By Sue Ellson
I hope that George Floyd can rest in peace and I hope that his passing can be a wake up call for humanity.
I was discussing what needs to be done to change the world with a friend yesterday — and I said we need both regulation and education.
Laws create consequences and in my view, are the only real deterrent and enforcer of civilised behaviour.
Education is essential to help every one of us move beyond prejudices and unconscious biases handed down over many generations.
Then I went on to discuss that I have had friends from all walks of life in my life and he asked me, “Where did I learn to accept people as they are?” and I couldn’t answer his question.
Today, I started thinking about where I could have possibly learnt this skill.
Could it have been because my mother had a physical disability and I felt that I needed to defend her from other people’s stares?
Could it have been when I befriended Amanda Greenwood in primary school — the girl with an intellectual disability and high magnification glasses because I had noticed that nobody else would talk to her?
Could it have been when I moved schools and had to make new friends at the age of 14 and at the same time, not be allowed to shave my legs when all the other girls did?
Could it have been when I heard that girls with Italian parents couldn’t marry boys with Greek parents (or vice versa)? Or that people from one religious background couldn’t marry someone from a different religious background and that homosexuals could never get married and it was illegal for them to have sex? (Thank goodness we have new laws in these areas now).
Could it have been when I got married at 20, started work and was told that every woman who was married would leave and have babies and was therefore not worth promoting?
Could it have been when I was standing on the footpath waiting for my husband to pick me up after work when a car drove past and the driver yelled out ‘Hooker?’
Could it have been when I moved interstate, got sacked when I was pregnant and then could not make friends with other mothers because they already had their own friendship circles?
Could it have been when I decided to help other newcomers to Melbourne and faced constant ridicule for wanting to help migrants that already spoke English but were still new to Australia?
Could it have been when I was excluded from parent groups at the local school because I lived in rented accommodation?
Could it have been when I was divorced and a single parent and unable to secure well-paying work during school hours that was also close to home?
Could it have been when I was at the hairdressers one day and another woman in the salon asked if my children were from the same father?
Could it have been when I was involved in multicultural groups hosting local events and the other guests spoke in their native language when they knew that I only spoke English (which is the local language and I am a fourth generation Australian born person)?
Could it have been when I hosted groups and events for people from different backgrounds and not only enjoyed the experience, but received grateful thanks from the attending guests?
Could it have been when I worked with various levels of government and sporting groups to encourage the development of educational programs for primary school aged children on the topics of inclusion, diversity and racism?
Could it have been when I published articles to increase the empathy and awareness of people who find it difficult to secure work after long term unemployment or other direct or indirect challenges?
Could it have been when I travelled overseas, and felt that I did not belong and was a bad person because I was clearly not a local and was constantly harassed by hawkers and ripped off by local traders?
Could it have been when I supported other advocacy associations to share their positive message through online channels?
Could it have been when my friends from all nations challenged my views and thoughts in respectful discussions?
Could it have been when I was touched by a personal story of suffering and success when a person overcame their difficulties and achieved a personal goal?
Could it have been when I received a smile, a gentle hug or a reassuring grasp of my hand when I was upset or distressed from people of different ages or backgrounds who had no ‘requirement’ to assist?
Could it have been when various friends listened to me as I tried to resolve my problems through talking to them?
Could it have been when I had to report a matter to the police and was constantly asked the same question multiple times to be ultimately told that my story concurred with what they had seen on video camera footage?
Could it have been when I was travelling home from the city relatively late one night in a taxi and the driver told me he had taken drugs and was clearly intoxicated and I felt that my personal safety was under threat?
Could it have been when my teenage daughter told me about the assault her girlfriends faced in the city one New Year’s Eve?
Could it have been when two police officers came to my home after a break in and reassured me by saying that most burglaries occur during the day when the resident is not at home?
Could it have been when my multicultural friends and clients told me about the discrimination they had faced when looking for work?
I guess I don’t have a specific answer as to why I look at every person as a unique individual.
I guess I don’t have a specific answer as to why I will always do my best to treat every person I meet with respect and care.
I guess I don’t have a specific answer as to why I bring people together to increase awareness and empathy.
I guess I don’t have a specific answer as to why I am always looking for more ways to understand each person I meet and really listen to what they are saying and respond appropriately.
I guess I don’t have a specific answer as to why I feel compelled to continually write about these issues and do what I can online to share positive perspectives and practical action steps.
But what I can say is that George Floyd’s passing has reminded the world (or at least anyone who has heard or seen his story) that it is not okay to treat people unfairly.
It is not okay to use excessive force or ignore other voices of reason in a situation.
It is not okay for people with black skin, or any other identifying feature, to be considered less than someone else or for intergenerational racism to exist in modern society when so many people have fought for acceptance in the past.
I am a white Anglo Caucasian woman and as you can see above, I too have faced discrimination. In fact, I believe every one of us on this planet has faced some form of discrimination throughout our lives.
Sadly, George Floyd is one of many people who have paid the ultimate price.
My hope is that humanity will finally wake up.
That each and every person who is touched by this story will do what they can to raise another person up, not take them down, regardless of the back story.
That every person will find a way to be more inclusive and supportive of the people that they meet and find ways to talk and share before resorting to any form of discrimination or brutality.
That any protest be peaceful and productive and create lasting change.
That any action, in person or online, will be positive and nourishing.
I will continue to do my bit, even if I keep facing hurdles along the way.
I hope you can find a way to do your bit too.