Remembering Racism As A Child

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Ah, Gosford. You were a distant memory tucked away in the back of my mind until Elite Daily brought you back to life this week. What appears to be just a brief blog post shouting out a Christian church for being, you know, Christian and extending well wishes to Islamic passersby commencing Ramadan means so much more to me.

My family moved to Gosford in 1989. My sister Julie had a mysterious cough (which she still has to this day, SMH) and thinking it was due to us living on Parramatta Road, Sydney’s most clogged thoroughfare, Mum pulled us from the chaos of the inner city to the beautiful beaches of the Central Coast, joining my aunty and cousins who’d relocated months earlier. A different world, indeed.

In Summer Hill, my friendship group was a rainbow coalition: Indian-Fijian, Filipino, Lebanese, Maori. Thanks to gentrification in 2015 it’s a predominantly white area now but back then you name it, we had it. I don’t know how I knew at eight years old Gosford would be an extremely different environment for me, but I did. And it was. I experienced racism for the first time there and it was so stinging and immediate I’ll never forget how blindsided I was by it.

As soon as we moved Mum enrolled Julie and I at St. Patrick’s, East Gosford. We’d gone to St. Patrick’s in our old neighborhood so we thought we’d ease right in. How wrong we were. From the moment I started third grade (or Year 3, as we say in Australia) I knew I was different. There was only one other “ethnic” girl named Aphrodite (she was Greek Cypriot) and instead of embracing me, she stayed away like the plague. She ignored my smiles and acted as if she couldn’t understand me when I’d strike up conversation. I remember she had gorgeous thick, black curly hair and wore it in a bun every day for fear of standing out from the limp, mousey brown strands surrounding her. The other girls called her “Dede” and I thought she was a sellout.

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It wasn’t too long before I was called “wog” by the other girls. I’d heard the word vaguely before, but never directed at me. I was heated. Who the hell were they to speak to me like that? Just as I reported back to Mum I was going to have to lay hands on these racist little bitches, Julie came home from her kindergarten class one day to let us know, at the tender age of five, another student laughed in her face and told her that her beautiful dark brown eyes looked like “poo.” She cried as she shared they constantly teased her friend Michelle, the only Aboriginal girl in class. Being the protective sister I always was, I remember feeling angry and helpless. My campus was separate from my very shy little sister’s and the thought of not being able to protect her killed me. My social conscience was highly developed from a very young age and therefore I expressed myself in the only ways a child knows how: with my temper and fists. We eventually decided to move back to the city because, frankly, we missed “us” (our neighbor coming over and observing my grandmother frying kibbe on the stove with an “Ewwwww, what is that? Looks disgusting!” was probably the final straw). We missed feeling accepted and part of a community. I slipped right back into my old school, with old friends who looked and talked just like me. Those two years away felt like a bad dream and still do to this day.

Gosford, it appears, is a very different place nowadays. For an Anglican church to post a sign acknowledging their Muslim neighbors in a community that used to frown on diversity makes my heart burst. In these times when racism is viewed as a dirty word (but its results are not) you cannot help to be encouraged by small steps towards righting the wrongs of the past. That’s why we should never refuse to take notice of the pain felt by those who came before us simply because things [might have] changed in the present. And that’s why what appears as a plain sign to you means the world to me.

Pressure Mounts For Saudi Arabia To #FreeRaif

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Meet brave and outspoken Saudi Arabian blogger, Raif Badawi. Years ago he created a site, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, to champion free speech in his country. It was shut down in 2012 after Badawi was arrested for “insulting Islam” with his writings.

Badawi’s sentence was 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, the first 50 of which were handed out to him this week. He was publicly flogged outside a mosque in Jeddah after morning prayers, and is scheduled to receive 50 more every Friday until he reaches his total.

“Raif raised his head toward the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back,” Amnesty International quoted a witness as saying.

Want to know what this handsome scribe did to warrant such treatment? Take a look at a blog post from 2010, where he reflects on the role of the Muslim religious establishment and warns of stifling creativity.

“As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics. I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities.”

Shortly before his arrest, Badawi spoke on the theory of “liberalism.”

“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified. It is even more important to sketch the features and parameters of liberalism, to which the other faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.”

One of Saudi Arabia’s well-known allies is the United States. Their relationship is akin to say, Regina George and Gretchen Wieners from Mean Girls: one of convenience, lies, distrust and feigned respect. The US has officially remained silent on the subject of Badawi’s sentence, likely because we practice our own form of extreme “justice” here (need I remind you of 16-year-old Ivins Rosier in Florida, recently given a staggering 23 years in prison for shooting a retired police dog).

Here are five small ways you can try and help #FreeRaif before his next lashing (which sadly is tomorrow).

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