Indigenous Australian actor and playwright Nakkiah Lui says she was left “shaking” after a harrowing experience with racism at a supermarket in western Sydney on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old Gamillaroi/Torres Strait Islander said she and her mother were standing in a queue at a St Mary’s grocery store next to a Sudanese family when a caucasian stranger directed “disgusting” comments toward them and said, “Go back to where you come from”.
“I’m shaking right now. I’m at the shopping centre waiting to buy some bread with my mum, an Indian server and next to a Sudanese lady. An old White lady walks past and says ‘Spots the Aussie’,” Lui wrote on Twitter following the incident.
“The looks on the family and server were heartbreaking. My mother and I were shocked.”
The writer of ABC’s “Black Comedy” said she and her mother called out the woman’s racism, as “this is the type of acceptable hate that breeds and grows until it’s rampant in society”.
“I look at mum [in] utter disbelief and mum says ‘Yes, she said it’,” Lui tweeted.
“So mum marches over to her and says ‘excuse me, I heard you say ‘spot the Aussie’ and that was racist’. She says, proudly, ‘Yep, I am a racist and I’m proud of it.’ I chime in “That’s disgusting.”
It was at this point the woman told Lui to “go back to where you come from”, a statement she said her family had been told for the second time in a supermarket. The other occasion was at Bondi Junction’s Woolworths in Sydney’s east on her wedding day earlier this year, when a white man said it to her father. “My dad was reminded, whilst just buying groceries, this country hates him,” Lui wrote.
Lui told her over 40,000 Twitter followers that by calling out the woman’s racism, she was “not here to change her mind”.
“I try and say something in those situations, not to change minds, but to at least keep their shit behind closed doors. Do not empower or enable their bigotry by being silent. I’m nervous and never articulate in those situations, but letting them know it’s not okay is important.”
She also said, “What makes me sad about this is that she’s clearly not an empowered person. This happened in St Mary’s, a low socio economic area. This woman left the supermarket with no name bread and chicken. They’re the foot soldiers of Whiteness, of a system that they’re not even empowered by.”
Chinese Australian author and journalist Benjamin Law praised Lui for taking a stand and not “excusing racism” because the incident occurred in a western Sydney suburb.
“Good on you for speaking up,” he tweeted. “I know a lot of people will use class and lack of education as a way of excusing racism but plenty of lower/working class and people without education aren’t racist and hateful. And there are plenty of rich, educated racists.”
Professor Marcia Langton, the foundation chair of Australian Indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne, also responded to Lui’s tweets, saying, “It won’t be the last time it happens because #whitesupremacists”.
Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan also applauded Lui’s response and encouraged all Australians to “call out racism” when they witness it.
“When people in Australian society face racist attitudes and behaviours because of the colour of their skin, that is unacceptable and we must call that out and work towards solutions,” Tan told HuffPost Australia. “We must always call out racism when it appears and condemn racial discrimination when we see it.”
Acknowledging that speaking up can be confronting and challenging, Tan said there are resources that Australians can refer to for guidance.
“In June the Australian Human Rights Commission published a booklet called ‘Let’s talk race: A guide on how to conduct conversations about racism’ which gives practical help to have these difficult but important conversations,” he said.
Multicultural NSW CEO Joseph La Posta shared a similar sentiment, and said: “Racism and hate have no place in Australia. All forms of racism are ugly and offensive to our multicultural Australian society.
“If it feels safe, speaking out can be a powerful support for the target of racial abuse. If you think someone is in danger, call the police on 000.”
He advised that “racial discrimination and vilification complaints can be reported to the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW”, while Multicultural NSW’s Remove Hate from the Debate website provides tips and resources to stay safe online.