The lesson white Australia needs to take from the Dastyari incident

The general response to Sam Dastyari being abused is one of shock and disbelief. What it actually represents, is a chance for us to do something we seldom do. Speak up.



The response this morning in the wake of Sam Dastyari being racially tormented in a Melbourne pub, is that it is an aberration, that it represents the vestiges of who we used to be. It is not. If it wasn’t a noted politician, nor the event recorded, we certainly wouldn’t have heard about it. The truth is obvious, bitter. MP Tim Watts stood up where many of us haven’t.



Being a white male in this country, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the crosshairs of racial discrimination, and despite the recent discovery that my blood grew here, in reality, I’m more white than anything else. I, like many, have hit the race lottery. That being said, I’ve seen racism, both complicit and pointed, and therein lies the problem. I’ve seen it…and I’ve said nothing.

Being entirely honest, were I one of those who sat in the pub where Dastyari was abused, I probably would have said nothing. It’s not that I agree with the colour of the antagonists’ fluorescent racism – I certainly don’t – but I wouldn’t have got involved, fearing the risk of violence, conflict or whatever, shielded with the mental armour of “well, I won’t be able to change their minds anyway, so why bother?”

And I don’t think I’m alone.

Prophetically, I found myself minding my own on a packed commuter train, as the booming sounds of racial grating emanated from the seats below. I was unsure what the topic was, but the tone was familiar, as was the rhetoric that echoed brutally off the carriage. “It’s my country too” was fired from both sides, bookended by four-letter words. Now, I’m not proud of this, but I couldn’t tell you who was the protagonist in that scrape, because I decided to let the sounds of my headphones drown it out. But that being said, my 40-odd fellow passengers took the same route, the argument continuing as a two-way conversation.

If someone had stepped up and cut the antagonist down, I’d have afforded them a well-meaning thank you nod upon them returning to their seat.

But is that enough? No.



The challenge in the postscript of the Dastyari story is the responsibility of well-meaning whites, we who don’t discriminate. The challenge is to call racism when we see it; to overcome our fear, as the current level of political discourse is spooling beyond control, and well-meaning ballot box silence is no longer enough.

It’s a big ask, as I’ve followed that mantra for my entire adult life – “I’ll vote them out, because they’re wrong” – but that thought process now belongs in the borders of fallacy.

Today, while we might #AllStandForSam, the actual important moment is when we see someone after the headlines change, those in our everyday lives fielding the same abuse he did, those people who, in the words of Dastyari, who are not afforded the same platform as he is.

The lesson from today should be simple. See something, say something.


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