29 May 2024

Aussie author wants to talk with Wagga about elephants and casual racism

| Chris Roe
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Author Meaghan Katrak Harris

Author Meaghan Katrak Harris wants to talk through the difficult parts of Aussie culture and identity. Photo: Supplied.

Author Meaghan Katrak Harris wants to have a conversation with Wagga about the “elephants in the room”.

Her book Memories and Elephants: The art of casual racism is a collection of stories and reflections that confront some of the more uncomfortable aspects of Aussie culture, race and identity.

The social worker, academic, writer and mother of a large multiracial family will be sharing her story at the Curious Rabbit in Wagga on Friday night.

“I’d been writing for quite a few years in academia, which can be quite constricting, and there was a particular burning issue for me at the time that I thought someone should write about,” she said.

“Then I thought, you know what, I’m someone. I’ll write about that!

“So I wrote an essay called The Privilege of Sharing Parenting Fails, where I challenged the trend on social media where mums would make a joke about how they forgot to pick the kids up again, or ‘wine at five o’clock ha ha ha’.

“And while I could see that they were trying to dispel that myth of being a superwoman, it made me frustrated because they don’t know how privileged they are to be able to joke about that sort of thing.

“Black women, brown women and young mums like I was can’t afford to joke about that kind of thing or you might have child protection on your doorstep!”

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What followed was a string of essays drawing on her own experiences that were eventually woven together in a personal narrative that challenges Australians to take a long hard look at themselves.

“I was a very young mum with three kids and their dad is Aboriginal, so I saw a side of Australia that maybe a lot of white people don’t see,” Meaghan explained.

“It’s the hidden or the casual racism that many Aboriginal people deal with daily, so I wrote little vignettes about our life, our lived experience, and I put it against the sociopolitical background.”

In defining what she means by ‘casual racism’, Meaghan said it comes down to the little unconscious things that ‘otherise’ people who don’t fit the Aussie stereotype.

“For example, one of my sons gets pulled over by a police officer for a random check, then he’s asked where did he get his car? Who paid for it? ‘Oh, you’ve got better cars than us these days’.

“It’s just those throwaway lines that put Aboriginal people as ‘other’ and I use examples like that which makes me wonder how far we’ve really come as a nation.”

According to Meaghan, Australians are not good at including nuance in our defining narratives and we need a broader appreciation of our diverse and intertwining cultural stories.

“There are the Anzacs or the settlers and those ideas of our history, but we don’t do justice to the Aboriginal histories and we don’t do justice to our intersectional stories, of which there are many.”

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Earlier this year, Arts Mildura adapted the book into a play and Meaghan is hoping to take the show on the road to keep the conversation going.

“It debuted in February; it was a beautiful performance; we sold it out and we started thinking that we’d love to take this further,” she said.

“We’re very committed to the regions, so we’d love to do a tour including places like Wagga and as part of that I was invited to come and do a book talk.”

Meaghan said it was a conversation for all Australians and she was looking forward to a robust discussion on Friday night.

“You never know where the conversation will go but I’m really ready for it and I love all the hard questions we need to unravel,” she said.

“What we need is more open dialogue, and to really look at what it means to be Australian now.”

You can join Meaghan for a yarn on Friday (31 May) from 6 pm and book your tickets through the Curious Rabbit.

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