Friday, 22 July 2016

Home is where your stuff is

We're in the process of moving and it's a pain in the arse. I moved around a lot for most of my life. I'd lived in two countries, oceans apart and went to several schools by the time I got to high school. It didn't affect me adversely. In my childish mind, it was a big adventure and I think it made me more resilient and adaptable to change. It also made me crave it. It put me into a pattern of not wanting to be stuck in a rut for too long and this translated into the desire to seek out change on many fronts, on a regular basis. I changed my hair colour often. I didn't commit to an employer until I was in my 30s. 

I moved house a lot prior to getting married and having a family. Most of the time it wasn't by choice. Renting in Sydney in the late 90s and early 2000s meant regular rent hikes and evictions based on the whims of landlords and real estate agents. The older I got, the harder it felt. It became heart wrenching. Just as I'd settle into a new neighbourhood, unpack my boxes and make a home out of a place, regardless of the condition in which I'd found it, I'd be forced to move on and start again. 

The process of hunting for a rental property in Sydney is the equivalent to self flagellation. I remember lining up with sometimes up to 60 other people to walk through a shit hole and know that it would cost more than half my income for the privilege of living there. Each time I got the golden nod from the high and mighties with my life in their hands, I counted myself fortunate and made the most of it. Looking back I have fond memories of each and every place I lived in. I lived all over Sydney, mostly alone and although temporary - each place was my home. 

When my partner and I finally bought the property we have just sold, it was a milestone. We knew it would be our home for a long time to come and we've made many memories in this dwelling. We got married, had our children and established our family. The time finally came that we outgrew this place and so we embarked on our first experience of selling and buying a home.

The place sold itself. The market is beyond insane, particularly in the area we live in. Prices are extremely high and we got a great price when we sold and we made a profit. However there was going to be a catch. We were going to have to pay an exorbitant price for our new home too. We got lucky and found something affordable and suitable. Not huge, but accommodating and full of potential. Most importantly, we have committed to a small mortgage that won't tie us down for too long. Debt, whilst inevitable in most cases, is highly undesirable.

My privilege has not escaped me. Yes we've worked hard to get to where we are today, but we've had help. From our families, the colour of our skin, the society that buoys us. I've been thinking a lot as I pack up my family's life, about what it all means. Having all this stuff, being able to nestle it in bricks and mortar and know all five of us can rest our heads on our soft beds at night and feel protected and safe from the elements and the uncertainty of not having a place to call home.

People say home is where the heart is, but it's so much more than that. Home is connection to your kin and history. To the land you were born and raised in or the land you have chosen to start anew. Home is where you sleep, eat, shit, shower, rest, nest, laugh, shout, cry, worry and plan. Home is the space that is yours. That is only shared with those you choose to let in, those that make up your circle of kin. 

How lucky we are to have a home. Because really it's all it is, just luck. Not worthiness, talent, a prize for winning at something. In this day and age, if you have a roof over your head, however hard you work to get it, you're lucky. Because some aren't so lucky. Sometimes circumstances, often imposed and always unjust, rob people of that dignity. And not only that. Some people aren't just robbed of a dwelling, but of a village, town, an entire country. Displaced through the greed and brutality of others who at all costs will protect their own sense of home, but at the cost of someone else's.

I'm not taking this move for granted. I'm using it to sharpen my awareness of my obligation to fight for the rights of others. To be aware of the plight of other families who don't get to have a roof over their heads. Who live in fear and insecurity. Who worry about the well being and the future of their babies and their children. Who don't have the comfort to pander to such self indulgent contemplation because they are too busy surviving.

This post was going to be a rant about moving and packing and throwing out shit. How dare I? 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

This is what Racism looks like

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I just had an altercation with the secretary at our solicitor's office.

I had to go in and sign a document for the sale and purchase of our property. My signature had to be witnessed so I had to go in person, which was mildly inconvenient, but no big deal. It was the second such requirement and I'd happily go again.

She knew it was inconvenient and apologised profusely for having to get me to come in with the babies, but the excuse she gave me was what made me see red. She explained that all the bureaucracy and paperwork was a problem because of "all the Asians" buying property.



I rolled my eyes and gasped at my husband a few times to show her that that kind of language was not only absolute rubbish, it was unacceptable. She apologised and told me she wasn't racist, but that's what all the real estate agents were saying.

I chose not to let it go. I chose not to stay silent. I asked her which Asians she was referring to specifically - Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian... I asked her what she meant exactly. She flustered and blundered about how she wasn't racist and was in fact Indian and had an Asian family member. What? WHAT? Sound familiar? Sonia Kruger anyone? 

