7 Types Of Everyday Racism Asian-Australians Experience

Asian-Australians experience a lot of racism. It’s not uncommon for Asian-Australians to experience racism and discrimination most days. Or even every day.

As an Australian of Chinese heritage living in Melbourne, racism is something that I’ve experienced all my life. I don’t expect racism to stop anytime soon.

Racism is left, right and centre, and within.

Racism is left, right and centre, and within | Weekly Photo Challenge: Twisted.

According to a study by the Australian National University, 82% of Asian-Australians surveyed reported they experienced discrimination in Australia. A survey of 6,001 Australians found over 30% experienced racism on public transport or at work.

Racism comes in different forms. There’s direct racism which is when someone overtly treats you differently, intimidates and attacks you because of your race. There’s also casual or everyday racism: subtle racism ingrained through conversations, body language and jokes.

Over a quarter of the Australian population is born overseas. Many within this demographic originate from the Asian region as per the 2016 Census. Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese are some of the most common languages spoken around Australia.

Despite the culturally diverse makeup of Australia, there are constantly high levels of racism towards Asian-Australians, Asian migrants and ethnic groups here. Here are some common forms of racism Asian-Australians experience*.

1. Public transport racism

Racism is common on public transport in Australia. These incidents are disturbing face-to-face discrimination and sometimes make the news.

There are anti-Asian rants on buses in Sydney. Indian passengers on Melbourne trains have been told to ‘go back to your own country’. There was an incident where a Chinese passenger was accused of ‘not f**king Australian’ and not paying for their ticket on a bus in Adelaide.

Research from the University of Queensland found bus drivers discriminated against dark-skinned students and Indians as they boarded with defective cards. Sometimes bystanders intervene during these incidents. Other times bystanders don’t as they want to avoid getting hurt.

Once I was in the train during morning peak hour in Melbourne. I sat in a carriage where pretty much every other passenger was Anglo-Saxon. An Anglo-Saxon ticket inspector came through the carriage, asked to see my ticket and then walked off to the next carriage without checking anyone else’s. I wondered why.

Racism is everywhere, subtle and not-so-subtle.

Racism is everywhere, subtle and not-so-subtle.

2. Asians seen as thieves

Often those of Asian background are seen as threats to the so-called Australian dream, perceived as ‘stealing everything’. Chinese investors are constantly dubbed the new ‘Asian invasion’, driving up property prices in Australia.

There has been ‘Stop Incoming Asians’ graffiti plastered over property billboard advertisements in Sydney. Similarly, Chinese bulk-buying and exporting baby-formula has been labelled a craze in local media, causing shortages.

A study conducted by business consultancy firm Cross Border Management shows Chinese property investment is negligible compared to the wider investment market. At the end of the day, if someone has the means to afford and invest, that’s a way to keep trade and the economy going.

3. White ethnic faces in the media

There’s a lack of cultural diversity and representation of Asian voices in Australian media. Those of Asian background are usually cast in tokenistic doctor or taxi driver roles in Australian TV programs, or are shown smuggling prohibited items into the country on Border Security.

Shows such as The Family Law and MasterChef Australia feature Asian Australian personalities while exploring cultural themes through family connections, sexuality and art. This is a step towards more realistic representations and recognising Asian Australians as Australian.

Notably ‘white ethnic faces’ arguably get featured more over other ethnic faces in Australian media. As I’ve written in White Ethnic Faces in the Australian Media, non-accented Asians who are well assimilated into Western culture tend to be given more of a presence in Australian commercial media.

The more one looks and sounds like someone from the majority cultural group, the more likely they’ll be relatable and accepted. Will I ever get the opportunity to present the nightly news on commercial TV in my non-Anglo accent? I wonder.

Selective representation perpetuates racism.

Selective representation perpetuates racism.

