Tag Archives: Racism

Riot, Adele Sandercock

Sarah had spent much of the previous week in bed, rising only at night to make a piece of toast and smoke a cigarette. Cradling her phone in her hand, she would scroll through the news, bouncing between any online media outlets she could find. She had called in sick for each of the three days she had been rostered on.

On the days she woke to silence, she would move to the large computer in the study.  Her body was weak with an intolerable sadness she couldn’t articulate. The larger screen aided in her rumination and she spent hours searching and reading. The photographs on a larger screen hit her harder. Faces reached out to her, bloody and weeping with a sorrow that grabbed at her chest, pulling her down lower and lower. Was this what the crushing of a soul felt like? If she, on the other side of the world, in no way affected aside from measly words on a page and photographs on a screen, if she could feel this dread, this pain, then what about them? What must they feel? Her guilt compounded the feeling of losing little bits of herself, fragments of innocence were being chipped away.

Still, she looked on. Images of masked men stalking cobblestoned streets, carrying knives bigger than she knew possible. Wailing mothers and press conference promises.  Later, in the comfort of her darkened room, she wondered what they did with the bloodstains. Perhaps a lone council worker with a wet broom and bucket slowly scraped it away, his hope and faith swirling dejectedly alongside the diluting blood.

She had not dreamt last week.

Sarah ate her muesli, unblinking as images of steel barriers and riot squad police flickered across the television screen.

‘Members of The United Patriots Front are now arriving on Stafford Street with police already here to…’

A note sat on the kitchen bench:

Will be home late. Please do your washing and make something for dinner. Being productive will make you feel better. Mum xx

‘..composed of Neo-Nazis and fundamentalist Christians and led by convicted criminal Blair Cottrell.’

Her spoon hovered over the breakfast bowl as she watched steely faces pace across the screen. Black eyes matched leather jackets embroidered with words of menacing fear.

Sarah slipped on her thongs, wincing as the rubber grazed at the blister between her toes. She was sick of thinking. Her fingers tingled with the urge to check her phone. She stood quickly, before her thoughts tangled themselves. Pulling her bag over her shoulder, she walked out the front door.

Sarah’s usual seat on the bus was taken by two teenagers, not much younger than her but exuding a confidence she lusted for. She sat a few seats behind them and put her headphones on. Both girls had long hair that fell thick and heavy across the neon blue seats.

Sarah could hear their voices over her music. One was loud, the other had a pitch that would bring dogs to their knees.

‘Noooo, don’t draw the M like that, there needs to be space for three more words, remember!’

The girl shrieked to her friend.

Sarah pulled one headphone from her ear.

A piece of black cardboard stretched across the girls’ knees, a thick white pen hovered over an M. They continued to argue over letter placement and size – they too must be heading to the rally.

The bus ride to Stafford Street was usually short, but the road closures meant frustrated drivers were taking detours. With every swaying stop of the bus, Sarah felt familiar, dizzying nausea. She gripped onto the seat in front and looked out the window. Crowds of people stood ahead, holding angry placards. She had arrived. As she stepped off the bus, the cool fresh air instantly releasing the knot in her stomach.

The girls got off behind her, one holding their sign, the other carrying a shared backpack. Sarah turned, curiously squinting against the mid-morning sun. The girl holding the sign noticed Sarah’s interest and raised it.

‘NAZI SCUM NOT WELCOME HERE’

Her eyes widened.

‘It’s great isn’t it?’ the girl beamed.

‘Yeah, it’s.. it’s great – amazing. I wish I had one.’

The girls continued walking alongside her.

‘Don’t worry, you can come with us, we can take turns holding it. I’m Celeste.’

The girl with the backpack held her hand out and Sarah was again struck by their self-assurance, their ability to just be.

‘Thanks, I’m Sarah.’

‘Olivia,’ The girl with the sign strode on, smiling back.

‘Let’s go!’

More people had arrived since they had left the bus and a clear separation of groups had occurred. Some wore mostly black with the Australian flag either draped across shoulders or sitting high on carried poles. Others carried placards, some just pieces of paper with illegibly scribbled messages, others professionally printed with screaming red letters.

