I should start with introducing myself. My name is Dan, my background is Chilean although I tend to identify as a white Australian. I’m also married and share custody of my five year old son with his mother.
In other words, I’m a fairly generic white male Australian. I say fairly since I do still follow some cultural Chilean traditions such as celebrating Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day (which makes Christmas super easy to decide who we go visit when, incidentally). Mostly though, I’m identified as white.
Why the convoluted backstory? Well, with that background I’ve never experienced genuine discrimination. I don’t feel like I’m watched extra closely by shopkeepers when I’m in their store. I’ve never been told that I’m a credit to my race, or that “my people” are lazy or ignorant. I’ve never been told to go back to where I came from, a fairly short trip anyway since I was born in Dandenong.
Thoughts on racism
So why do I care about the racial issues that The Two Chairs are trying to tackle? Surely my white male privilege would be threatened if we reached genuine equality? I think it’s because I don’t see my quality of life as a privilege, but as the minimum standard that should be available to all.
I have seen blind hatred though. As someone who has worked in a call centre I’ve seen an unfathomable rage at someone simply for having the audacity of having an accent when the phone was answered. I’ve watched a friend squirm with embarrassment when she told the story of how her boss was complaining about her race, and then telling her she was the exception. I think this blind hatred comes when there is ignorance about the other race, that the void left by lack of cultural and genuine exposure instead becomes filled with TV stereotypes and hearsay. So what can be done to help change this? Well I believe that the opposite to ignorance is empathy. I don’t think it’s possible to blindly hate someone once you hear their story, heard about their hobbies and interests, seen their reaction to the casual racism that they hear.
The Two Chairs
That’s why I believe that The Two Chairs is gathering such interest and support. By allowing people to share their stories in a safe and free environment, there is a real opportunity to share and learn from each other, to fill that void with real people and genuine stories.
What’s just as important is allowing for conversations about these issues as well. When I’ve talked with my white friends about the project, there’s been a fear on their part about participating, in case they say something insensitive and cause offence. By having open conversations we can give people who feel that way an opportunity to ask their questions, to learn what is and isn’t appropriate, and if necessary make conscious changes about their behaviour.
Whatever your background, we would love for you to join our conversation and tell your story. You can join us at www.thetwochairs.wordpress.com or on twitter @thetwochairs.