d accentuated my lips and nose and unknowingly made me acutely aware that not only were my physical features different, but that some would view them as ugly.

I once straightened (damaged) my hair, thinking that it would help a particular boy like me.

I have journaled since the age of 14, encouraged by my mother to express the hurt I felt – not for myself so much, but for those less privileged than myself.

I played dumb when a boy I liked made racist jokes flippantly, and I laughed along when I was part of the group.

I’ve simply cringed when I’ve heard the word ‘ni**er’ thrown around – mostly by those who don’t understand the gravity of the word.

I’ve made the quiet decision to cut off long-term friends, who could never understand that such behaviour made me unbearably uncomfortable. That having a black friend didn’t make their jokes ok.

I told myself that if I was offended, the onus was on me. I chose to be around these people.

When I didn’t want to lose them, I told myself that they didn’t know any better.

I’ve been weak.

I’m a middle class, brown girl living in inner-city Melbourne.

In my short time as an adult, I’ve been told that I’m really pretty (for a black girl).

I’ve been told not to be so sensitive.

I have also experience the other extreme – being called a ni**ger, and a maid.

I have had people try to downplay my feelings. I’ve been told that I take things too seriously.

In the past twelve months, 2016-17, I’ve had to explain to fully grown, white men why the n-word isn’t acceptable to use.

I’ve had an older South African couple click their fingers and sneer at me at work (in Elsternwick).

I’ve employed the three strike system with friends and companions and friends-of-friends. Some would say I’m too lenient.

I listen to people verbally crucify employees at our call centres, for the mere fact that they have accents.

I’ve been called a monkey on social media.

I’ve been told to be quiet, due to my own privilege. Ignore it, Kalida.

People tell me racism doesn’t exist, or that it does, but only if I pay attention to it… still trying to wrap my head around that one.

I’m a middle class brown girl living in inner-city Melbourne.

I have had so many opportunities to work and study and travel.

I score acting and commercial work easily because of my appearance.

I fit a demographic that works to my advantage very much of the time.

My father is black, my mother is brown, my partner is white, and my daughter is mixed race.

People are excited to touch my hair, intrigued as if I am a rare specimen.

They ask me where I’m from, and if I answer ‘Australia,’ I am met with blank stares.

I have access to free healthcare.

I have had access to a safe abortion.

I can vote. I am free to denounce religion.

Most importantly, I am safe.

I don’t live in fear that the police could shoot my brothers.

I am never wondering where my next meal will come from.

I can protest and feel protected.

My fears that have stifled my voice are internal. I know that I will not be punished for speaking.

Some douchebag, a couple of weeks ago, told me I should be quiet.

He said, and I paraphrase: ’I’m sick of your black lives matter shit – you are rich and privileged. Tell blacks to stop killing each other.’

He trolled every social media post I created for about a year, and for the first time, I responded in anger.

This is my diplomatic response.

I’m a middle class brown girl living in inner-city Melbourne.

In the turbulent, dreadfully imperfect world we live in, I recognise my privilege.

Having said that, in more places than not, people are not able to speak without fear of threats or violence. I have been gifted with a life in which I have freedom, and I feel a duty to speak for and about those who cannot.

I can’t explain it any better than that – I have, from an early age, felt a responsibility to speak for those who can’t.

For the thousands of people trapped in detention centres.

For kids in the outer suburbs feeling alienated because of their skin colour, due to the actions of a minority, and the words of white supremacists.

For indigenous men and women stranded, and indigenous children being failed by the system.

For indigenous men and women in custody, more likely to be killed than their white counterparts.

For women all over the world (and even parts of Australia) who have no knowledge of reproductive rights and health.

For peaceful protestors being shot with rubber bullets.

For my cousins, brothers and sisters in the USA, now at the mercy of #45.

For the Black Lives Matter activist found dead in a burning car, in 2016.

I have only experienced a fraction of what others endure in this world. Even so, I know that my voice is both necessary and valuable.

I don’t always come in hot, or filled with rage. I try to stay grounded. I remember how much I have yet to learn.

I will always feel the need to talk, to protest, to try and shape the way people around me think.

I’m a middle class, brown woman living in inner-city Melbourne.

I don’t buy this ‘we are all one race’ or ‘I don’t see colour’ bullshit.

I will never be mute or apologetic.

I will not pander to the ignorant for the sake of keeping the peace.

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