PROTECT OUR PEOPLE SECURE OUR BORDERS!

A quiet fell over the three girls as the crowd swept them in. Sarah looked around and was surprised by how far they’d moved.

It was like getting caught in a rip, she thought, the waves might be small, but they were strong.

The vigorous chatting between Olivia and Celeste was replaced by tentative whispers, then they stopped walking. They were on the wrong side, only by a few  metres, but they were now surrounded by large, bulky men, many of whose faces were covered by bandanas, only their eyes visible. And angry. They reminded Sarah of the men she had seen on the news carrying machetes. Dizzying, she grasped Olivia’s shoulder to steady herself, but quickly let go, embarrassed at the intimacy of the touch. Despite Olivia’s reassuring glance, Sarah was reminded of how long it had been since she’d let someone hug her, how foreign the pushing of bodies against her felt. Skin against skin.

After tentative whispers and silent instructional head-jerks, the three slowly pushed their way towards the line of police separating the two groups. The crowd was surging forward. The air felt heavy with anticipation, like watching the lighting of fireworks, the nervous trepidation before the sparks caught and flew into the air. Sarah held her breath against the acrid odour of bodies mingled with stale tobacco. Celeste led the way, the poster secured under her arm. They moved quickly, sidestepping and hopping until a man stepped straight into Sarah’s path, separating her from the girls. He was tall; she was at eye level with the FUCK ISLAM emblazoned across his thick, dirty jumper. He smirked, his teeth bleached white in perfect symmetry. Sweat beaded upon his lips, threatening to run into his open mouth.

‘Excuse me,’ Sarah said. She looked down and stepped to his left.

He moved to block her.

‘You’re not excused Lefty,’ he responded to a few pitiful cheers around him.

Sarah flexed her fingers, teeth clenched, a tingling in her stomach. She searched the crowd for the girls, but they were lost in a sea of national flags and the pulsing collective rage.

She looked up, steely eyed.

‘Aren’t you hot?’

His smile gave way to a frown.

‘What?’

‘I said aren’t you hot? In that jumper. Aren’t you hot? It’s 30 degrees.’

‘The fuck? No. I’m not hot.’

Sweat dripped from his eyebrows and cascaded down hollow cheekbones.

Sarah caught sight of Olivia a few metres away, her elbows locked behind her by a man twice her size. He laughed as she kicked and screamed, looking at Sarah with a determination, a conviction that refused to be squashed.

Sarah liked making herself small, especially when the weight of the days became too much. Knees pulled to chest and blankets up to earlobes, she was almost undetectable when her mum would come to check on her. A small mound on the bed like a pile of unfolded washing. An insignificant presence. Olivia’s eyes, fierce with purpose, reminded her that there was more than blackened bedroom windows and bad news.

Sarah raised her voice, ‘You’re really sweating. I think you need to take your jumper off. You might overheat.’

Her voice, although loud and demanding was patronisingly sweet, hiding a gurgling swell of emotions. She stared into his furious blue eyes. The man puffed out his chest, pushing it towards her. Unmoving, she laughed at him loudly, heartily but without the familiar rush of warmth. She continued to laugh despite the sneer and gritted teeth that hovered inches from her face.

With a sharp kick in the shin and a flurry of angry words, Celeste had pulled Olivia from the clutches of the still-laughing protesters and they pushed their way towards Sarah, quickly pulling at her arms to leave.

‘Stupid bitch,’ the man yelled.

‘Far out girls! What were you doing?’ Celeste yelled once they had escaped the throng of thick necked nationalists.

‘He was a piece of shit,’ Sarah replied.

Olivia was quiet.

‘Well, yeah of course but the police were so far away and wouldn’t have seen any of that,’ Celeste said. She and Olivia looked concerned.

‘I’m sorry,’ Sarah said, confused. Hadn’t they met only an hour before? It had been a long time since she’d seen her friends. There was only so many times she could lie or make excuses about going out before she stopped responding and they stopped asking.  She was happy with her room and the television. But she appreciated the company of these strangers today. They began moving towards the sea of colourful banners.

