By Cally Jetta
Any parent can relate to the desire to protect their children from hurt and bullying and understand the pain it causes to see your child upset. As parents of Aboriginal children there is an understanding that sooner or later they will encounter racism and come to understand that some will judge them for what they are, rather than who they are.
I think most Aboriginal parents would relate when I say that I dread the day my eldest son discovers the status of our people in this country. Whenever he comes home upset I wait with bated breath for him to tell me he has been called some awful name. Much to my relief this has not yet happened. But it will, there will come a day, a moment in time when he will discover that being Aboriginal has implications and that he won’t necessarily be received by everyone based on who he is, rather than what he is. This may sound paranoid and negative, but it’s true and when that time comes I will help my boy to understand it and deal with it in a constructive way. I guess part of this fear comes from my own realisation as a child in primary school. I know very few kids get through school unscathed, children can be cruel, but the racism adds a whole different dimension to it for us. In my grandparent’s era, ‘coons’ weren’t allowed in public schools. In my parents era there was a zero care factor approach to racism rather than a zero tolerance one. Racism was rife but there was no one to tell, nothing to be done.
For the first few years of school I attended in my home city. I had a large and well-respected family and many of my relatives held important positions in different organisations. There were many Nyoongars at the school, many my cousins. Then we moved to a smaller agricultural town not even an hour drive away and my whole life changed.
We were one of 3 Aboriginal families in the town and it was an uneasy feeling being there. For the first time I felt different, looked down on. I was standing in the line outside of class in year 3 waiting to go inside. A girl next to me asked ‘hey wanna hear a joke my mum told me last night?’ She didn’t wait for a reply. ‘What are Aborigines?’ She asked. Everyone stood silently waiting for her response. ‘Once God has used up all the good stuff he gets rid of the waste, Aborigines are God’s poos’. The class howled with laughter. I felt myself get red hot and I wanted to be anywhere else in the world but there. I can just remember thinking ‘why is she saying this?’
That’s when I got ‘the talk’ at home. Not the birds and bees talk – that came later. The racism and why people say mean things about us talk. The very talk I’m relieved not have had cause for yet.
My son’s school has had me in to teach some language and asks me to participate every NAIDOC, they value diversity and tolerance and I feel confident that if my son was to be the target of an experience like mine, his teacher and the school would address it. Things are changing, slowly but surely, and they will continue to do so, as long as we keep pushing for better.