Madhuraa’s story: ‘You don’t belong here’

Casual racism is a type of racism that isn’t spoken about very often. Most people know about overt racism, such as when someone uses racial slurs or commits racially motivated violence. Casual racism occurs in less obvious ways. The person making a casually racist comment may not even recognise they’re being racist, but their comments can still be extremely hurtful.

If you’ve been affected by casual racism, it’s important to remember that your feelings are valid and that you’re not alone.

Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that the Traditional Custodians of this land are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Everyone else who lives in Australia and talks about ‘belonging’ here should recognise this, regardless of their cultural background. If we’re not First Nations people, then we all need to respect this land and its people.

Headshot of Madhuraa woman smiling

Pictured: Madhuraa (author)

My personal experience with casual racism

A theme of my life in Australia has been people telling me that I don’t belong here. I’m Sri Lankan Tamil. I was born in Sri Lanka and my family migrated to Australia when I was around two. I’ve spent 20 years here, but some people can’t see past the colour of my skin. Sometimes they make a racist joke or ask an ignorant question but it’s not easy to be made to feel like an outsider in the place you call home.

One example of this casual racism was a match one day when I was playing on the girls’ soccer team in high school. Many of the girls in my team were people of colour, while those in the team we were playing against were all white. The spectators who supported the other team kept calling them the ‘real Aussie team’ or chanting ‘Go Team Australia’, despite us all being Australian. As a teenager who was just trying to have fun, I found the comments incredibly upsetting.

How I handled the casual racism

I tried just to focus on the game, on my teammates and on the fun I was having, but when we got on the bus after the match, I burst into tears. I didn’t really know why I felt so upset. Luckily, I had a friend who was also a person of colour and I talked through my feelings with her. It really helped, as she listened to me and validated my feelings, telling me that it was okay to be upset about what happened and that I deserve to feel like I belong.

Nowadays, I surround myself with friends from many different backgrounds, including Sri Lankan Tamil people like myself. I’ve become resilient by confronting people who make racist comments or act in a racist way. I talk about racism with other people, and I remind them and myself that Australia is an extremely diverse place, and that it’s untrue when people say they’re the only ones who belong here.

Becoming involved with the Sri Lankan Tamil and broader South Asian community – through social media, and community groups and events – has also helped me to connect with my culture and people who understand. I would definitely encourage being involved in community activities as a way to find people who you can relate to. I’m glad that I have understanding friends and family who I can talk with about my experiences.

How you can cope with racism

The first thing to do if you experience casual racism that is upsetting you is to focus on yourself. You can do this by doing self-care activities, such as spending time on a hobby you enjoy, or by hanging out with trusted friends or family. When I’m in these situations, I usually text my friends to talk about how I’m feeling, do some reading to distract myself, or go for a walk to calm my thoughts. Get some more tips here on dealing with racism.

If you feel safe doing so, you can speak up and let the other person know that what they said isn’t okay; that it was hurtful and upsetting. Sometimes, people don’t want to hear that what they are saying is harmful, or they may just tell you to ‘get over it’. By making it seem like you are the problem, these people are implying that your feelings are unimportant, but this isn’t true. Other times, people may not realise they’re being racist and will be open to learning about how their comments and actions impact others.

Your experiences are real, and it can be really useful for you to express your feelings and share your experiences. Here are some more tips on standing up to discrimination.

There’s a big community of people in Australia who are culturally diverse, and we’re all working together to fight the same battle. You are truly not alone in whatever you’re feeling. There will always be a place for you to feel included and accepted.

What can I do now?

  • Get more tips on dealing with racism.