I think it’s worth knowing a bit about me before reading about my experience with racism. I consider myself to have had a life of privilege. I was adopted at 8 weeks of age and brought up by an amazing person who I am honoured to call my Mum.
My childhood could be described as very Aussie, filled with bush, farm, sea, and snow adventures, Akubras and all.
Amongst other things, my life was filled with love. I was blessed with the most loving Mum I can imagine. We were extremely close and told each other, “I love you,” multiple times every day.
My white grandparents doted on me and I never felt any less their granddaughter because of my skin color or because I was adopted. Years later I found out they had reservations about having a colored granddaughter. But once they met me, they fell in love and I never felt anything but love from them.
As a child, I was outgoing. I was chatty, I was bossy, and I loved to lead. I was often the center of attention. I asked questions all the time and I laughed a lot.
I could also be quite serious and read books as often as I could.
I spent heaps of time outdoors having adventures and being silly with Mum.
Mum made me the best birthday cakes and always made sure I had small but fun birthday parties.
I learned the piano from a young age and have a love for music.
I have always loved animals because they don’t care what you look like. They love you anyway.
I have also always loved teddy bears because they’re so soft and fluffy and we all need a teddy to cuddle sometimes.
For the most part, I loved school. The only times I didn’t love it was when I got picked on for my colour. But I enjoyed learning and I worked hard in every subject.
I was a high achiever and a perfectionist. Everything I did, I had to be the best at it. I had to get the top marks, and quite often did. I finished high school with Dux in quite a few subjects. And I finished my university degree with the Dean’s Medal, getting the highest mark in my degree across all campuses of my university in the state. None of this has made me immune to racism.
Being adopted, I was never pre-warned about racism. It wasn’t something I was expecting and it wasn’t something I was looking for. It just came up on me one day as a surprise.
Age 3 – “Go back to your own country.”
This one I don’t remember, but I remember Mum telling me about it years later because it shocked her. She said another little girl told me to go back to my own country when we were sitting in a playpen together. I guess it was something her parents told her.
Primary School – Name calling
Throughout my primary school years, other kids (often my friends) called me racist names. The one I remember most was being called a poo on many occasions.
One particular occasion occurred on the playground at recess time where another girl was calling me names. I responded with, “Yeah? Well you’re sour cream!” She started crying and went to the teacher and guess who got in trouble? Hint: It wasn’t her.
Another occasion after church (when I used to be a Christian), the other kids took away my bible and started throwing it to each other while calling me a poo. I went home in tears and wrote them an angry letter explaining that I would never come back to church again unless they apologised. Mum found the letter and told me I wasn’t allowed to deliver it because I had addressed it, “Dear Dumb-dumb.”
Mum and I had some family friends who were more like a grandpa and grandma to me. They told me that when kids called me names, I should just punch them under the chin and they wouldn’t call me names anymore. But I have always believed in taking the higher road and being non-violent, so I never took that route, although I imagined it in my head many times.
High School – English Teacher
I was good at English. I always got As throughout my schooling. However, in grade 11, I came across a teacher who decided that I just wasn’t good at English for whatever reason. The conversation went like this:
Teacher: Larisa, what language do you speak at home?
Teacher: We’ll try that again. What is your native language?
Teacher: It can’t be.
Teacher: Because I was watching you and you read too fast. No native English speaker would read that fast. You must be skipping words. Go back and sit down.
This was the only English teacher who gave me a mark lower than an A. This was also the only English teacher that I swore at. And I rarely swore. As time went on, I actually started to disrespect this teacher so much that I stopped listening to her. When she was speaking, I’d be turning around talking to the person behind me.
I’m pointing this out to demonstrate how the way you treat a person can make them behave in the very way you’re expecting them to. This teacher didn’t know that I was a straight-A student. I was a student who never got in trouble in class. I was the student who listened carefully and did all my homework. But I stopped doing that in her class because I couldn’t seem to do anything right in her eyes.
As a teenager: My relatives
First, let me strongly say that my cousins love me and I love them. They don’t see skin colour when they look at me. But there’s one incident that I can’t forget. This is what happened:
We were sitting around the table in 2009 after President Obama won the election. When speaking about it, one of them made the comment, “Black people can’t rule.” I didn’t say anything at the time, and I have never spoken with them about it since. But that comment has stuck with me.
It’s interesting how people can have one idea of their friends and family, but another idea of a group of people based on their race. If you say you’re not racist because you have friends or family of colour, I encourage you to ask those friends or family if they perceive you as racist. Maybe you do or say things that come across racist, even if you don’t think so at the time.
But it’s not the big one-off incidents, it’s the little things…
It’s being dark skinned and surrounded by the images of whiteness being the standard of beauty in the media. It’s wondering why all your dolls are white. It’s wondering why all the characters in the books you read are white. It’s wondering why all the main characters in the movies you watch are white. It’s always playing Princess Jasmine or Pocahontas because all the other princesses are white.