4. Bamboo ceiling

In Australia it’s challenging for those of Asian background to climb the career ladder in certain industries due to institutional racism. According to Malaysian-born, Australia-based business leader Ming Long, Asian employees in Australia are often expected to conform to quiet stereotypes which makes it hard getting into leadership positions.

The representation of Asian Australians in public life is seemingly not proportionate to the population. Many are stuck in middle-management roles.

To get ahead professionally, one might choose to conceal their Asian identity. For instance, Westernising one’s ethnic name on resumes is what some do in hope of bettering their job prospects in Australia.

Many years ago I was keen on working in the media, be it being a journalist, copywriter, segment producer, editorial assistant, reporter or a coffee runner for crew on a TV set. I applied for numerous jobs in the predominantly white Australian media.

I never once heard back. I had qualifications in communications, work experience through an internship and solid referees under my belt. I wonder where I went wrong. Maybe it was just tough luck.

5. Offensive names

Time and time again Asian-Australians are called offensive nicknames. ‘Asian invasion’, ‘yellow peril’ and ‘ching chong’ are some phrases used to describe us – phrases painting us as a threat or a specimen to be laughed at.

A person’s name is a measure of their identity and persona. Ascribing an offensive nickname to someone not only turns them nameless but also voiceless.

One time I was walking in Melbourne CBD on a weekend afternoon. A white guy came up to me, yelled, ‘Hey chink!’ in my face and walked off. I wondered what his intentions were.

Obsessions can bring about racism.

Obsessions can bring about racism.

6. Exotic fetishization

Australia has come a fair way from the White Australia policy days and the implementation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. However, there are still instances where being Asian in Australia is seen as exotic objects of affection.

In South Australia, there is Asian-themed gastropub pub called Hotel Longtime, a name which arguably mocks the exploitation of Asian women. Frankly speaking it’s not the first Asian-themed bar around. But a name like that isn’t tasteful and draws attention to cultural stereotypes which not all of us are comfortable with.

There’s also racism surrounding modern online dating in Australia. Some online profiles on dating apps like Tinder preference for someone of certain cultural backgrounds. On one occasion a white Australian guy approached me in a shopping centre and pretty much told me he wanted to be with Asian girl. I wondered if he knew his intentions towards me were unwelcome.

7. All round outsider

‘Where are you from?’ ‘Where are you really from?’ ‘Where are your parents from?’ These are just a few questions we get asked again and again as Asian-Australians.

At times these questions are perfectly honest. Other times these questions are loaded with stereotypical judgement. For most part we’d rather not be asked these questions as they remind us of our conflicting and confusing identities.

Can racism be stamped out?

Some might prefer to put racism out of mind and out of sight as it’s so unpleasant. However it’s important to speak up about racism because that’s pretty much the only way to work towards respecting different cultures.

When faced with racism, we should acknowledge it and speak up about it. We need to reflect and share the racism we’ve experienced with others, talking and writing about these experiences. We need to have level-headed conversations with those who are racist to learn where they are coming from.

Observing Hollywood narratives written from the perspectives of cultural minorities, Kevin Cheung over at Idiot With Camera writes that many of Chinese heritage are not putting up with Western superiority anymore. It’s encouraging to see minorities stand up to racism and white privilege.

Australia’s Race and Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane wrote Australia should be a society committed to tolerance without stifling freedom of expression. He mentions ‘racism isn’t just about prejudice and discrimination; it’s also about power.’

Racism is tied to power plays.

Racism is tied to power plays.

In some instances racism affects us even if we don’t experience it directly. Yummy Lummy blogger Gary Lum wrote about this in his blog post An Embarrassing Story of Racism: at a medical conference in Australia, Gary felt embarrassed when his Chinese American-born colleague Fred mentioned he got sneered at for his American accent on a train in Brisbane.

What Gary experienced can be called second-hand racism a time when we don’t directly experience racism but feel stressed and uncomfortable when others experience racism.

