Wednesday, 16 August 2023

Racism has real life consequences

This open letter to Annabel Crabb was written by Su Dharmapala in response to an episode of Kitchen Cabinet.

Su said "I would really appreciate it if you amplify this message so that I can have some kind of dialogue with Annabel"

I asked Su if I could share her letter here so that it might reach people who don't use X (formerly Twitter) or Facebook.

Su kindly agreed.


Dear Annabel, I know you probably get thousands of emails on any given day. Some, full of hate and abuse, and probably others that are nice and complimentary. This will be neither. You need to know that this is the first time I have ever been tempted to reach out to a journalist to express my deep horror about anything. And your commentary that Peter Dutton has 'muscular' politics that is affronting to people has truly driven me to a state of despair- both as a woman of colour and as a mother of son who has been on the receiving end of racism in this country. Just for clarity - my name is Su Dharmapala and I am both an author and a start-up founder. I came to Australia on 21 November in 1989 at the age of 15 with my family from Singapore. I am ethnic Singahalese but was born and raised between Singapore and Sri Lanka before I immigrated to Australia. I was in Sri Lanka during the 1983 Black July riots and I have seen first hand what inter racial violence can lead to.

There is nothing 'muscular' about racism. It does not just cause affront - it kills people. The violence is both psychological and physical. In many ways I would prefer physical violence to the hatred that drips in your mind and makes you hate the skin you were born in - because there is really nothing you can do about it. My experience of racism in this country is long. From my first day of high school to the day I was a young graduate working at Coles Myer and was accused of 'coming in and speaking better English and 'stealing' jobs'. FYI - I was racially abused in my work place a day after Pauline Hanson's maiden speech. Then there is subtle racism - when people who have trained and mentored at work get promotions ahead of you when you are three times as capable. The not so subtle daily microaggressions and need to hide yourself to fit in. There have been two times, Annabel, when I have seriously questioned my citizenship in this country. The first was when I was about 5 months pregnant with my son and I had gone out for my daily walk around Vermont - a suburb I have lived in for nearly 30 years. It was a coolish evening in late spring and I had a beanie on that was stripped and colourful. I felt safe to amble gently through the streets - my belly making all to clear that I was about to become a mother.

Only two blokes in a ute decided to follow me - up and down Mitcham road. On the first pass - they made eye contact and jeered - calling me a black bitch. I ignored them. On the second pass they threw apple cores at me. I was terrified now. I could not run. I was pregnant. On the third pass - they screamed at me to go back to where I came from. I was genuinely terrified for my life and that of my unborn child. I peed in my pants. I went home and sobbed in the shower. I wanted to leave Australia. What kind of country was I about to bring my child into? Would he be safe? Just for your information - that incident happened on 8 October 2007. A day after Kevin Andrews said that African Immigrants did not integrate into Australia. The second instance was in 2021 - and the trauma is still too brutal to talk about. It was a workplace incident. Annabel - racism is neither brutal nor affronting. It has real lived consequences. It impacts kids in the school ground and it impacts people. I would love to schedule some time with you to help you understand what it means to immigrants like myself who have to live with the nastiness that Peter Dutton enables every day. You have my email address.


Su's original post and the responses can be accessed:


A couple of personal comments:

We need to call out racism everywhere, and particularly when it's gifted a platform on the national broadcaster.

Our families, friends and communities are endangered when intolerance and "muscular" brutality is amplified, normalised and sanitised.

As a result, racists feel empowered, especially when the damage and danger it encourages and unleashes is minimised or ignored, in the name of balance.


Democracy In Colour offers a range of bespoke workshops for organisations and as interventions in key moments in society – such as bystander intervention trainings, anti racism at work and more.

No comments: