The Hate Race is Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir of growing up black in a white, middle-class Australian suburb in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s an enjoyable, rollicking tale of happy childhood memories peppered with shocking jolts of ingrained racism and unchecked bullying.
It’s always fun to read a childhood memoir by someone who grew up at the same time as you. Someone who remembers how important Cabbage Patch dolls were and why the length of the house telephone cord dictated the level of privacy you enjoyed when chatting to your first boyfriend.
Maxine Beneba Clarke and I graduated from primary school in the same year – 1991. She lived in outer Sydney, I lived in outer Melbourne.
We both had fathers who were teachers. We both loved to play with words, spend our summers reading and shed metaphorical blood from the negative 3rd speaker position during interschool debates.
But her skin was black, and mine was white. Back then, that really mattered.
The refusal of Australia to confront its own racism is coupled with the inability of society in the 1980s and 1990s to even recognise – let alone deal with – bullying in schools. Kids were told they were being too sensitive, that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’. To suck it up sweetheart, toughen up sunshine.
But words do hurt. Over time, they break people.
Clarke illustrates the journey from happy, confident preschooler to sullen, withdrawn and self-destructive teenager. She starts out trying to fight the racism and bullying as early as kindergarten, but soon discovers that, outside of the home, she has no protectors.
And just in case you thought that racism is a problem that exists only in Australia’s past, Clarke pulls no punches. She starts her memoir with a current-day story of being verbally assaulted by a passing motorist. On a public street, on the way to pick up her child from school, while pushing a pram containing her baby.
We’ve come a long way in the past twenty years, but we still have a long way to go.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.