I am a Recovering Racist

I have never considered myself racist. In fact I am proud to say my ‘day job’ is performed at World Vision. Every day I am confronted with the tentacles of injustice, it gives me my drive to advocate on behalf of the poor through creative art. I have spent time in outback Australia, India and Asia and felt the intense pull to balance the inequality by serving the poor with the hope they will experience dignity and honour.

I believe there should be equality in education and wealth distribution, I believe in multiculturalism. I am an immigrant from New Zealand, my twin girls are immigrants from the USA and my wife’s parents are from Holland. I know what it feels like to sense indebtedness to a country like Australia because it has embraced us – the McNeill family. We are a multicultural family!

Up until recently I never imagined I would witness inside me a deep instinctive reaction that has lay dormant in my soul, but now its pungent breath has given life to my ugly side. Let me explain….

We recently received a ‘Notice to Vacate’ our house, we have been renting the same place for over 4 years. We were mindful that our girls would miss the neighbours and other kids in the street and the move would be unsettling but it was out of our control. Because of my daughters special needs (wheelchair access) we have specific requirements, we also have to remain in a certain area to continue receiving respite care and other aid – understandably it is not that easy to find a suitable place that works for us. On receipt of the notice to vacate we immediately started scouring through web sites and visiting rental properties eventually finding something that would work. Access to the front door was the only problem so our brother in law built a ramp about the size Noah used on his ark and the problem of access was soon solved!

3 days after we signed the contract for the new rental property and 3 weeks after the notice to vacate, the Landlord contacted us to say he wasn’t going to sell the property and we could stay. I was irate to say the least because he had given the notice to vacate under dubious circumstances to begin with and now we were committed to another contract. The Landlord had made a terrible error resulting in the unnecessary displacement of our family. I was advised to negotiate some compensation to put towards our moving costs and it all got a little ugly.

Something interesting happened to me along the way that I wasn’t prepared for. Our landlord is of Chinese descent but with a broad Australian accent, probably a second generation Australian (more Australian than me in fact!). Because I was subject to his whim and he could displace our family, I immediately felt a pang – my ugly side honed in on his behaviour but if I was honest my heart also resented the fact a Chinese man could mess with me and for a minute I was reduced down to the most basic elements of my soul. I felt anger and a shameful reaction that said I didn’t want to be lorded over by someone who wasn’t from the same western background as me.

Since reflecting I have understood something about the power of racism, it is a dormant companion when you are in a position of power and it is an abrasive fog horn when you are in a position of vulnerability. I realised I was the most noble advocate when everything was on my terms but the minute I was personally displaced, I was like any other racist. The only difference between a practising racist and me is I now have the opportunity to seize this revelation and self-discovery and challenge my motives and fears.

Even though I have spent the best hours of my day fighting for equality for ethnic groups, my ‘nobility’ was unmistakably conditional. You can trust that now I know this, I will work on it – especially in light of the absurdity that I am an immigrant too!

So the question I have asked myself is, “am I a racist?” Given the right circumstance and if pushed, “yes!” I see this revelation as ugly and I am disappointed but it needs to be said out loud to diffuse its power. Now when I listen to politicians and campaigners (including myself), I recognise that many of us who advocate for equality advocate from a position of power and privilege, honestly… I don’t think that is a very difficult thing to do – it can even stroke our ego. The real test for me has been how I feel about my fellow brothers and sisters when they are more powerful than me, do I like the idea of multiculturalism when I am on the lower rung? Well…. truthfully at the moment I don’t like how it feels, certainly not through the lens of our ‘renting crisis’ we just experienced.

I am determined to act like Christ and fight for equality, except I am flawed and sometimes weak. I think when any of us make a cry against racism we should take the time to check our own souls instead of focusing on the sensational racism stories, they are not the ‘real story’ they are just the obvious and distract us from our own flaws.

My discovery is that racism is much more subtle and mostly dormant until pushed. Chances are we all have the potential to pander to our inner fears given the right circumstances causing us to trade our ideals for this ugly part of humanity. So what to do? Well ….an honest evaluation, a more sophisticated look at what would press our buttons and a dose of humility is an excellent start!

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