14 October 2014


From our callous treatment of Asylum seekers to the truly terrifying prospect of re-deploying troops to Iraq, racial dialogues are propelling national discourse.

Despite the willingness Sydney’s student community to call-out overt racism at a federal level, when it comes to tackling racism at a campus level the response is often entirely lacking or insufficient. From the recent attacks on Islamic students on campus, to the insidious forms of learned racism that effect ethno-culturally diverse students daily one thing is clear; even the ‘best educated’ are not exempt from the racist culture we are socialised to accept. [1]

My Experience of Racism

Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia as the child of a white mother and Indian father, my understanding of racism must be contextualized. I can’t claim to have experienced many of the difficulties that come from having substantially different cultural practices growing up. I grew up in Melbourne’s equivalent of the inner-west and my parents were pretty lax on bedtime.

For whatever reason, at my culturally diverse selective high school I was quickly accepted as one of the other ‘white girls.’ At the time I was pleased that I had evaded falling into any of the other self-identified cultural groupings at my school - ‘the currys,’ ‘the asians,’ and so on and so forth. 

Looking back on it, I realize that it was the culmination of years of rejecting the non-white aspects of my identity. 

VP/Ethno-Cultural Portfolio Holder, Bebe taking part in ACAR's campaign
When I was eight I announced to my sleepover bedfellow that I was going to change my name to Sabrina. While my adulation of the Teenage Witch definitely played a factor in this decision my self-portraits at the time show a different story. Texta Bebe would often feature prominent blue eyes, blonde strait hair and white skin. To draw myself differently would mean conceding my right to use the perfectlypink ‘skin-coloured’ Connector Pen, in favour of its ‘poo-coloured’ counterpart.

My own tactical distancing of my ‘brown’ identity didn’t end there. When tasked with allocating Spice-Girls to my four closest friends I would take charge immediately. Defensively delegating Mel B to my blondest friend to avoid being Scary Spice ‘again.’

However, unwelcomed racialising didn’t end in the Melbourne schoolyard. As a Fresher at St Andrews College I was asked when I learnt English, and if my dad drove the taxi that brought me to orientation.  One resident jokingly informed me that ‘if I didn’t do a phone interview I probably wouldn’t have gotten in.’ The implication being that in-person interview would reveal the shame of my skin-colour. In the 2012 Law Revue I managed to score parts of Egyptian DOCs worker #1, the African continent AND Whoopi Goldberg. No prizes for guessing what those roles have in common.  

The Growth Race Dialogues at USYD 

However, despite my largely grim post thus far I think the discourse surrounding race-based issues at a campus level has improved dramatically in recent years. A trend I largely credit with my newfound peace with my non-white identity.

The creation of the USYD Critical Race-Discussion group helped to normalise race-based dialogues. Excitingly there are now four vibrant ethno-cultural focused collectives on campus; the Indigenous Collective, the International Students Collective, the Autonomous Collective Against Racism, and the Wom*n of Colour Collective. 
President, Tara Waniganayaka taking part in the ACAR campaign

Additionally 2014 will be remembered for the creation of the first Indigenous Edition and the first Ethno-Cultural Edition of Honi-Soit. [2]

The Creation of an Ethno-Cultural Space

I’m excited to announce that 2014 will also mark the creation of an autonomous Ethno-Cultural Space on campus, similar to the existing Wom*n’s and Queer Spaces. While this is pending the approval of the October meeting of the Board, USU facilities are already looking into suitable spaces.

Former President, Astha Rajvanshi, with current Vice President, Bebe
For those who don’t experience Racism please remember that racism isn’t just in ‘FedPol,’ or ‘Law,’ or ‘College’ or ‘some-school in Melbourne.’ Try to avoid distancing yourself from my experience.  Maybe you wore a Bindi once to a party, asked someone if they did ‘the Asian five,’ or asked someone where they “are really from.”

We all fuck up. It’s what you do after that matters,


Survey Link for Ethno-Cultural Students:
If you identify as being any/all of the following: a Person of Colour, Marginalised by White Supremacy, Ethno-Culturally Diverse, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, please fill in the survey below to express what you would like out of the space; the survey also has space to express what other areas of the USU need improvement to be more inclusive of students who experience racism - http://goo.gl/forms/uaRsUUJkW6

1 comment :

  1. 'We all fuck up. It’s what you do after that matters'

    I really like how you ended it with that statement. Racism, whether casually or aggressively, is deeply ingrained and accepted in our society. Its easy to make racist slips, but its about acknowledging whats wrong and stepping up to do whats right.