ONE RACE = HUMAN

A chant was beginning just as they connected with the counter protesters; a group that now seemed much larger than the other side.

‘DON’T GIVE IN TO RACIST FEAR, MUSLIMS ARE WELCOME HERE, RACIST, SEXIST, ANTI GAY, FACIST BIGOTS GO AWAY!’

The volume rose with each round and Celeste held her banner high.

Sarah yelled and sang until her voice cracked. Olivia slung her arm around Sarah’s shoulders as they swayed back and forth, the crowd moving as one.

Sarah’s feet hurt; new blisters had emerged between each toe. The United Patriots Front had shrunk considerably in size as the afternoon wore on. Their catalogue of ‘war cries’ was limited, and their voices barely heard over the much larger crowd of counter protesters. Many had slunk away as the sky turned an orange pink and the shadows grew longer. Her phone buzzed in her back pocket. Her mother: Are you ok? Please come home now. But I am glad you got out of the house and I am hoping it was productive.

Sarah smiled. She didn’t want to think about tomorrow. Deciding whether she would stay in bed for the day sapped more energy than she had left. Today, the holes inside her had shrunk somewhat, and that was enough for now.

Darkness began to settle upon the city street. The air lost its spark, and a quiet calm fell as the police dismantled the steel barriers.

The three girls, weary but content, slowly walked back to the bus stop.

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An Evening on the Farm, Tanya Lake

The pink cockatiel jumped inside her cage, sprouting phrases as people passed; each one tailored to the individual.

“Wine O’clock!” it would chirp, for Linda.

“Bottoms Up!” for Gary. “Bottoms Up!”

“Yeah, we heard ya.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the cockatiel replied.

 

Linda wasn’t racist, but she told Gary, “Them Muslims over Monkey Tree Hill, I’ve got my suspicions. Their dog killed 100 head of my sheep. Happened right before them weird sacrifices they have. Very bloody convenient, if you ask me. Would’ve snuck up in the night and nicked a few I reckon, for their sacrificin’ and whatnot.”

Gary muttered noises of solidarity.

 

Linda hadn’t left the farm in years. She got homesick on the drive to Mudgee. “I miss my animals too much,” she said, when Gary left for supplies.

The pig patrolled the fence, snorting like a bathtub emptying. It ate everything they threw over the fence; lemons, bread rolls, icecream. Whilst the hills whistled a tune of isolation that gave Linda the heebie jeebies, she didn’t feel lonely. Quite the contrary; the animals were her gang. The mule, the goats, the Lab, the chickens; she loved ‘em all.

One evening she was walking alongside old Macy the Clydesdale, checking the water level at the back dam, when the old mare trod onto her steel capped Blundstone, breaking her foot. Linda didn’t remember passing out, but when she came to, the Muslim neighbour was beside her.

“Water level’s not great, is it?” was all Linda could think to say.

 

Her name was Sasha. “Let’s get you up on the horse,” she said.

“Why aren’t you wearing your… your thing?” Linda asked.

She appreciated Sasha’s help. She announced that she was not going into Mudgee to have her foot looked at. She would be fine on the farm, thankyou very much. At the house, Sasha helped her onto the couch, then fetched a whisky to wash back the Panadols.

“It’s lovely to talk to someone,” Sasha said. “I love the space out here, but John isn’t a talker, if you know what I mean, and it’s just so lonely sometimes.”

“Oh I love it.” Linda replied. “It’s not lonely when you’ve got this many animals.”

Sasha looked around Linda’s home; the spinning wheel, the bird cages. “True. Maybe I need more pets.” She patted the grinning Lab beside her, his tail thumping the floor. “I think I’ll get a dog. I need a friend.”

She crouched at the cockatiel’s cage.

“She escaped once,” Linda began. “Flew over onto that roof, there. But she was shit scared. When I found her she tucked her head into my neck, shaking all over.”

Sasha stroked it through the bars. “Hello Cocky!”

The cockatiel leaned toward Sasha. “I’m not racist, but!” it answered.

