'Against anything I had ever been told was possible, I was turning white. On the surface of my skin, a miracle was quietly brewing . . .'
Suburban Australia. Sweltering heat. Three bedroom blonde-brick. Family of five. Beat-up Ford Falcon. Vegemite on toast. Maxine Beneba Clarke's life is just like all the other Aussie kids on her street.
Except for this one, glaring, inescapably obvious thing.
Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian writer and slam poetry champion of Afro-Caribbean descent. She is the author of the poetry collections Gil Scott Heron is on Parole (Picaro Press, 2009) and Nothing Here Needs Fixing (Picaro Press, 2013), the title poem of which won the 2013 Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize.
Her debut short story collection, Foreign Soil, won the 2013 Victorian Premier's Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and will be published by Hachette Australia in early 2014.
As a spoken word performer, Maxine's work has been delivered on stages and airways, and in festivals across the country, including at the Melbourne Writers Festival (2008, 2010, 2013), Melbourne International Arts Festival (2012), the Arts Centre (2009) and the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival (2013).
Maxine’s short fiction, essays and poetry have been published in numerous publications, including Overland, the Age, Big Issue, Cordite Poetry Review, Harvest, Voiceworks, Going Down Swinging, Mascara, Meanjin, Unusual Work and Peril.
She has been poetry editor of the academic journal Social Alternatives (2012), and spoken word editor for Overland literary journal (2011-12).
Maxine has conducted poetry classes and workshops for many organisations, including RMIT, The Victorian Association for the Teaching of English (VATE), Writers Victoria, Kensington Neighbourhood House and the Society of Women Writers (Vic).
Maxine Beneba Clarke and I grew up at the same time and share many childhood experiences: the desire for a REAL Cabbage Patch doll, devouring Baby-Sitters Club books, crushing over Luke Perry, watching Degrassi Junior High. We're both the children of immigrants and were bookish nerdy kids, completely hopeless at sport. But my childhood had a privilege of innocence that she was denied. This book details some of the casual, overt and institutional racism Clarke experienced as a child in Australia in the 80s and 90s. It's eye-opening, revealing and heartbreaking. The most shocking (to me) aspects of her account is the behaviour of the adults – teachers, parents, counsellors who were all complicit and excused or defended or ignored the horrendous racist behaviour/remarks/taunts Clarke encountered.
I feel really bad only giving this book 3 stars. For the purpose of highlighting racism in Australia and the harrowing effects this book does it’s job. For whatever reason the rest of the book didn’t click for me.
Being almost the exact same age as Maxine growing up in Australia going to public school during the 80’s and 90’s I can attest that the playground was a minefield, I was never personally affected by direct racism (well not to my knowledge) even though I was an extremely shy migrant kid in a sea of predominantly white Anglo faces. I do admit to witnessing some objectionable behaviours towards others, maybe I was able to blend in and therefore was never in the direct firing line but I do remember staying quiet and avoiding the spotlight being a strategic tactic in aiding my invisibility. I give props to Maxine in not backing down in rising up despite the horrific abuse at the hands of her hostile attackers, it never detracted her from following her academic pursuits, if anything it probably fueled her even more. I believe the love and support from a loving family helped in doing so. Being of Afro-Caribbean descent she wasn’t able to “just blend in” making her a target. The only thing making her a standout, the difference in the colour of her skin. My heart ached every time an insult or derogatory comment was hurled her way. This is a very personal account and it’s shameful that Australia at that time was so unabashedly and openly racist and I feel gutted that she had to endure this kind of treatment. The fact that the teachers were virtually powerless in stopping the abuse would have felt all the more soul destroying. As much as this book does a brilliant job of uncovering the ugly side of racism, I felt the book ended too abruptly and I wanted to see more of her journey outside of her childhood and high school days.
This is a really important book, and although it's situated in Australia, and delivers a particular critique of race relations there, we all have something to learn from it. This memoir is equally heartbreaking and powerful, as it details the impact of repeated moments of casual racism, inflicted on one child in Australia in the '80s and '90s. I was most disturbed by the behaviour of adults, in positions of power, protection and acting as role models, who dismissed the racism of children as teasing and thus were complicit in its perpetuation over generations. The parallels between my '90s childhood and Clarke's made me uncomfortably aware of my own privilege and that's the real power and significance of this memoir.
One of the most important books for this nation at this time. It is at times cringeworthy as Maxine shares the blatant and cruel racism she endured, and continues to endure to this day. The stories of well-meaning people whose ignorance caused deep wounds and the importance of creating a new narrative where the voices of all are valued and integrated into Australia's history, no matter how uncomfortable it can make the 'majority'.
I'm rather conflicted about this book. I live just a few suburbs away from Maxine. I arrived here in my teens, having been through a revolution, war and a harrowing escape from Iran.
Even as a migrant teenager with dark features and an accent, I don't believe I experienced the level of casual racism that Maxine did.
