Racist #1 – The ute driver

It’s the end of semester, and I’m bloody tired. In fact, I’m probably looking forward to the school holidays even more than my son. Boy’s totally spent as well. He’s five and a half. It’s his first year at school and believe me, you can tell when the end of term is coming. The poor little critter has been absolutely smashed with tiredness come three thirty pick-up over the last week. He shuffles his feet out of school each afternoon babbling and incoherent, offering random nonsensical insights into various parts of his day.

Man has the kids’ weekends – so much of the week for me is the lunch-box-packing home-work-hassling dinner-bath-bed-out of bed-breakfast-dressed-school mayhem. So this afternoon I’m happy: wheeling nine-month-old Girl along the main street of our white-picket-fence suburb looking forward to the next two weeks of jama-clad French toast mornings, museum trips and non-school-assigned reading.

Fuck off, bitch.

The voice comes from behind me. And I’m thinking that exactly what I don’t need this afternoon is to be caught up in someone’s very public domestic.

Go on, fuck off, the voice says again. An uneasy feeling runs down my spine and I realise this isn’t some domestic: he’s talking to me.

And I’m unprepared.

It’s been maybe twelve months since I’ve been openly abused on the street by a total stranger (albeit only a week since I last encountered obvious racism from a random member of the public). And it’s never happened so close to my home.

His white ute draws level with me, slows down. It’s around two-thirty and the traffic on North road is heavy. The car behind him slams on its breaks.

Fuck off, you black bitch, he screams from the open window, Go on, fuck off. You make me sick you fucken black slut. Go drown your kid! You should go drown your fucken kid. Fuck off will you!

My baby daughter thinks it’s funny. She’s looking toward the road and chuckling, kicking her chubby legs in glee at the loud voice coming from the vehicle.

There’s nothing to do but walk on. At that moment I’m not thinking anything. My mind is blank. I’m in shock. My knuckles are gripping the pram so tightly that the two fingertips on my right hand, which I already haven’t been able to feel for almost twelve months, are actually starting to tingle.

I look straight ahead, trying not to pick up pace too much. The turn-off for Boy’s school is a couple hundred metres away. I can hear another car beeping, and assume it’s the motorist behind the ute driver. I know he’s a young bloke but I don’t want to look any closer, because that’s obviously part of what he wants.

Fuck off blackie! Why don’t you just piss off! Bitch! The voice screams, before he puts his foot on the accelerator and screeches off.

I round the corner and once off the main road, I stop the pram and sit down on somebody’s front fence. I can’t breathe and tears are streaming down my face.

I’m heartbroken. And I’m viciously angry – not just at the young ute driver – but at myself. For reacting this way, for balling my eyes out. For letting this upset me.

And then I’m thankful. That my daughter isn’t a few years older, and that my five-year-old wasn’t walking with me.

Because how can a mother answer questions like those …

And I’m also thankful the young bloke in the ute couldn’t see the baby: her beautiful caramel skin, her to-die-for medium brown eyes, and the light brown ringlet curls starting to dance their way across her little fat head. Because after last week’s episode in the cafe, I know that this too, might add fuel to the fire.

I compose myself. I have to. The school bell rings in five minutes and I have to make up time.

The mother of a gorgeous little red-headed boy in my son’s class falls into step with me. She asks me how my day’s been. I’m still slightly shaking and can’t answer her for a moment. After a pause, I tell her I’m sorry, that I’m a little bit in shock, that some guy in a ute just started yelling at me. That usually I’d be okay but it hasn’t happened for a while … and certainly not around here …

Just now? she says, On your way to school? What did he say?

She looks absolutely dumbfounded at the incident, and even more shocked when I tell her it hasn’t happened for a while.

I can tell she just doesn’t know what to say.

That’s horrible, she offers, I’m so sorry. I don’t know … The demographic is changing around this area …

I start wondering why I told her. I appreciate her reaction: it validates the behaviour I’ve just had to endure as unacceptable. Because when you have this kind of behaviour directed toward you on an almost weekly basis, you do start to wonder.

But I don’t want sympathy.

What I want is to un-hear what I just heard. To un-experience what just happened.

Because if racism is a disease of the HEART, then experiencing it is an affliction of the MIND.

The cumulative effect of these incidents is like a poison: it eats away the very essence of your being and, left unchecked, can drive you to the unthinkable.

