I've just come from 2 hours' volunteering at the book exchange. Some days this involves being flooded with customers - mostly tourists, interspersed with some locals and occasionally friends who drop in to say hi and laugh at the 80s sewing patterns which are accumulating in the art and craft corner. Other days, it involves sitting with a book or a crossword (or, in today's case, a Sudoku) enjoying peace and quiet, not a customer in sight.
Today looked like it was going to be a 'no customer' day. After one and a half hours, a lovely old lady came in. Dissatisfied with her current Miss Marple, she perused the shelves for another murder mystery. She settled on another Agatha Christie which we both hoped to be better. She was traveling on the Ghan - the only way to do it: first class!; She enquired about my dreadlocks - Now that I'm up close to someone with them, I've always wanted to ask: how do you wash them? As she was leaving, she told me how disgusted she was with the amount of rubbish around the tourists information centre. Somehow, her disgruntlement at the litter escalated into sweeping generalisations that 'Aboriginals' were responsible for it, and that 'the white man' shouldn't be cleaning up after 'them'.
I grappled with self-composure while trying to dissuade her of her assumptions by pointing out that many Indigenous people are employed, work hard, don't throw rubbish around, while many white, highly educated tertiary students leave rubbish all over university grounds, and that you can't make statements about an entire race based on the behaviour of a couple of people you saw in a public place. She would not be moved. She continued 'us'-ing and 'them'-ing, and making irrational arguments about how well behaved 'they' were in Darwin (because there's less rubbish in Darwin - heaven forbid this has anything to do with our respective town councils' diligence in rubbish collection! No! It must be how 'they' behave themselves that accounts for Darwin's messlessness!).
This is not the first time I've encountered racism. Nor, unfortunately, will it be the last. Whether it's locals or visitors, I am always astounded (not to mention disgusted) that this attitude persists, almost unchecked.
When I complained in person to the local rag about a racist cartoon published last January, they told me to write a letter:
Thumbs down to [the local rag] for publishing such a distasteful, nasty and racist cartoon last week. With the theme 'Australia Day' no less! Are there no moral guidelines (let alone media guidelines) to prevent such a things from going to press?
Despite short letters being preferred, mine was never printed.
Racism is something that isn't talked about in this town. Redneck locals will knowingly confide to each other their opinions on 'their' alcoholism, unemployment, social dysfunction, domestic violence, packaging their prejudice neatly into one term: 'anti-social behaviour'.
Nothing could be more anti-social than racism.
P.S. Despite the misanthropic bent of this post, it ain't all bad; check out what I'm going to next weekend: Lipstick and Ochre.