My Indian experience has made me far more sensitive to racism, especially the subtle forms that pass our minds as if somehow they appear obvious unquestioned truths.
So I found myself returned to Brisbane for a few weeks . I was waiting for a bus at a train station where an African family spread out infront of the bus shelter. Dressed in a Kurta perhaps I relaxed the larger woman, with her traditional head gear. A kurta sometimes is construed as Muslim here. Was she an African Muslim perhaps?
I explained the timetable to her, declined her offer of a seat, and moved past the the box of bananas, a troop of kids splayed out among the pages of the MX newspaper.
Two other woman in the seats nearby were grumbling as another woman asked if she could sit down. Sitting, head down, body tight and glaring at them with such intensity I asked if she was alright.
“Yes! Are you?” she snapped.
I then walked closer to the family and talked to a baby girl that walked over toward me.
I admit hoping that my bad habit of thinking aloud did not utter my thoughts. “White kids act worse here. So their black? There not drunk.”
Of course their only sin was hogging a bus shelter with news papers scattered amongst the children.
The mother moved a sjhopping troolet her son pushed onto the road, telling him off for it, and I persuaded the little girl that perhaps the big Cheezels wrapper belonged in the bin.
Around that time the bus parked around the corner, a few minutes earlier than the beginning of its run. The mother immediately commandeered her troopes cleaned the area meticulously, and waited.
However, it was among my scowling Aussie compatriot that surprised me. Immediately she noticed the younger girl fingers in mouth near the rubbish bin. A maternal smile with calls of “Yukkie” followed. Thee girl and her youngest brother were soon being hugged and kissed, tothe delight of their mother, all white teeth from black skin.
They boarded the bus together, my Aussie “racist” helping carry the box of bananas, getting off at the same stop with children hand in hand..
Had I misread the ladies ‘scowls” entirely? I had judged her harshy and yet she was acting with kindness. Or on seeing the mother clean up, did she change her mind?
It was later I watched Utopia by John Pilger. I have read Pilger before and wondered at first if he pushed too far, but living outside of the country I now see my country with less blinded eyes.
However, I thought Pilgers askng people about Aboriginal treatment during an Austrlia Day celebration was like criticising a mans lover while making love. Thee Greeks used the word Eros to also mean patriotism, short term and intense! … And also blinding. But his point is valid. There are questions to be asked.
Australia was a nation founded on a fear. We are so be we could be easily invaded, we needed to be protected whic hat fist meant being more British than Britain “just in case”. There were very definite expectations of what was “civilized” and “acceptable”.
All nation have their myths. In India problems are hidden in the numbers. “It’s not so bad. We have so much of population. It looks worse.” Often true, but many times not.
Australia myth is denial. It happens out there across the seas. We dont have the problems of say Europe which is often true.
But then we have hidden our “Aboriginal Problem” in the outback. We hear the occasional complaint over policy costing’s as if some how the problem is Aboriginals “should be like whites”.
In an age where it is easier to brand people with condemnatory slogans it is easy to hide the facts.
We don’t have to meet a person in the eye.
A Hafiz says “We all remain too frightened.”
In the past official who ordered oppression were distant from the foot soldiers perpetrating their crimes.
As far back as 1988. researchers found that focusing on loving kindness or compassion changes the brain. A hug releases oxytocin, the love hormone. As meditation teacher Tara Brach wrote:
“Either imagining a hug, or feeling our own touch — on our cheek, on our chest — can arouse the same positive affect experienced with the release of oxytocin. Whether through visualization, words, or touch, meditations on love can shift brain activity in a way that arouses positive emotions and reduces traumatic reactivity. Where attention goes, energy flows: We have the capacity to cultivate an inner refuge of safety and love.”
I want to believe I misread the face and body language of the lady in the bus stop. If so, then I am being guilty of being judgemental. But then, just perhaps, the warmth of an innocent child melted her maternal heart. The power of a Hug.
Tara Brach also tells a story of a circle group. Equal numbers of woman from each side of the Bosnian Serbian conflict met. Eventually one broke down torn, shredded by the past rape and abuse of her past. Most of the women became defensive, what can you say, faces tightened. They didn’t do it. No one could angrily deny the woman her truth.
Then one simply approached her and said “I believe you.”
What if, when we find someone whose past hurts confront us, we stopped, listened, and even if we could not change the past, looked inn their eyes with the words “I believe you.”
What if, as I have done, politicians slept in the slums of people they demonised as “illegal” refugees? What if instead of being annoyed by a cultural mistake by a migrant, we listened too where they came from and said “I believe you.”
The act of connection is in itself a group meditation.
Believing anothers story offers a connection. If after that, like a parent you must offer tough love, at least you come from a position of understanding and will be respected for your integrity.
“The first duty of love is to listen” wrote Paul Tillich. It is not to do something for you, but to be there for you.