Countering colour prejudice in school

85% of the world’s population now wear a coloured skin; by 2050, this figure is estimated to reach 90%. When almost everyone in one’s social surround has a skin colour of some shade, what is there to notice or comment upon? The Eurasians with whom I grew up also offered a range of colours, which were of no interest to those of us who were tribally pure. Even in my tribe, there was a range of colours reflecting our origins from North India to North Ceylon. As to how skin pigmentation had occurred, I read recently that the extraordinary bombardment of Earth by extra-terrestrial particles about 41,000 years ago had led to the necessary genetic mutation. (This may also be another unproven theory; but it is the best explanation I have heard of.)

To those who have been conditioned to be proud of their civilisational heritage, displayed colour prejudice by those described as ‘whites’ (or, Europeans, as said in Malaya) is simply to be ignored; except when once I asked a yobbo in a pub ‘Haven’t you got a mother either?’ after an unpleasant encounter – but only as my companion and I were about to go out of the door, with as much dignity as we could muster in our anxiety to avoid a confrontation. However, coloured children born in Australia of mixed parentage (like my children) do not have this level of protection; and can be unfairly sensitised.

Thus, when such children are the only coloured ones, in spite of their slight colouration, but perhaps because of their names, they could experience slights. The children of Mediterranean descent knew all about this too. The ignorance and arrogance of such behaviour represented the residue of the White Australia mindset. It would take our teachers almost another generation to eliminate prejudice based on colour, ethnicity, or religion. (One would need to ask certain priests how religious prejudice became entrenched.)

But it was not a simple path. When a couple of boys cycled past our home and called ‘Hi, Abo’ to my 5-year old son, he asked his mother what an abo was. My wife, who spent part of each morning volunteering at our school (she was a stay-at-home mum to protect the only coloured children at the school), asked the principal whether he would do anything to prevent such displays of silliness or prejudice, he declined. ‘I’ll talk to the press’ she said as she started to leave.

The principal then sang from another song-sheet, assuring her that he would act promptly. At assembly the next morning, he spoke to all the children and his teachers – with great effect. There was never any evidence of prejudice thereafter. 2 mothers apologised to my wife; and all was well. This school was worth supporting; we made quite a few friends with the teachers. After all, we were all rowing in the right direction.