Maybe racism will never be stamped out. A racist opinion is an opinion, an opinion expressed with attitude on the basis of our beliefs. In other words, racism is essentially a difference in opinion. All opinions deserve to be heard and some opinions will be more offensive than others.

That said, racism discriminates against one’s cultural background and no one deserves to be attacked because of their heritage. No one is better than the other person beside them.

Each of our stories is important, not better than the other.

Each of our stories is important, not better than the other.

When it comes to working towards stamping out racism, we don’t necessarily need to change our beliefs. But we need to change our attitudes. By changing our attitudes we can change the way we treat others and articulate our opinions.

If we stop judging each other based on what we think we know of them, maybe we’ll understand each other more. Maybe we could then discuss each other’s stereotypical traits and not offend each other. On living together in this world, writer Jessica Cyphers over at the blog Shift said:

‘Racism is entirely stupid. I wonder what this world would be like, how much richer all of our lives would be, if we all took a step back and looked at our combined “bigger picture,” and at how our stories overlap, and at how, together, (we) create both our own “truths” and history.

Each of us are individuals wanting to be a part of something.

Each of us are individuals wanting to be a part of something.

Some of us don’t fit stereotypes. Some of us fit stereotypes. Or maybe both. That’s me as an Asian Australian and probably a lot of people too.

There’s more to each of us than our background, the colour of our skin and how we speak. None of us deserve to be discriminated against where we are from – and who we are.

Have you experienced or seen racism?

*post updated September 2020

237 thoughts on “7 Types Of Everyday Racism Asian-Australians Experience

  1. Amazing post…I think among people racism always exists..May be in different forms…A tall person among a group of short people will have to face it….it should be to a certail level…above a particular limit it is not tolerable…But otherwise it will happen everywhere..Its natural..Indirectly sometimes everyone becomes a part of it…Great post Mabel…I enjoyed reading..

    shreyans

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  2. Another excellent, well written and well balanced post Mabel. Thank you for bringing the issue of race to the forefront, and educating us on the extent of specific racism towards Asian Australians, which leaves me, as with many others, so very sad. Since Brexit here in the UK, the incidents of racist attacks, both verbal and physical, have increased hugely, more so here towards Eastern Europeans. So much today is based on everyone’s individual opinion, yet there isn’t much listening, really listening, it seems. As you say if only we could spend more time getting to know one another and stop judging by outward colour, colour and culture, the world would be a much better place. We have so much to learn from one another! We are all human with human hearts driven by the same hopes and fears. But human nature being what it is, we can only hope that racism will one day be a thing of the past. Big hugs to you my dear friend. Keep writing and keep smiling your beautiful smile! 🙂 ❤ 🙂

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    • No, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Sherri. Brexit seemed like such a surprising move and sad to hear discriminatory incidents have increased over there. Listening is so important. Not only do we learn more by listening, we make connections too – and it is such a wonderful feeling to connect with someone. As you said, we are all human hearts driven by the same hopes and fears. I hope you keep smiling your beautiful smile too and all is well and warm in the Summerhouse 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brexit shocked us rigid Mabel, and the dissary it causes now, and we’re not even completed with it yet, with all the disruption and government arguing going on. But it will happen and can only hope it will be alright. But all that aside, thank you so much, things are warm and well and ticking over, which is a good thing! Lovely to connect with you as always dear one. From my almost summer to your almost winter, we will smile and keep listening! Love to you my friend! 🙂 ❤

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  3. I am sorry that you have been experiencing racism, Mabel. I have been experiencing it too, people called me by names. It’s hurtful and something that stay with you for the rest of your life.
    A friend of mine who studied in Australia was attacked and beaten by strangers. He’s an Indonesian. We suspect it was hate crime that he was attacked because of his race. It’s just insane how racism could lead to something violent 😦

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  4. The annoying thing is that racism rears its head every few months. What is interesting in various cities, is the confusion over some foreigners investing in real estate in the big cities here in Canada. Of course, mainland Chinese becomes the target because they look so different..vs. those from the Middle East or elsewhere. In suburb of Richmond outside of Vancouver, over 70% of the population is of Asian descent..which has led to some friction. Lack of bilingual signs piss off some locals, then some immigrants just not being culturally sensitive..ie.. condo board meeting for 1 bldg. not in English.