The bird bobbed up and down. “Not racist, but! Bloody Muslims. Cwack!”

Linda stared into her whisky glass. “The thing is, if they grow up in a cage, they don’t want to leave the cage.”

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The Uselessness of Aversion, Erica Genda

The tension in the room felt like fire. My eyes burned, and my cheeks were wet. 

It was then that Emma came home, and saw Aaron with his hands clenched in a tight fist. She stood before us and released her shopping bags uneasily to the floor. In the background, the television screen, still stagnant, shone into the dark room. At that moment, I wished I could have turned back time, or been able to force it forwards. I wished to be anywhere other than in that moment.

 

*

 

I couldn’t believe I was here. This moment made me wish to be back with my parents in Melbourne.

Emma greeted me at the door of my new home in the outskirts of North Sydney. It was here that I was to live, with two new housemates. They looked like white supremacists, with their pale and freckled skin, light blonde hair and deep blue eyes. I had friends similar to them in primary school. But the minute they saw my mum wearing a hijab they weren’t my friends anymore.
‘Yasmin,’ Emma said. ‘How’s it hangin? Happy to have a new roomie! Need some help with ya gear?’

I politely accepted and felt bad for judging her. I was such a contradiction.

Emma carried my big boxes inside, and I carried the small ones. My justification being I am petite and was already exhausted from the mess that was my life. After only a few hours, I was almost through unpacking my life’s belongings into my new ridiculously tiny bedroom. In the room next door, I could hear my new roomies yapping loudly. I wanted to join them, but I needed a breather. I lay back on my bed and grabbed my phone to Face-Time my mum.
‘Yasmin, my sweetness, you look so sad, what’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘Just moved into my new place. I have housemates Ma…it feels weird.’
‘Are they nice?’

In the background, I could hear my father yelling.
‘Why is dad yelling?’
‘We are making kebbeh, and he’s asking for my help in the kitchen. I don’t know why – he’s made it a thousand times!’
‘Did you want me to call you later?’
‘Ok Yasmin, just be nice and make friends. It is impossible not to like you. I love you,’ she said blowing me a virtual kiss. I rolled over and saw a message from her with a picture of my Dad in the kitchen with mince in his hands. I missed them so much.

‘Ey! Newbie. I mean, Yaz, come out!’ shouted Emma from the lounge room. ‘Thought I’d properly introduce ya to Az, or Aaron as he prefers, who you’ll notice sits on the lounge a lot at night. I have a TV in my room for privacy, but sometimes we enjoy watching a bit of the  Bach together. For the drinking games!’
‘Love it,’ I said.
‘By the way Az, this is Yaz, or Yasmin – which I like, might start calling you that,’ said Emma as I gave a small wave to Aaron.
‘Righto,’ said Emma, and took my hand as she guided me into the kitchen. She gave me a sheet of paper titled ‘Emma & Aarons Pet Hates’. After that list, there was a smaller list of things not to eat or to get for myself if I wanted any. There were a few other house rules on the sheet, but Emma told me to forget them because Aaron wrote them and who gives a fuck about him anyway. I thought she was joking, but couldn’t tell. She popped open a bottle of VB and offered me one, but I hated VB, so I took water instead. Emma leant on the counter, waiting for me to say something.

‘Thanks so much’ I said, ‘but I better finish unpacking.’

I was hopping off the bar stool when Emma said, ‘so what’s ya story? New to Sydney or what?’

I raised my eyebrows. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share everything straight away, but I sat back down.
‘Oh sorry, sensitive question is it?’ Emma continued.
‘No, no! I’ve been here for a while, few years. But, um, I just split with my ex, so I had to get out of his place ASAP.’

I couldn’t look up, as I knew that if I talked about him, my eyes would start to water. How embarrassing!
Emma leant over the counter and gave me a bumpy rub on the shoulder. ‘Fuck him!’ she said.
‘Shut up Em! I’m watching the news,’ Aaron called out. There was no wall between the kitchen and the lounge area.
‘Stop being a dick,’ Emma bit back.
‘Sorry, no offence,’ Aaron said, turning to look at me. I nodded that it was okay even though it irritated me. Though I was probably just being sensitive.
‘How did you guys meet?’ I asked Emma,
‘He’s my brother’s best mate. My brother moved out with a girl, so he moved in. Helps pay the rent, so he’s not that bad – Are ya Az?’ She had a cheeky smile on her face like she thought he was great or something.
‘Please, don’t listen to her. Call me Aaron. I’m not a bogan like some!’ He joked.