It’s day five of the school holidays and I’ve only just left the house. We’ve had a couple of friends over to visit but that’s it. We’re all snuffly, and it’s miserable outside so I kid myself that this is the reason, but we’ve ventured out in worse form than this. I only went out because the fridge is bare and even then, I could only just manage to buy bread, milk and eggs.

People were looking at me, and I didn’t want to keep thinking about what they were thinking.

I’m supposed to take Boy to a theatre show tomorrow while Man has a day with Girl. Boy keeps asking me am I excited? He’s been looking forward to the show for over a month and even though he’s miserably bunged up, he musters a big grin every time he remembers about the upcoming excursion. The kids’ theatre show is, quite frankly, my idea of hell, and he knows it. Which is why he takes a giggly pleasure in continually asking me about it. He takes after his mother in that respect. I tell him, deadpan, that I’m so excited about the show I think I’m going to wet my pants. He falls over onto the carpet in hysterics and then rolls his eyes, asking why he has to have such a silly mother.

I do feel like I’m going to wet my pants.

I don’t want to go out of our flat.

We might sit next to somebody who racially abuses us under their breath. The usher who tears the ticket might wipe their hand on their shirt in disgust after their fingers brush mine. The snack-shop server might spit on Boy’s hot chips during interval. Somebody might tell me I should drown my own child.

And I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian author and slam poet of Afro- Caribbean descent. Her short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the 2015 ABIA Award for Best Literary Fiction and the 2015 Indie Award for Best Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize. Her memoir, The Hate Race, her poetry collection Carrying the World, and her first children’s book, The Patchwork Bike, will be published by Hachette in late 2016.

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  1. That’s a coincidence… A couple of months ago I was standing at a bus stop in Castle Hill, NSW, when some young bloke in a white ute yelled “F’king Arab”. I had one of those moments where an explosion of thoughts erupt simultaneously in my mind and I’m too confused for a few moments to have any reaction at all. Some of these thoughts included:

    -I’m not actually Arabic, but how did he guess I was Middle-Eastern from 10 meters away in a moving vehicle? Other Persians can rarely guess my background even after talking to me for an hour! That’s kind of impressive.

    -Maybe it was my Persian tattoo? Maybe he thought I’d tattooed part of the Koran to my bare arm. Which seems like kind of a perverse thing to do. Do people really think anyone would do that?

    -What did he mean, anyway? “F’king Arab-” what? Go home, perhaps? But like, I’m clearly on my way out somewhere? Nobody catches a bus in Castle Hill who doesn’t absolutely have to go somewhere.

    -At least he’s in a passing car and not on the bus I’m about to spend an hour on.

    -Is he on his way to a Hillsong event?

    I’m sorry that happened to you, Maxine. I’m sorry it ever happens. Sometimes I think: imagine having to go through life as one of these white-ute drivers. Like, imagine if you had to be that ignorant and hateful and aggressive and closed off to the world. What a pathetic existence. At least you got to walk away, that guy has to be his miserable self 24/7.

  2. Maxine, thanks for sharing this chilling experience. I can understand why you don’t want to venture out after being the victim of such horrific abuse. I wonder if the driver would have been quite so brave had you been a man.

    I also can’t help but feel the ute bloke’s actions were fed by the climate of hatred, ignorance and intolerance that has permeated every part of our society – has there been a bleaker time in Australian politics?

    I have a story, too, though not nearly as traumatic as yours: A few years ago I went to a very Anglo party in my old neighbourhood with my son and his Singaporean partner. She was the subject of stares and whispers and not one person came up to speak to her, though a number of people asked me if she spoke English. I was pleased to tell them she spoke perfect English and three other languages.

    Let’s hope your experience was a one-off and it never happens to you again.

  3. Why!?

    Why is it almost always ute drivers!?

    Its almost as if getting into that type of vehicle necessitates the above mentioned behaviour.

    Perhaps its the petty-bourgeois nature of the employment that many ute drivers are engaged in that lends itself to this kind of mindset?

    Thank you for sharing Maxine. My deepest sympathy.

  4. It must be aweful to live everyday so full of hate for people you don’t even know. I don’t understand that.

    No one should ever have the right to make you feel unsafe to leave your own home. I wish I could promise this will never happen to you again, but I really hope it doesn’t.

    This story makes me ashamed for the society I live in. I recently had some colleagues complain that they hate all Indians (they also lumped Sri Lankans into this category), completely unaware that my beautiful, loving sister-in-law is Indian, and my boyfriend (who they have met and had dinner with) is Sri-Lankan heritage. I was so angry I couldn’t even speak.