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    • It is interesting to hear from you foreigners investing in real estate in the metropolitan areas in Canada. It sounds like what’s happening in Australia, and maybe all over the world too. Here in Melbourne we also have a suburb called Richmond, and it’s populated with rows and rows of Vietnamese restaurants and populated by many Vietnamese. There are definitely two sides to bilingual sides – they can be seen as inclusive and exclusive. I do think it’s important to remember that not all of us speak or read the same language.

      Liked by 1 person

      • How coincidental! Vancouver has implemented an speculation tax ..if a home is not lived in for many months (I can’t remember how long), then owner is taxed. There have been situations of a home, not occupied for many months because of foreigners. There was a study done by Canadian born Chinese urban planner-academic that did track many of such owners as overseas owners. The rationale is these owners are not contributing at all to the Canadian economy/local life. Some of the owners have allowed properties to be abandoned, etc. Anyway…. most likely it is happening right now in the city where I live but not reported/studied. Also locals investing since our real estate is much cheaper than Vancouver or Toronto. We are more boring place live except we’re 100 km. away from Rocky Mountains and several national parks. The only drawing card in expanse of prairie ranchland.

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      • I’m always intrigued by people who hesitate to shop/browse in ethnic stores/districts: for heaven’s sake you’re in Canada. They worry about workers not speaking English. My response is: get over it. You’re not in Asia. They will understand something ..there will be other workers and customers who know English. They want your business.

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  5. Thank you Mabel for a well written prose. I was educated in Sydney in the late 60’s and early 70’s and stayed for a decade there, working in diverse jobs in my student days. The Australian then were very friendly, except towards their own aborigines. However, this racial scenario changed over the years; the bigotry was more felt among the immigrants whites, than the fair dinkum Aussies. I recalled an emigrant taxi driver was so hostile to me, when I spoke with an Aussie slang, but more friendly when he found out we were tourists. I think the racialism reflect more of insecurity and false superiority among the Australians, up to the Prime Minister; more among politicians and their followers than the common country folks. How stupid of them (the ministers) to insult the Chinese, using the Chinese Anthem, ARISE, biting the fingers that feed them! However, we must not ignore that some fair minded Aussies are speaking up against such bigotry; even though they are slow to respond in a rapid changing world.

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    • Sometimes some of us are indeed slow in responding to change and a diverse world. That was an interesting incident with the emigrant taxi driver some years ago. There are many emigrant taxi drivers here in Australia these days, and many I’ve encountered seem very friendly. Racism towards Indigenous Australians is still common here though. Hope you have fond memories of studying and working in Sydney.

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            • Have I published a book? I’ve published a chapter in anthology and am currently writing my first book. Not too familiar with poetry in Australia, but I have encountered some here who are into that genre of writing. Looks like you’ve published poetry quite a bit. Keep up the good work.

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              • There is no market for poetry; no publisher, except self paid, and then no book stores willing to display without rental of shelves. Most important, no reader, unless you are famous or connected. Best and cheapest is to publish in a free blog or social media. One can write only for the joy of it, readers or no readers. Next to fall is drama; only fiction and some non fiction can sell.

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                • Publishing and getting your work out there is a challenging arena. Self publishing is certainly self paid as you said, and there is only so much we can put into our self published publications. Hope you get to publish more in the future.

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  6. Australia is one of the beautiful city around the world. Australia is so clean country. Every year many traveler going for refreshment tour. I was go 1 time in there that was really a interesting place. After I read your post I thought I miss many thinking in there. Now I want to go there again. Thanks for sharing your all information.