I told her that she sounded racist. That as someone with an ethnically diverse background, she should know how hurtful and inaccurate that sort of prejudice is. I asked her if she would have felt comfortable saying such a thing to me if I were Asian, or would she have been ok to say it to another Asian person or her Asian family member. She didn't respond. There's your answer. It's racist, I said. I told her I'm not the type to hold my tongue and when I deem it safe, I'm being that example to my daughters. If you see it, hear it and you aren't at risk, say something. 

This is the sort of racist rhetoric that has been acceptable in Australia since its colonial inception. Aboriginal people, Europeans, Asians and now Arabic people and everyone else who isn't white with an Anglo background has had their turn of being the outsiders. The trouble is, people with diverse ethnicity turn on each other too, to appease the dominant paradigm and maintain the status quo. To assimilate and massage their own egotistical fears. How soon people forget what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

We have to be better than this. We can't just sit there and take it when someone makes a stupid, uncalled for, ignorant and hateful comment that lumps people from a particular background together and demonises them. I thought to myself, since when did Australia become like this? But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that unfortunately there hasn't been a time when Australia wasn't like this. There was always some group of people getting in the way of Australia having a white Anglo identity and that is because Australia has never and will never have just a white Anglo identity.

Australia is a diverse country, but if you want to get technical, the original and current custodians are Aboriginal. Our national heritage is Indigenous. The sooner people accept and understand this, the better. Australia was colonised; brutally and without permission. Without negotiation. Without consideration for the people, their culture and systems, the land or the animals. The repercussions of this theft is still being felt today and continues to blight our national identity with shame, violence and injustice. Australia was then, as it is now, a place that is occupied by people from all over the globe. We come to work, to live in safety, to raise families and nurture friendships, to worship as we please; or not at all, to live full and productive lives and to prosper. 

The notion that one way to be Australian is the only way, particularly when that way was falsely and forcefully established is ludicrous. In saying that, there is a way to be truly Australian. And that is to be free. And freedom comes with responsibility.

Saying that we all have freedom of speech, or that everyone has the right to be a bigot is utter nonsense. That isn't freedom. Freedom isn't about your personal freedom, regardless of the impact it has on others' lives and minds. Freedom is about living in peace and enhancing that peace and all it encompasses for everyone, not just yourself. Freedom is about understanding the difference between your own indulgence, privilege and comfort and the space that everyone has a right to in order to live a life free from discrimination, persecution, judgement and prejudice.

Asians are not buying property and making the market difficult for everyone else. People who buy property for investment purposes, regardless of their race or ethnicity, aren't breaking the law. Maybe we need to look at who the law favours and advantages. Maybe we need to look at the politicians and the corporations who disadvantage home buyers in favour of the wealthy.

Aboriginal people don't break the law, aren't unemployed or addicts as though it's a cultural trait. What a nonsensical assumption. There are people from all walks of life suffering in this way. When people become criminals, use substance abuse to appease their pain and find it hard to maintain housing and employment, regardless of their race and ethnicity, they do so for a number of reasons and the colour of their skin, the language they speak or how they choose to worship, does not determine this. Maybe we need to look at the social systems that force individuals into cycles of despair. What does our education system look like and who has access to it? What are we doing to unite people with their families and their communities? How are we evenly distributing the wealth of the country? What equal opportunities do we give to the disadvantaged? And yes, we need to ask why Aboriginal people are more likely to be incarcerated, addicted and displaced. Just look at the history. What on earth would you expect? But look at the success too. Look at the Indigenous groups and communities who thrive. Who succeed and survive every single day in the face of such adversity. The Aboriginal artists, activists, community leaders, sports people, politicians, business owners, academics and elders.

Migrants and refugees aren't coming here to corrupt our society, cheat our welfare systems, terrorise our security and take over our country. They never did. They mostly come to work. To find opportunity and security for themselves and their children and families. They come to contribute and to enjoy the lifestyle many of us take for granted. And lately, many come to stay alive and as a direct result of the policies of terror that our government and their allies actually inflict on them. 

We can't just sit back and let bogans with a mouthpiece hijack our national conversation. If people like Pauline Hanson and Andrew Bolt continue to have free reign with their hatred, these misconceptions are not going to change any time soon. It gives people permission to be stupid. It is divisive and creates conflict. It does not solve the problem, it only feeds it. We must draw the line somewhere. Some things just need to be universally understood as unacceptable. Zero tolerance. No excuses. And this has to be reflected in policy, the law and through the mass media. You don't have the right to be free, if that freedom is at the expense of the freedom of someone else. It's that simple.