    Keep strong. You’re not alone, nor are you the one with the problem.

  5. I too am sorry to learn that this type of behaviour is around and I hope that it decreases and that there is more acceptance of everyone regardless of heritage or bithplace.

    I note with interest that the other people commenting also talk about their disheartening experiences. I am of English/Irish heritage and I have to say that when we came to Australia in 1969, we were called winging poms – lazy Irish and other more explicit names, and also told to go home. Very confusing when you are a shy fifteen year old girl and people are saying to you things like “well coming to Australia should be no big deal for you ’cause you speak the language’. Well I didnt really but I couldn’t let on. Regardless of where people come from it seems that any sort of difference is not easy to accept.

    My one thought now for you Maxine is that by the time your children grow older they will not have to endure what you have had to.

    Olga from revedoa@blogspot.com

  6. HiYa Maxine

    Thanks for sharing your feelings… There appears to be two categories of humans on earth… People and non-people. People feel very confident in denigrating, abusing, demeaning etc non-people… perhaps because non-people have no emotions or responses…?

    I’m not sure how you get into the People category.

    Anyway… maybe in your holidays you could read some Bell Hooks… she is great and inspiring when it comes to racism.



  7. On a number of occasions, I have stepped in to tell some racist bastard to fuck off and leave someone alone. And what strikes me most about all those occasions was that the victim was always a woman (usually Arab) and often with her children. So often, these cowards wouldn’t dare approach a man and sling out this shit (unless they had their thuggish mates in tow). And every time, even my scrawny ass was enough to scare them off (although my wife worries that I am going to get the shit kicked out of me one day).

    I am so sorry that you have to deal with this. I know how simultaneously terrifying, enraging, and suspicious it can make you feel. But please believe that there are far more people here that are not horrible racists. I have to believe that.

    By the way, your little boy is gorgeous!

  8. Pathetic and outrageous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m deeply saddened and angered by your experience Maxine.
    I’m not really sure where the fear and ignorance that drives these appalling attacks comes from. An all too white, all too male media, perhaps? Never has there been, I think anyway, a time in our history when the news we’re fed, the television we’re served up, the newspapers that we’re presented with, has been greater misrepresentation of who we really are as a society. I don’t know, these things, I think, have so many facets…
    To Dave, your comment about ute drivers is treading a very similar path to the ute driver who perpetrated this attack. Your comment is prejudicial and as a ute driver myself, I believe has little merit.

  9. I am swearing behind my computer for you Maxine – what a moron (and a dangerous one) – you must feel terrible – I wouldn’t know what to do in that situation, especially when having a baby (adorable baby) with you. I am glad you write about it though because otherwise these things get hidden most of the time (and that is what they are counting on as well). I also agree with Anthony, above, – to blame all ute drivers is also judging people by a surface characteristic and is another form of prejudice.

  10. Maxine, FUCK HIM, what a bloody, oh, i’m so angry now I can’t even type a response to this…and he has achieved what he has wanted now, hasn’t he? because you don’t want to leave your flat…oh my god, does this stuff still exist..

  11. Dear Maxine,

    I find myself struggling to put into words the emotions I am feeling after reading your piece. That ute driver’s actions shame all of us; they diminish all of us. Your piece has caused me to pause and to reflect on how I behave. How can I be more accepting, welcoming, loving? You have turned an ugly, horrible incident into an opportunity for me and others to hopefully better ourselves. You are very brave.Thank you. Be strong.

  12. This such a powerful story Maxine. My reaction is of sadness and shame on behalf of white folk. I drive a white ute too (!) but would like to quickly distance myself from that kind of abuse. It reminds me of those random encounters of misogyny directed at us and my reaction of fear/anger/bewilderment. Fuck them. And good on you for writing it down.

  13. I’d never experienced bigotry until I got into a homosexual relationship and then out of many corners did it spring. My partner was far more used to it than I, she’s had to cope with snide and rude comments – not to mention the look of death – many times in her adult life, while I was struck by how intrusive the attack can be, how destabilised and small it makes you feel. And there must be an accumulative effect, I’ve got no doubt. The brutality of what you experienced doesn’t rub away easily but I also hope it won’t sink in too deep. Other than that, there should be a law against such blatant racism that Mr. Ute Man could be charged with.

  14. wow. thankyou for sharing your stories Maxine, so perfectly expressed.
    i am outraged by the shit that spews from hateful mouths & i’m hearing it more often now that i’m living back in the country (gippsland).
    power to you.

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