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  7. An excellent post… You are right as to how racism and discrimination might show up in different ways … And that casual or everyday racism can be more harmfulo because it is subtle… and hence it tends to naturalize a state of things that shouldn´t be considered “normal”.
    I often get ads to travel to Australia (and Canada) … It is a country full of possibilities and not so hard to get a Visa, as far as I am concerned. An open country is in itself promising. But of course, stereotyped visions about cultural groups attempt not only against the group in question … but against each individual, as a unique and unrepeatable human being.
    Argentina is full of racists as well. People may denigrate the poor, the indigenous … the Bolivians and Paraguayans who come to work here .. There is a false pretension of superiority coming from Higher classes that is quite despicable.
    Much love, my friend 🙂

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    • It is scary how much racism is naturalised these days and many of us are not aware of it. You are right. An open country or one that looks like one might look promising but these images can be based of stereotypes. Stereotypes might make some of us relatable, but not everyone fits the stereotype.

      It is unfortunate to hear there is racism in and false pretensions in Argentina from the upper classes. A lot of us see the upper class as leading by example. Maybe that is true to a certain extent. We all must not forget each of us have a voice and opinion too.

      Thank you for such an insightful comment, wonderful Aqui. Much love your way 🙂

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  8. I’ve experienced racism many times during my life, Mabel. Over the years, it has got less and less, but it does raise its ugly head every now again. Of course, it’s not only outside I have seen and received it but also here online. I’ve had a number of racists comments left on my blog, all of which I have ignored and sent to spam after blocking the person who had left the comment. What really amazes me, though, is reading racists comments from somebody who themselves is in a minority group that is often the target of racist comments. Sometimes, humans really do not help themselves.

    I always go by the saying of ‘treat others how you would like them to treat you.’ If that became a worldwide law, it would go a long way in helping to stamp out racism. Unfortunately, there are going to be those who prefer to spread hated simply beacuse somebody (or their way of life) is not like them/theirs.

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    • That isn’t nice to hear you have experienced racism, Hugh. Racism can happen anywhere and often you don’t expect it. It can definitely happen online, and hope the racist comments don’t keep coming back. You make a good point there when humans don’t help themselves and when they are a victim, they attach others in the same boat as them – the hate just goes around and around in circles and hard to get anywhere in terms of getting along with each other.

      It would be a better place if we all treated each other like how we would like to be treated. Some people fear difference and will act out, others will simply loathe difference and act out. Hopefully one day all of us can get along.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear, Mabel, I’m really sorry to know this, as I’ve never had any thought that Australia might have racism at all. I’ve been to New Zealand, and got to know they are quite inclusive into diversity and try to support minorities all the way. As NZ and Australia are neighbours, I’ve got the idea in Australia might be the same tolerant society, but your story is quite opposite from my opinion. For person like me, who is so much inclusive into diversity, it’s sad to admit how much of discrimination we have in our world .

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    • Australia does have quite a bit of racism but good to hear that New Zealand are quite inclusive. Maybe one day this will all change and the Australians will get along with each other better. There’s so much to be learnt from being a part of diversity.

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  10. A sad truth of Australian life, but perhaps impossible to stamp out in reality. Fear, bullying, lack of respect, rudeness and many other factors are potential causes for the expression of racism. How do you get of all these causative factors? The only place I’ve been to where racism barely exists is Cuba, because everybody if of mixed blood/heritage. Perhaps that is the answer.

    I guess this happens the world over otherwise.

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  11. Such a powerful piece, Mabel, well done. The factor of race always seems to be right below the surface in most cultures I have lived (USA, China and Central Europe)…people have a hard time accepting outsiders.

