Seeing through the world’s eyes

I’ve been home sick with the flu today.

Having watched every single episode of every ghost show that exists on YouTube, I turned onto ABC iView to start watching Dumb, Drunk and Racist.

Growing up in a country town, you tend to know who most people are, and if you don’t know them individually, you at least know which family they come from. Racism in my town was and still is mostly limited to jokes, which aren’t aimed to hurt, but, quite obviously do.

I moved from this town when I was 18, and began living in Fairfield in Sydney, a suburb which, at that time anyway, had a large Lebanese population. I became extremely racist at that point in my life towards anyone who looked Middle Eastern, because I would have these Middle Eastern men following me in the shopping centre, asking me to have coffee with them. One of them followed me from shop to shop for two hours, continuously asking me the same thing.

Each day, waiting at the bus stop outside my house, in the five minutes I would be there, two and sometimes three separate cars of men of varying ages would pull over and say “come for a drive, baby”.

But the worst was the day I had to meet my then-partner at his job in Auburn. It was 4pm and I walked out of Auburn station. A car went past me in the same direction I was walking, called out to me, turned around and called out again, from the other side of the road.

They came back again and pulled up a few metres ahead of me. I ran across four lanes of traffic to get to the other side of the road, knowing that they hadn’t just pulled over to give me a friendly lift somewhere.

As I walked the footpath, lined with Colourbond fences that seemed taller than trees, the same car came speeding towards me and pulled into a driveway in front of me, blocking my path.

I had nowhere to go. The fences were too high, there was traffic coming along the road and I would have had to go near them to get past them.

The driver opened his door, stepped out and began calling me Sarah.

“Come on Sarah. Just get in the car. We don’t have time for this!”.

I instantly realised he was trying to make it look as though we knew each other and I was just being a troublesome woman. It reminded me of those teenagers who brutally killed that 2 year old boy after they stole him from a shopping centre. Witnesses had assumed he was their misbehaving little brother, and ignored his screams.

It wasn’t this realisation that made my blood turn to ice, though. It was the passenger, who laid his seat all the way back and laced his hands behind his head, giving me a grin that said “you can’t win”.

“I’m not Sarah! Leave me alone!” I was screaming.

All those imagination-games I’d played for years, where I’d practised self-defence and totally defeated my crazy-strong captors went right out the window. I had no idea what to do.

To this day, I don’t know what would have happened if some mechanics hadn’t heard me, and come out of their workshop to hunt the men away.

I called my dad and cried the rest of the way to that building. Broad daylight, a busy street and a girl still wasn’t safe to make that 30 minute walk.

After that, I tarred all Lebanese, or Middle Eastern men with that same brush. I was so full of anger, fear and hatred and it was exhausting and all-consuming.

Then I moved to Meadowbank, and became friends with the Lebanese couple who owned the woodfire pizza shop. The wife and I would sometimes catch the train into work together and laugh and joke about life. Two women of completely different backgrounds, and yet all our worries were the same: money, public transport issues, boyfriends…

I realised then that my ‘racism’ had not really been toward Middle Eastern people, but towards those Middle Eastern Men who had harrassed me, no different to the fear and anger I had felt in my tiny little home town the day that caucasian man asked me to go to the pub with him for drinks, and when I declined, got angry and told me he would pay me in cigarettes.

Watching Dumb, Drunk & Racist has had me in tears all afternoon, not just because I’ve been all three, but because I’ve always been someone who just wanted everyone to get along. I don’t understand why people do mean, nasty, hurtful things to other people.

Hearing the most heinous things come out of people who have the same accent as me makes me sick. Who has the right to abuse anyone else, in any way? What gives many Aussies the idea that they are better than anyone else? That their rights are more important than those of any other man, woman or child?

I have no answers whatsoever, but while I know that I’m going to spend every single episode of this show sobbing over the sights I will see, I am glad this mirror is being held up to our country so we can stop denying the ugly parts of our culture, whilst berating others about theirs.

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