Voices of African-Australian Youth

By Addo Tetteh

Racism is an inevitable part of growing up black in Australia. As a mother of two African-Australian boys, one of the hardest things is that I can only do so much to protect my children from being the targets of racism. Many African-Australian youths grow up permanently alienated from the mainstream. Our hope is always for our children to grow stronger and more compassionate. Both my sons have been profoundly influenced by the experience of racism. Very often this has been the cause of great sadness and anguish for me. When I see them triumph over adversity, it has also been a source of strength and courage. I am very proud to be able to share my sons’ creative engagement with racism here on Language-on-the-Move. The lyrics were written by my 16-year-old son Nii as an English assignment and the artwork was produced by my younger son Addo when he was 12 years old.

Racial Discrimination

By Nii Tetteh

Blind hate for a brother
Hate for each other
we ignorantly discriminate
it’s an ongoing cycle
it just won’t end
We would rather exclude a
“Nigger” than try to befriend
we make insensitive jokes, laugh, point, stare
slap on racial labels without a care

“Hey, if my friends are doing it, I suppose that makes it alright?
I’ll avoid other cultures, or hot-headedly launch into a fight
I’ll assume Muslims are terrorists
hiding bombs under their shirts,
pull at my eyes when I see an Asian
what do I care if it hurts?”

And you don’t realize
You’re thinking like a white supremacist
But it’s not just whites
Who think with this kind of stereotypical view?
No, not at all
It could even be you!

It’s because of the media
And how they portray races
The lifestyles, accents and physical appearances
All match up to certain faces
And when people think like that
They’re classified as racist
Once these views are put into action
It becomes racial discrimination

It’s society
that the government needs to educate
People pay taxes
So that’s plenty to facilitate?
The minds of people persuasively polluted
This may not even be intentional
But the threats this can cause
Can have quite some potential
To do some irreparable damage
Victims attacking back
May even be defined as savage

It can’t go on forever
People will decide that they have had enough
It may result in people giving up
Or people fighting back, striking and rioting
And this of course, once again
Becomes the basis of yet another racial stereotype

Society will look at these people and say
‘They think they can do whatever they feel like’
But this is of course not the case
None more so than the revenge icing
on the racial discrimination cake
Racial discrimination is like a butterfly
First you see a caterpillar
Now something different meets your eyes
We can knock racial discrimination off its feet
But people just don’t realize

Society needs to stop living in a shell
and ignorance is not an answer
And neither is ‘oh well’
Racial Discrimination is spreading like a cancer
And people don’t know they’re infected
So it’s time to be rid of your disease
And get your dose of racial equality injected.

Author Vera Williams Tetteh

More posts by Vera Williams Tetteh
  • Khan

    Dear Nii and Ado and Vera

    What an excellect poetic and visual response to the disease of Racism. It certainly is a triumph over adversity. I like your thinking and your voice in the poem and artists’ work that compliments the poem. Very creative! Well done boys! I would like to hear from you.

    Thanks Vera for sharing this piece of art. Coming it from boys of this age gives hope, nothing better than that. No doubt boys are credit to you.

    Best wishes
    Khan

  • Loy Lising

    Nii, your critical musings on racism is quite inspirational especially given your age. I particularly like how you picked up on the often apathetic view on the matter expressed through a nonchalant oh well and such expressions.

    Addo, the first time Vera showed your artwork a couple of years ago, it encouraged me to see that a boy your age has such a hopeful view of our country; it still does.

    Vera, congratulations to you and Ben for raising such beautiful children!

  • vahid

    Thank you, Vera.

    Lovely post.

    Sometimes young people notice important things which we, the so-called grow-ups, fail to see. Robin Lakoff in her The Language War draws on two interesting anecdotes belonging to the Law Professor Patricia Williams:

    The first one in this:

    At a faculty meeting once, I raised several issues: racism among my students, my difficulty in dealing with it myself, and my need for the support of colleagues. I was told by a white professor that “we” should be able to “break the anxiety by just laughing about it.” Another nodded in agreement and added that “the key is not to take this sort of thing too seriously.

    The second one is this:

    Williams’s young son is diagnosed by his nursery school teachers as “colorblind.” She has his eyesight tested by an ophthalmologist, who finds it normal. She investigates, and finds that the basis of the teachers’ diagnosis was that the boy resisted identifying color at all. So, when asked what color the grass was, he would reply, “It makes no difference.” Williams realized that the child was merely echoing his teachers’ platitudes about race which he, being black, had already grasped as well-meant falsehoods. Indeed, the kids in class “had been fighting about whether black people could play ‘good guys’.

    Lakoff then writes:

    “if you’re a member of the dominant group, your attributes are invisible, as your role in making things the way they are is not noticeable. This process is called “exnomination” by Roland Barthes. He discusses the bourgeoisie as an exnominated group: “As an ideological fact, [the bourgeoisie] completely disappears: the bourgeoisie has obliterated its name in passing from reality to representation. It makes its status undergo a real ex-nominating operation: the bourgeoisie is defined as the social class which does not want to be named”

    Exnominated groups become apolitical and nonideological. They just are. Their rules become the rules: “Practiced on a national scale, bourgeois norms are experienced as the evident laws of a natural order”

    According to Lakoff, the same claim can be made of white middleclass males in contemporary America. In fact, whites sometimes feel as if they have been exnominated into obliteration.

    And here comes the problem, (or the Irony):

    As a consequence, there are attempts at what might be called re-nomination: the formation of white studies departments at universities, male supremacy groups like the National Organization of Men, and racial supremacist groups like the National Association for the Advancement of White People. There is an irony here which can be summarized as: beware of your wishes, for you may get them.

    Lakoff, R. The Language War. University of California Press (pp. 53-54)

  • Rudrick Quarshie

    That was really great. If we can all think the way you do the world will be a better place for all. Congratulations and am really proud of you.

  • Kylie

    Wow, really well written Nii. I agree, if only people in our world would look past physical appearances and realise the person inside is pretty much the same as they themselves. Cultural and class differences dont need to be scary if one takes the time to learn. This makes a marked difference in your thinking and response to others. Hopefully your piece will open the eyes of others.

  • Nii Tetteh

    Thank you all for your comments and encouragement. I am so pleased. It was an assignment which I enjoyed working on because I chose to write on something that is so real, but people seem to be in denial of it.

  • Hongyan

    Dear Nii and Addo,

    Thanks for presenting us such well-written poem and fantastic artwork. Well done, boys! I am SO proud of you!!