My name is Sihle Mpofu and I am a third-year Bachelor of Community Services student at Box Hill Institute. I am originally from Zimbabwe and I have been in Australia for four years. During this time, I have had the honour of serving as the only black Study Melbourne Ambassador in 2020.
Words by Sihle Mpofu
I am extremely passionate about speaking out against racism and the worldwide protests that were sparked by the death of George Floyd have been weighing heavily on my mind of late. I feel that it is important that I share my own experience and express my solidarity with people of colour who are living and studying in Melbourne.
If you have ever been a victim of racial discrimination, then you know exactly how it feels. If you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it. There are no words that can accurately describe how painful and degrading the experience is.
In writing this article, I am in no way trying to deter anyone from studying in Melbourne for the positive experiences that I have had here by far outweigh all the negative ones. However, I would like students of colour to know that in the unfortunate event that they experience racial discrimination, there is plenty of support available to them and they are by no means alone.
Where I come from, we believe in the concept of Ubuntu. Loosely translated, Ubuntu means humanity but the widely accepted meaning is, ‘’I am what I am because of who we all are.’’ According to this concept, we are all bound by a universal bond that requires us all to treat each other humanely, with dignity and respect. No single race can exist alone and we all need each other in the grand scheme of things.
I cannot explain how unsettling it is to see someone clutch their purse tighter when they see you approaching them. To be followed by security in a store because they think that you might steal something. To have racial slurs screamed in your face on public transport when you have not provoked anyone.
When I look back at these incidents, I try to think what it is about my appearance that makes me come off as a threat… but I have realised that my stature or the way I present myself has nothing to do with it. It is all based on the colour of my skin and stereotypes but I am tired of being judged purely on that.
I am tired of being judged not by the content of my character but by the amount of melanin in my skin. I’m tired of being denied access into certain venues because my skin colour automatically qualifies me as a member of an ‘’African gang’’ who is just there to cause trouble. And I am exhausted by people complaining to me about how terrible Africans are and then they end their rant with, ‘’Oh, but you’re not like the rest of them. You’re different.’’ As if that will soften the blow!
Racism is not something that people of colour should learn to live with. It is something that has a devastating impact and can leave victims with permanent scars. Fear, poor self-image, difficulty accessing health care and gaining employment are not things that people can just learn to live with. Racism is a violation of basic human rights that alters people’s quality of life. Therefore, here are some of the things that can be done when one faces racial discrimination:
First and foremost, report! Situations can only be addressed if attention is drawn to them.
Make a report to the student support services at your school and they will advise you accordingly. Also, do not hesitate to access the services of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and report any incidents of racism that occur to you or that you witness occurring to other people. Accessing the services of the Commission is free and reports can be made in various ways. You can contact the Commission in person, over the phone or email.
Advocate for one another! If you see someone being discriminated against, do not sit back and wait for someone else to step in. Be the change, speak up and be a supportive bystander.
If the situation looks unsafe, call the police. If you are on public transport, which is where incidents mostly occur, alert the driver immediately.
Film the incident and hand over the footage to the authorities. We live in a digital generation where we all have our mobile phones on us all the time. Just taking your phone out of your pocket and pressing record can save lives.
You can also sit next to the victim as a show of solidarity and try to stall until help arrives.
Do not suffer in silence! Get in touch with Study Melbourne, they have counsellors and advisors who can support you and ensure that your voice is heard.
There are no special qualifications needed to fight against racism. If an ordinary girl from a small Zimbabwean town like myself can do it, anyone can.
Collective effort is such a powerful tool. If each one of us takes a stand and makes a commitment to reduce racism, just imagine how much of an impact our efforts will make when put together! Racism is like a cancer that is eating away at our society but curing it is possible.
Dear international students: I see you, I stand with you, I am you. May we all stick to the guiding principles of Ubuntu and fight racism peacefully, with purpose and as a united front. Let us not wait until more people of colour lose their lives before we take a stand.
I hope you all enjoy your studies knowing that you have access to support. Stay safe!
There is no place for xenophobia and racism in Victoria. Study Melbourne works with many organisations including student representative bodies such as the Council of International Students Australia (CISA) directly addressing discrimination impacting international students, and supports the Future Female Conference, as a celebration of Women of Colour in Victoria.