    Fortunately, I am also very optimistic and I see racism dwindling within the hearts of people, mainly due to more contact with people of different cultures. Contact with different cultures means understanding, admiring and most important the building of friendships. The global world is here to stay, and if people do not change – they will become relics. Mixing of ideas, of cultures, of blood ~ all these I believe will lead us to a better future. You do a great job laying out what you see in Australia and I think around the world – matching your words with some great street art photography – beautifully done! Wishing you a great day!

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    • Race ‘seems to be right below the surface in most cultures’. That is so true. It’s something that is probably at the front of our minds unconsciously, so ingrained within us many of us might not notice. But with mingling with each other, we learn from each other and perhaps understand each other to a degree. As you said, there is the opportunity of building friendships…and there is nothing like an invested relationship.

      Thanks for the nice words, Randy. The first shot of the two ladies holding hands is my favourite…one on hand it can represent love is love, but it can also resemble the quirk of Asians holding hands just because they can… Hope you are well wherever you are and you got your camera with you 🙂

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  12. Hi Mabel,

    I’m sad and a bit shocked at some of the things you’ve put up with in dear old Australia, my home country. My mum is Eurasian (Chinese, Filipina, White) my Dad white, and everyone thinks I am white. I’m certainly very western, but I must admit I hadn’t seen some of this bizarre racism going on. The public transport rudeness is especially weird and unwelcome.

    Then again, when it comes to the housing market, our government has put taxes on overseas housing buyers, so it does sound like overseas buyers are affecting the market in some way. I’ve also read a report on Chinese laundered money being pumped into Aussie housing. Of course, most Chinese buyers are NOT doing this, but I think perhaps wider society is drawing the wrong conclusions!

    Racism can occur anywhere. I know Filipina maids can be treated horribly in Hong Kong, for instance. And India has a shocking caste system even today. But I really hope everyday white Aussies relax and enjoy the mostly really fab and exciting ethnic mix we now have. I am mostly very positive about our ethnic future, and I see many more mixed marriages around. All for the good, I reckon!

    All the best,

    Jo.

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    • Australia has become more culturally diverse over time, but racism does still exist. It is quite an interesting background you com from, Jo, and thank you for sharing. Racism is not always that obvious, even for those who tend to be on the receiving end of racism every now and then – you just don’t expect it, just like you don’t expect rudeness.

      It really is interesting how Australia’s media portrays Chinese overseas buyers as doing everything they can to invest in local property (it probably started with the amazement at Chinese buyers taking an interest in Australia and the attention snowballed from there and isn’t stopping). I think you are right that most Chinese buyers are not using laundered money in Australia, but they can just simply afford property at a higher price.

      So true, racism can occur anywhere. As you inferred, in Asia there can be racism among one’s own race – for instance Chinese ethnic groups might have their differences and don’t get along because for a fact they are from another upbringing so to speak. Hopefully Australia and the world becomes more accepting of mixed couplings and different cultures past, present and future.

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  13. This is a great post. Not many people would be so bold to talk about racism the way you did here. Thanks for keeping it real. Incidentally, when I wrote my first post on racism earlier this year, it turned out to be the most liked post on my blog till date.
    Racism is bad. So I would agree with you that “When faced with racism, we can acknowledge it, confront it and speak up about it.”

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    • Thanks, Victor. It’s hard to talk about racism given it’s such a sensitive topic. But it is a very real issue. I checked out your post on racism and it was such a great write. Really liked how you pointed out that in different parts of the world, the phrase ‘people of colour’ isn’t always used.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. You have nicely summed up what we as Asian often encounter in Western society! As the “well-behaved”, we are usually the victim of discrimination. If something bad happens to us, we often keep silent. In many Asian’s minds, it’s better to let things go than to deal with the authority. Probably because of the language barrier or fear of deportation. No matter how smart you are or your social status, they only see you as a “Schlitzauge” (the German term for slit eye).

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    • So true. If we face racism, it’s not unusual for our cultures to remain silent or brush it aside. It IS better in our minds to just get on with things – efficient, get on with our life and make the most of what we have and can control.

      Like

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