I have written this post as a show of support to my friend H. She was an unexpected racist target while watching her son’s soccer game….
At the beginning of this month my son’s soccer team played their 2nd semifinal. Tensions were tight on the field as was expected at this pointy end of the competition.
Off the field there was another tension being played out: racial abuse. The protagonist was the resident of a house that backed onto the soccer field. Typically, I imagine – due to the proximity of his house to the game – the ball ended up on his property, not for the first time. H approached his property to retrieve the soccer ball. She saw him take it into his house. He returned with it, deflated; he had punctured a hole in it. He handed her the now useless ball. She thanked him (not realizing the ball was kaput). He called her a Chinese B*tch. To which she replied: “Excuse me. I am not Chinese. I can report you.”
H is from Japan. Her son plays in my son’s team. She has been good company over the years of weekend soccer games we have attended in our roles as dutiful parents. The altercation took place 5 minutes before the end of the game, marking the conclusion of 12 years of weekend soccer for my son (he started playing at 4 years of age), as he won’t be playing next year (or so he says). Our boys lost 3 – 0.
The other team members’ parents were very concerned, as was the coach Rocco. One of the dads witnessed the incident. He said “disgusting”. Rocco approached the officials at the grounds. They advised lodging a complaint to the police who in turn advised that they couldn’t do anything about the damage to the ball or the abuse as he was on his own property at the time.
Not satisfied, Rocco – who has also experienced racism in his lifetime – searched the internet when he got home. He suggested that H file an official complaint with the Human Rights Commission. After some thought and discussion with her husband she decided not to proceed.
I have made a few phone calls to H since this incident took place. Understandably it has left a bad taste in her mouth. She mentioned that she has endured racist remarks before: in 2006 at Sydney’s Kinsgsford Smith Airport in a sandwich shop. She was refused service by the young people behind the counter. They didn’t like her speaking in Japanese to her friend. And she has been cold shouldered by cashiers at supermarkets, on occasions when she was sandwiched between white people and their demeanour to them was markedly different to that expressed to her.
H looks after old people in her day job. She takes her work very seriously and enjoys it most of the time. In 2011 a resident at the nursing home demanded that she “Speak English! I don’t understand what you say. You are not educated.”
Recently H experienced the following abuse from another resident who was grumpy that she was 5 minutes late to assist her with her shower: “I cannot have a shower myself. If I start having a shower and have a fall and get an injury, I’ll take you to Chinese court because it is your fault.”
H is married to D, a white Australian. They were house mates when she arrived in Australia in 1990 for a working holiday. They endured a long term relationship when she returned to Japan for 12 months when her visa expired and then decided to get married. She decided to live here permanently.
D & H have 2 teenage sons, A and J. I asked her if they have ever experienced racism. A has, as early as kindergarten. One particular boy in his class said to the others “Don’t go to his house because he eats only Chinese foods.” The same child invited all the boys in his class except A and a Vietnamese boy to his Birthday Party in Year 3 (when they were 8 years old).
Racism starts at a young age though it is not officially tolerated in this country’s schools. Thankfully there are resources available to educate students, such as the Racism No Way website:
When I asked H if she had something positive to say about her life in Australia she said:
“I have also been treated with kindness while staying in Australia. I’ve met many nice people here and made many unbreakable friendships. My husband’s side of the family is always there to comfort me and offer support especially my Australian mother-in-law and my husband’s aunt, despite growing up in a time where there was lots of racial prejudice in Australia.”
My parents were both immigrants, from England. I am not proud to say that due their white skin and ability to speak the Queen’s language they were not targeted with racist abuse. They struggled with some of the customs developed by the mostly white population in rural Victoria when they first arrived.
At a hospital shortly after Dad started work as a GP, one local came into the day surgery wearing only a singlet and a pair of shorts. Dad surmised that the patient hadn’t had time to get dressed prior to his visit. It also took him some time to understand the sufferer’s ailment, who said that he was ‘crook in the guts’.
And on another occasion shortly after their arrival my parents were invited to dinner at someone’s house. They were asked to ‘bring a plate’. They thought it was particularly odd but did what was requested and took an empty plate with them. Coming from the centre of London they also discovered – too late – that they were overdressed for this casual get-together in the hot dusty interior of Victoria’s wheat belt.
My father was racist too, adopting early on during his time in Australia his disdain for ‘abos’ as he used to refer to Aborigines. He felt that they were bludgers. An educated and academic man, he held a very simplistic view of their customs and way of life bred of his own ignorance. I could never discuss it, even after I travelled around Australia and stayed on an aboriginal community in the Northern Territory for a week during my year long trip. Surely that made me a bit more informed on the subject in his eyes?
Lex Marinos (Alexander Francis Marinos OAM) is an Australian actor, director, writer, voice artist and media personality of Greek heritage. I met him at an author talk recently as part of his national tour to promote his autobiography Blood and Circuses. He grew up in the NSW country town of Wagga Wagga in the 1950s where his parents ran a cafe.
He had this response to journalist Nicole Elphick of the Sydney Morning Herald:
As a Greek Australian, were there issues with being typecast?
Well, less so in theatre, that manifests itself much more in film and TV. But it was interesting to read Andrew Bovell in The Sydney Morning Herald saying that he still thinks there’s a racism in Sydney theatres. That’s a strong word, but I know if I go to a show in London or in New York or in Paris, I’m going to see a much more diverse cast than if I go and see a show in Sydney. It still seems to me to be a very Anglo-centric theatre that we do.
We still have such a long way to go….