I laughed, even contemplating the VB for a moment. It seemed to me that I had walked into a wacky, yet playful friendship and I felt like I was being invited to join in the fun. That was the nicest way to think about this situation.
‘So what did this guy do to you?’ asked Aaron, not paying attention.

I didn’t exactly want to get into the details with someone who wasn’t even listening.
‘Did he cheat on ya?’ Emma prodded.
‘Um, yeah,’ was all I could say before I lost it. I began sobbing into my chest as quietly as I could. I must have seemed like a complete lunatic.
‘Oh shit! I’m sorry babe. It’s okay, Yasmin. Don’t worry. A week from now you won’t even be thinking about this fucking idiot.’

Emma’s tone was suddenly not so loud anymore. She came around to my side of the counter to hold me. That was the moment we became friends.
Emma spent a lot of time with me after that night. She took me out often. Not to clubs, but to dinner and bars where we could enjoy each other’s company. I had become stressed about being on my own. And I felt anxious about being around people who I didn’t like or didn’t like me! But now we were drinking VB every Friday night. The taste was dismal, but the company was nice.  It was comforting to have someone like Emma. We spoke about the important things in life just as easy as the not so important things. I loved that. Aaron joined us on most Fridays too, but he was hooked on the news. It was tiresome. Terrorist bombings and sieges were always being pushed onto viewers, like some kind of fear mongering. No one wants to hear about that on a Friday night. Plus, I found it funny, in a not so funny way that they never spoke about the effects these things had in Middle-Eastern countries. Like Lebanon, where my parents were from, or Syria, where people were likely to die if they stayed or if they fled. I hated seeing all this hate coming from faux Muslims, making the world hell for the good ones. At first, it just broke my heart. Then, I grew furious. Emma would tell Aaron to ‘shut that shit off’, as she could see it visibly upset me. But he never listened.
‘Don’t you find it depressing to watch the news constantly?’ I’d ask him, interrupting a small pecking session between him and Emma.
‘Nah, my dad homeschooled me, and we did a lot of news watching. He always said that it’s good to be informed. There’s a lot of crazies out here.’

He motioned to the lone gunman on the screen who had just been caught. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, just agreed that the man was crazy. But I guess Aaron and I had a different view of what led to crazy.
I became sidetracked with a message from my mum. Another photo, it read, ‘My Turkish friend from work made me this Kanafeh. You would love it! Wish you were here! Miss you!’ Her missing me was nothing new. Ever since I moved to Sydney, our emotions ran high, and we found it hard to be apart. I knew she would have felt it more because I had less of a need to call her as I was finally settling in.  Our catch-ups became less frequent, but we always had a way of letting each other know we were still there. I sent a message back saying, ‘ I love you Ma, tell Dad I say hi and I miss you both. Will call soon.’

I think she knew that I had to make a life for myself, and I was beginning to.
‘So are you two official yet or what?’ I asked sitting on the lounge as Emma and Aaron nestled up to one another.
‘Oh stuff off,’ Emma cringed slightly but looked happy.
‘Well, why not I guess,’ Aaron said smiling. They kissed, and it wasn’t even gross, but I still threw a pillow at them.

 

*

 

It had been about two months since Emma and Aaron had hooked up exclusively. I was sitting on my laptop at the kitchen bench as Aaron watched TV. There was a brief mention of a protest happening in Melton on the news, which is close to where my parents live in Melbourne.
‘What is that?’ I asked,
‘Anti-Muslim protest, they approved a Mosque in Melton,’ Aaron scoffed.