It’s being asked where you’re from over and over again because you don’t look like you’re from here.
It’s your piano teacher telling you after the 2004 tsunami that your biological parents are probably swirling around in a giant cup of tea.
It’s seeing and hearing people, friends and family included, talk about Indigenous people or immigrants as though their lives are worth less. It’s hearing people make assumptions about a whole group of people and their behaviour instead of addressing their pain and what’s driving them to that behaviour in the first place.
It’s the random times people yell racist words at you when you’re out walking. And yes, that has happened to me. It’s being on edge when you’re out walking just in case someone you pass is going to say or do something hurtful just because they perceive you to be part of an inferior group of people according to their racist beliefs.
It’s hearing white people casually throw around the N word like it’s cool and they’re not racist. It’s trying to explain to them why that’s hurtful.
It’s having your new neighbors compliment you on how good your English is even though you’ve spoken it your whole life.
It’s random people saying things to you in the supermarket like, “Curry, right?”
It’s visiting the country you were born in and finding out people there value fair skin more and only white looking actors and actresses get hired. It’s learning that even people there put powder on their skin or have operations to make themselves look whiter. For what? When did beauty equal white?
It’s being told you’re lucky to have a white boyfriend, like the most important thing you could look for in a partner is their skin colour. By the way, my partner is wonderful and way more than just a white guy.
It’s watching reality dating TV shows and constantly seeing the coloured female (because they only normally have one) not finding love or not being chosen because the guys always go for the white ones.
It’s growing up questioning, “Am I beautiful? Can a person with my skin colour be beautiful?”
It’s having to learn that it’s okay to be yourself and love yourself, regardless of what society thinks beauty and worth is. It’s deciding that you ARE beautiful, no matter what they say.
It’s knowing that no matter how much you love yourself and others, there will be people who hate you and look down on you simply because of the skin you were born in.
It’s realising that no matter how good of a person you are, no matter how kind and caring you are, no matter how big your heart is … some people are just going to view you as a, “No good, lazy, broke ass ****** on the dole.”
It’s seeing people of colour silenced, hurt, stepped on, and killed and feeling that pain. It’s crying for people you’ve never met because you see their pain, you hear their cries, and you FEEL it too.
And on top of all that, it’s being told by your friends and society that racism doesn’t exist because they’ve never seen it or experienced it. Because they choose to ignore it.
It’s having the racism conversation with your friends of colour and finding out they all have similar stories to tell. It’s never discussing that with your white friends because they’re not racist, so none of it is relevant to them.
I understand the struggle, but I’m lucky because…
I’m lucky because I’ve had a lot of love in my life. I’m lucky because I’ve had friends and family who love me for who I am. I’m lucky because I’m a female and I’m not seen as such a threat in society as a dark skinned male. I’m lucky because I’ve never been in trouble with the law.
I’m lucky because generally throughout my life, I have been considered to be pretty. Apart from racist words, I have never been called ugly. Mostly I’ve been called exotic and unique. Unlike others, I have never been physically attacked for my colour. But it’s a fear I live with.
I realise that all of my luck could easily change one day. I could be mistaken for the wrong person. I could be the next Breonna Taylor. It could happen to any person of colour any time.
And even if I’ve been lucky so far, I realise that my children may not. It’s knowing that my children might have to deal with the same shit I did.
It’s having to think about when and how I’m going to have to have that conversation with my children that, “You are beautiful, smart, and amazing. But some people just have cold hearts and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
It’s considering not having children at all because I don’t want to see them feel the way I felt at times.
I’m not Indigenous and I’m not Black. But I am a person of color and I do stand up against racism.
I believe that no matter whether a person is innocent or guilty, they deserve a fair trial. Every person deserves to be treated fairly under the law. And if the law doesn’t treat ALL people fairly, then the law needs to change. Every person deserves to be viewed as an equal.
And more than laws, the change needs to start with every one of us. Whatever colour you are, talk to your children. Tell them to judge people from the inside, not what’s on the outside. Teach them that all human beings are worthy of love. Show them how to be kind to other people, no matter how different they and their lifestyle is from yours.
Talk to your friends. Talk to people who are different to you. Ask them about their experiences with discrimination. And really listen. Don’t listen to have an answer and a defense, listen to understand. Listen to make yourself a better and more empathetic person.
Nobody deserves to be the subject of systemic racism. Nobody deserves to be hurt or killed by those we trust to uphold the law.
This movement isn’t just about Black lives. It’s about all of us. We ALL need to stand together to make the world a better, safer and equal place for all of us.
Black Lives Matter. Indigenous Lives Matter. My life matters. ✊❤✌