Do Not Tell Me What Racism Is, Malcolm

By Jacqueline Willing

Catching the train home is one of the most stressful experiences I know.

It’s not the anxiety of being in a confined space, or having to interact with strangers, but rather the crippling fear of facing a racial tirade.

It’s happened before. Plenty of times.

It will probably, definitely happen again.

It’s sitting on a bus, trying to practice my Arabic on a language app, only to hear the man behind me: “She’s speaking that ISIS crap.”

I cannot count how many videos I’ve seen on my newsfeed that praise strangers for coming to the defence of people subjected to a torrent of hate speech on a bus or train. Heartwarming, to see people speaking out against racism, isn’t it?

But the fear is always there. The fear is always the first thing on my mind, because I know that someone might not be there to help me or speak up for me when it’s my turn.

It’s a constant struggle to feel welcome in a country with a shameful, racist past, a past that includes the (mis)treatment of Australia’s first people and the White Australia Policy.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words have left so many insulted, offended and humiliated.

It’s impossible to feel that the proposed repeal of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act is anything but an explicit return to that same, very dark, history.

I have listened to an Australian federal politician stand in Parliament and suggest that it was a mistake to bring Lebanese refugees to Australia in the 1970s.

I have never made it through airport security without someone in my family being stopped for a “random” security search.

I have been introduced as “a Leb, but not that kind of Leb.”

I have been labeled as “dirty” and “a terrorist” on more than one occasion.

I will continue to be subjected to this.

The explicit effect of racist speech is to make you feel lesser. Only those who have experienced racism will understand when I say that it’s the little comments and actions that make you feel less “normal”; less loved, less equal, less able and even less human.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words have left so many insulted, offended and humiliated. This was demonstrated yesterday, as thousands tweeted their experiences of racism using the hashtag #FreedomofSpeech.

We need 18c to tackle racism. It would be wrong to permit a legislative change that would let “small” comments evolve into long term “harassment and intimidation” again.

We need 18c.

It is no kind of “freedom of speech” to oppress minorities, and keep them silent, disenfranchised and fearful.

We need 18c.

Keep your hands off it, Mr Turnbull.