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Speaking up to Racism

Chris Ivey / Academic

At Secondary Chapel service this week

05 November 2020

From Our Principal Reverend Chris Ivey: speaking up to racism

Dear St Andrew’s community

At Secondary Chapel service this week, the focus was on NAIDOC week but more importantly drawing attention to everyone’s actions and the way in which we respond to matters of racism.  Led by students and Mrs Padbury, our College Psychologist, we set the challenge, adapted from the work Adam Goodes began a few years ago, Racism, it stops with me.

I was impressed with the passion of our students who spoke. With her permission, Layla Prince from Year 11, has shared her thoughts below. She challenged the behaviour of our students, in particular the ease by which students (and adults), fall into the trap of assuming that small and seemingly funny comments are acceptable behaviour.

Good morning everyone, my name is Layla. With the acknowledgement of NAIDOC week, we are here today to bring awareness and address the predominant and frequent racism that is occurring within the school. Recently we heard Tiana Smith raise awareness about the humanitarian issues around the world and we have also just been confronted by one of the most important movements in history – The Black Lives Matter movement. You are mistaken if you think these issues belong to other countries, they are at our doorstep. Let me set the scene for you.

Beyond Blue reported that racial discrimination causes severe damage to mental health. This is including half of the indigenous population reporting feelings of distress, anxiety and depression with a direct relation to racism.

1 in 5 people report that they experience racism. 1 in 3 Indigenous Australians experienced verbal racial abuse in the last six months, and 77% of Sudanese people surveyed report experiences of racism in the last 12 months. So, racism is real.  Here is another statistic, maybe the most confronting of them all.   95% of Indigenous people are affected in some way by suicide. Just to understand this, let’s just say there are about 400 people in this room right now. That means 380 of us in this room have lost a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a friend, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, and even a child. That’s what 95% looks like.   The research is also clear that racism and mental health are directly linked.

We have to realize what we say and do has an effect. When we say the ‘N’ word around school. When we laugh at a comment or a joke about someone’s skin color, religion, hair colour. When we post things online that degrade someone who doesn’t look like us. It all has an impact. 

Let me tell you about my best friend at my last school. She was adopted from Korea when she was six months old and has grown up in Australia all her life. Every day when we used to go to school together, I would hear people say to her ‘open your eyes’, ‘can you even see’, ‘did you have noodles for breakfast,’ and more. I have seen her tears, the damage and the pain that those comments at school used to do to her.

And another friend. I have seen her tears, the damage and the pain in my friend’s face when they call her a ‘nigger’. I have heard people tell my friends to ‘go home’, and the sadness and confusion because this country is their home. 

As the video stated, non-racist isn’t bad, but it doesn’t bring change. Non-racist equals tolerant behavior, but we need more than that. We need to be anti-racist. And anti-racism is a verb and a verb means action is required if we are going to address this issue.

Now I want to say something to the Year 7, 8 and 9s. My desire and hope is that by the time you come through to our year levels, you don’t put people through the same experiences that we have put people through. I hope you don’t use the ‘N’ word around the school, and you don’t make people feel bad or shamed about who they are. And I hope that when you hear someone making a ‘joke’ or comment about someone’s skin colour, religion, hair colour, or weight that you speak up and say something.

We can no longer ignore and resist our ignorant behaviours towards this issue. We can no longer allow ourselves and our friends making stereotypical jokes about people who supposedly look different to the norm. We can no longer stay silent because we are too scared to say something. These issues are real. Something needs to change.

Layla’s speech cut through to the heart of racism, that it stops with each and every person choosing to speak up.  It stops because we call each other out and don’t simply sit in silence. In chatting with Layla after her presentation, she reminded me that it’s not just about students, it’s about the way in which adults, staff and parents respond to what we see and hear around us. We all need to take a stand and uphold one of our core values of respectful relationships. Mr McClellan closed off the Chapel with a number of verses from the Bible, where the writers clearly articulate the message that we are all created in the image of God, that we are all equal before God, that we are to love others unconditionally and certainly not dependent on what we might look like.

I want to encourage our whole community to reflect on this message and do our part.

Best wishes,
Chris Ivey
Principal

Author Profile

Chris Ivey

In his own words, Chris “enables things to happen” at St Andrew’s. As Principal of the College, he leads the development and progression of St Andrew’s by enabling staff and students to achieve their personal best. Chris is a Reverend and has been the Principal of St Andrew’s for more that 15 years. He also represents and advocates for Independent schools across Australia as the National Chair of AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Australia).

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