I don’t recall noticing that my grandfather was black until his ‘difference’ was pointed out to me at school when I was about 9.
“Who was that black man I saw you with at the weekend,” a schoolmate asked.
He’s black? He was just my grandfather as far as I was concerned. And while I didn’t see colour then, I certainly do now.
And so started my experience of racism. While I would later be taunted at school about having a black grandfather, I soon came to realise that the pathetic comments directed at me were nothing in comparison to the direct-action racism faced by people with a skin colour that’s not white.
My mother spent her childhood trying to scrub the brown out of her skin.
Here’s a picture of my grandfather in Egypt in 1940 during WWII:
He was Moriori but served in a Maori battalion.
Any thoughts on the ‘wog’ comment that he wrote on the back of the picture:
The absorber effect
When I was 15, I saw a white (or Pakeha as they’re known in New Zealand) schoolmate walking down the street with one of her Maori friends. “She’s fallen in with the wrong crowd,” I thought of the Pakeha friend.
So despite being aware of racism, I was now having racist thoughts, immediately assuming a Maori person must be bad news. I was obviously a big squishy sponge for the society around me.
For me it was important to admit that I had racist thoughts. Only then could I think about why, when, who and what?
What do you think about this tweet from @mrbenjaminlaw in May this year?
My experiences of racism as a gay man continue to make my blood boil. Comments such as “No Asians” and “No Rice” aren’t hard to find on contact sites and apps used by gay and bisexual men. People defend such exclusions by saying that it’s a preference.
No, it’s not a preference, it’s racist. I’m sure they’d write “No Aboriginals” if they thought they could get away with it.
When I hear and read about these comments, I think: Why would I exclude anyone? Except maybe if they had too many muscles.
The love of my life is a Thai Isaan man. Here’s a picture of him:
He spends his adult life using face-whitening products.
It was only after regular visits to his home village (Khon San) in northeast Thailand, that I began to start to understand the lives of Aboriginals in Australia – the connection to a (colonised) land, tradition, storytelling, etc. I had to go a long way to start this journey, which continues for me, including on Twitter.
One of my favourite people on Twitter is @TheKooriWoman.
Fist pump the day she started following me!
She’s passionate, although some people label her “angry”, she uses data to back up her tweets, and I think she’s hilarious. For example, this random tweet:
And how often do we get to hear what an Aboriginal woman has to say?
I like to think that in another universe, @TheKooriWoman would’ve pulled up a chair for a chat with my grandfather’s grandmother, Ani Davis. This is Ani:
Ani was the daughter of a Moriori woman called Kurupa*, who married John Davis, an African slave on one of the numerous US whaling ships which visited southern New Zealand.
Ani was labelled a ”schemer” during her court battles in the early 1900s over land rights.
I spent some of my childhood being jealous of the brown skin of my mother and sister. Now I realise my white privilege.
(* Memo to Madonna & Cher: Please thank Kurupa for pioneering the use of single names).
Chris Muakcha Topp is a Sydney-based journalist who didn’t win the only Walkley Award he’s been nominated for. He has worked for community, state and national publications in Australia and New Zealand.