‘When race and class collide…” by Alice Pung

An excerpt from “When race and class collide, the biggest challenge is using your voice” by Alice Pung first published on The Guardian.

When you are seven months pregnant, your husband and you go to a local hardware store. When you return 20 minutes later to the carpark, someone has put a folded piece of paper on your windscreen, held down by the wiper. You think it’s just an advertisement, but when Nick unfolds it to take a look, he grows very agitated. “I’m going to see if anyone else got this on their cars,” he tells you, and returns a few moments later. No one else has anything on their windscreen except you.

You take the paper from him. At first it seems like a badly photocopied advertisement: a picture of a black boy and a white girl, both around ten years old, well-dressed, perhaps a promotional shot for an American 80s sitcom. The children are inside a circle, which you think is the frame of the picture, until you realise that the image inside is cut into quarters by a large thin cross. In large capital letters on top of the picture are the words: STOP RACE MIXING. Then you realise – the kids are targets inside the barrel of a gun.

“Don’t worry,” you say to your husband, “I bet that STOP RACE MIXING person has a whole collection of posters he carries around, so when he sees men holding hands he probably pulls out his STOP GAY MARRIAGE and when he sees redheads eating bagels he takes out the STOP GINGER-JEWS one.”

You find the incident harmless enough. Some cowardly moron is probably sitting in their car waiting to see your reaction thinking, ha! that’ll teach those miscegenating fornicators a lesson.

When you tell your friends at the university college where you live and work, they are incredulously horrified and outraged. “Clearly mentally ill,” they say. Or, a little self-righteously, “Who are these people? They don’t represent me or my country.”

But you know who these people are. Oh yes. STOP RACE MIXING and you go back a long way. When you are a 16-year old sales assistant at your dad’s electrical appliance store, old ladies come in and say, “can I have an Australian salesman, thanks.” And you dutifully go and find Joe the Italian or Jim the Macedonian.

When you are 10, mum walks you home from school and sees a man mowing the lawn across the road. “Go ask him how much he charges to cut grass,” she tells you. Mum speaks no English and the only literature she reads is the Kmart and BiLo ads that come in your letterbox every Tuesday. You do as she asks. The man, an older man with a face like beef jerky left out of the packet for too long, hollers at you: “I DON’T DO YOUSE!” You report to mum, “He doesn’t cut grass.” “Of course he does, I’ve seen him doing the other lawns around here. Go back. He can’t hear you through the lawnmower noise.” You go back. He yells at you again. “GIT LOST I DON’T DO YOUSE.” You are mortified and ashamed, and at that moment you hate Beefjerk but also your mum for not getting it, for making you ask.

Alice (bottom right) was a participant in the WrICE program, travelling to China in 2016.