I couldn’t figure out his tone. I took my laptop to the bedroom and Skyped my parents.  My dad answered, and I could see my mum in the background crying with her head down. My dad was whispering like he didn’t want my mum to hear. He told me about a man who threw a beer can at his car as he drove past. The man then yelled, ‘What’re you hiding under there?’ to my mum in the passenger seat, referring to her hijab.

‘It’s horrible Yasmin. Just horrible! I don’t know why these people hate us. We don’t do anything. We keep to ourselves! These people, they come and even eat at our shop! It’s like they have lost their minds.’
I found it hard not to cry, but I didn’t want to show my dad how much it hurt me too. He needed to see that I was okay.
‘Your mother and I are worried for you. What is it like for you there? Is it multicultural? Are you okay?’

He looked desperately sad. I couldn’t help but shed a tear.
‘It’s okay dad, tell mum I’m fine. I have friends, and it’s not the kind of place where that stuff happens. I’m safe.’

 

*

 

Following the Melton protests, I had a sick feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t budge. But I never voiced my concern. I called or messaged my parents every day. They weren’t distressed anymore, but I couldn’t shake the anxiety. It was time for dinner, but I didn’t know if I could stomach a full meal, so prepared a coffee and was going to sit with Aaron and watch some TV. As I was about to sit down, he yelled, ‘Fucking Muslims!’

My heart began beating fast and hard; I could feel it against my rib cage. I tried to sip my coffee but my hands were shaky, and I ended up spilling some.  I tried listening to the news, but Aaron just shouted over the top of it.
‘What a twisted, fucked up race! Shoot them all!’

At that moment, I realised that Aaron had no idea that I was Muslim. I clenched the paper towels I had used to clean up the coffee. Aaron kept going and going like he was having a conversation with the television.

‘Can you shut up!’ I snapped.
He paused the TV. There was silence between us.
‘You know you’re being completely racist right?’

‘What’s it to you?’ he said. ‘I can see you’re brown, but I didn’t think you were some Arab.’
‘I’m Lebanese. My parents are Muslim. They’re good people, and it’s disgusting to hear this shit in my living space,’ I replied. My voice shook, but I stood strong.
‘Well let’s get one thing straight then, yeah – this is my place, and I’ll say what I want – you can get the fuck out for all I care.’

Aaron pointed towards the door, and I knew he meant it.
‘I don’t get it. You can’t seriously watch one crazy person on TV, who just happens to be Arabic and think we’re all murderers?’
‘It’s not just one crazy person. There are heaps of you.’
‘That’s not us. That guy stalked that girl; he didn’t kill her with some extremism motive, that’s just the news spinning shit… Or, you, you’re spinning shit!’
‘I’m telling you, Muslims are violent and fucked up. You can see it with your own two eyes.’

He gestured towards the TV.
‘You are completely fucked up Aaron! I hope you know that.’
The tension in the room felt like fire. My eyes burned, and my cheeks were wet. It was then that Emma came home, and saw Aaron with his hands clenched in a tight fist. She stood before us and released her shopping bags uneasily to the floor. In the background, the television screen, still stagnant, shone into the dark room.

‘Turn it off,’ Emma said, her voice trembling. ‘Turn it off now, Aaron!’
‘Are you seriously going to do this?’ He threatened.
‘Do what?’ She said ‘Stand up for my friend?’

I never spoke about my background with Emma, but she wasn’t an idiot. I think she had noticed the photos in my room of me with my parents. She knew I wasn’t like them.

‘To be honest Em, I don’t think I can live here anymore,’ I said and turned away towards my room. I had to get my car keys so that I could get out. I didn’t know what I expected from Em, and I didn’t want to get in between her and Aaron, even if he was a racist asshole.

‘Don’t go,’ she said. As I walked to leave she grabbed my arm,‘it’s just stupid talk. It doesn’t mean anything. He didn’t mean it.’ I felt sad for her defending him like that.

‘I bloody do mean it!’ he said. ‘Next thing you know, she’ll be wearing a fucking burka and yelling Allahu Akbar at me!’
I exhaled a shocked kind of sigh. I had to leave. Emma rushed behind me, but I couldn’t stop. I didn’t have any more words.

 
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