How has abhorrent racism changed in forty years?

* WARNING* : This post contains the use of some confronting language. Taken in the context of Jan Courtin’s personal experience with intolerance and bigotry, we have published her words with minimal alterations. – Ed.


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It has taken an Australian aboriginal man to make a stand: a stand on ignorance, a stand on injustice and ultimately a stand on racism.

Australia is divided. The aboriginal brothers and sisters stand behind their man; the whites who abhor injustice to oppressed peoples, applaud, and sadly, the ignorant “I’m not racist but” amongst us simply don’t like it. In fact, they seethe with anger and hatred towards the man making the stand, and inwardly towards any “uppity ni–ers” who dare open their mouths and challenge their white comfortable – perhaps uncomfortable – lives.

Yes, the word ni–er. This was the word yelled at my boyfriend at the time – 40 odd years ago – “you uppity ni–er bastard”. Followed by “you white shagging slut, ni–er lover”. I didn’t mind being called names – I wasn’t the threat, but I felt the pain inflicted on my friend. He had put up with it all of his life in one form or another, and it still hurt.

I lived in London in the 70s when people were finding voice over the Vietnam War, the rights of Gays and Lesbians, Black Americans, Indian Americans, South African apartheid, and the Women’s Movement. The 70s, when Nixon was in power and the conservatives were showing their might against all and sundry who dared question their authority.

During those early years in the 70s I involved myself in black politics – in as much as a white person could. There was much I had to learn, coming from a white middle class family in Melbourne, sheltered from difference: sheltered from knowing about aboriginal people and their history in my own backyard, and sheltered from even meeting or knowing an indigenous person.

One of the most exciting and inspiring things about arriving in London in 1969 was seeing so many people other than white. I had so much to discover, so much to understand – and I spent all my time acquiring as much knowledge as I could to help me overcome my previous 26 years of ignorance. I met people from different countries and backgrounds, and many West Indians, Africans, and black South Africans became my friends and colleagues.

So, what has changed since then? Not much.

Black people have taken a stance and their leaders have encouraged each and every generation to be proud of themselves and their history, and to fight for their basic human rights. White people – those who hide behind the fear of the unknown and who feel threatened by difference – now curb their language and the “n” word is not spoken in public. Most wouldn’t dare. It has been replaced by new language and new taunts. It has also been replaced by booing in the public arena: on a sporting field, where the frightened ignorant white person can hide, with little fear of being caught in his or her cowardly act.

Coming from ignorance, I was lucky enough to go to London when I did, meet others different from me, and learn from those experiences. I have also learnt from many fearless black activists and leaders, through their writings and speeches: Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, George Jackson, Angela Davis, Huey P Newton, Charles Perkins, James Baldwin, Selma James, Nelson Mandela, Mohammed Ali, Oliver Tambo, Frederick Douglas, Jessie Owens, Rosa Parkes, and Lowitja O’Donoghue, amongst others.

If I was able to change, perhaps others can too?

May Adam Goodes stand proud. May he continue to enlighten and inspire us all – black and white – and may his name nobly stand along his predecessors who have fought and struggled to make a difference.

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About Jan Courtin

A Bloods tragic since first game at Lake Oval in 1948. Moved interstate to Sydney to be closer to beloved Swans in 1998. My book "My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans" was launched by the Swans at their headquarters at the SCG in August 2016.

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