Maybe having gone through so much already, I wasn't willing to settle for any bullying. Maybe our growing network of Iranian families who formed the basis of our friends, shielded me from the effects. Maybe my exotic differences did not extend to Maxine's. Or maybe, like Baghita, the comments washed over me easier. I don't have a clear answer. I just know reading Maxine's experiences, I couldn't shake the feeling she leans too readily on the racism card.
But then again, The Hate Race makes me question myself in other ways. Maybe I'm part of the problem. Maybe having been exposed to casual racism (both directly and indirectly), I've grown accustomed to it to the point that it's stopped registering with me. And maybe this is no longer a good thing
‘If racism is a shortcoming of the heart, then experiencing it is an assault on the mind.’
In this memoir, Maxine Beneba Clarke writes of the racism she has experienced, both as a child and now as an adult. Here in contemporary Australia, a country which prides itself on its multiculturalism, on its acceptance of people of all hues, races and religions from around the world.
It’s a shame that the reality has never really matched the ideal.
Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian. Her parents are of West Indian descent, and emigrated to Australia from London during the 1970s. I read this book last month, and have been thinking about it ever since: thinking about the number of ways in which we ‘other’ people. How people are differentiated on the basis of skin colour, sex, religion, sexual preference. Differentiated (and often discriminated against) because of characteristics which are seen to be different (and somehow less worthy): characteristics that are part of human DNA. What is it about difference (however it is identified) that brings out a distressingly common ‘us’ and ‘them’ response? What is it in our parenting, teaching and community that enables racism to flourish? What are we afraid of?
But this is Maxine Beneba Clarke’s story, a story of specific experiences, not a generalised observation of ‘othering’. And the recounting of the specific makes it personal and uncomfortable. And it made me angry. So what do we do now? Where to next, Australia?
Brilliant memoir focused on racism in Australia. Covering Maxine's childhood in Sydney, and book-ended by recent experiences with her own children now she is a mother, The Hate Race is told through the lens of racist incidents and experiences that shaped her life. There are happy memories, but the aim seems to be to show how the cumulative weight of a racist society changes a person. How it shaped what a little girl thought about herself, how the pain of bullying manifested on her skin, how it impacted every experience and interaction.
"“I learned to stay quiet. I learned that nobody much cared. I learned that it was probably my fault anyway, and that what they were doing to me was perfectly okay. This is how it alters us. This is how we change.”
Clarke's prose is beautiful, with a lyrical, poetic quality without being unnecessarily flowery. There is lightness and humour woven throughout, even amongst some of the really awful incidents she experienced. A memorable one was the African 'tribal' dancing, which I won't say any more about, it needs to be read in context.
A powerful and sad book about growing up as a person of colour in modern day Australia. Clarke brilliantly illustrate the constant drip of racism that she was exposed to throughout her school years and emphasises the impacts of the full gamut of prejudice: from the vicious, explicit hate through to the well-meaning (but identity erasing) ignorance. The writing is clear and straightforward, conveying the story without much adornment (besides the semi-regular refrains reminding the reader that they're reading a self-consciously structured story - "this is how I tell it, or else what's a story for?" - which I found a little repetitive and distracting). But the power here is in the story - an urgent, necessary and powerful story that will hopefully be widely read.
This book gave me so so many feels. That deep pain in my chest as all those traumatic memories of being one of the only brown kids in the white school came flashing back. It's so much more than this though but still processing!
I am struggling to find the words that truely encompass the effect that this book had on me.
Beautifully written, Maxine Beneba Clarke, confronts her youth growing up in the suburbs of Australia in the early days post-White Australia policy and the deeply ingrained racism that is sewn in the fabric of the land since colonialism.
It's possible that some of the impact that this novel had on me was a result of nostalgia. Maxine starts preschool in '83. Seven years later I would also start preschool. The parallels between our childhoods are littered with 50c bags of red and green frogs and the extreme and utter lack of indigenous history taught in school. I wonder if the author wishes to confront the teacher that dismissed her bullying as "just teasing" as much as I do. Judgement runs deep in the suburbs as much as it does in the regional areas. And it's never just children.
That of course is the crux of this. The Hate Race is just as much about bullying as it is about racism. The two go hand in hand, their noxious roots weave into the soul of you, you carry it. It sits beside a never quite forgotten hatred of yourself. You stop speaking of it eventually because you get tired of hearing others urge you to "get over it" but it's the making of you.
This book also makes me unbelievably aware of my privilege. Adult Maxine still gets to receive the wonders of some ignorant arsehole screaming racist taunts from his ute, the sting of micro aggressions that come with being the identifiable "other" in a country that still has racism that runs deep and unacknowledged by the white population. And like the teacher of Maxine's youth... white australians are still more offended at being called racist then they are at what about their behaviour makes them so.
I would hope that this novel finds itself among the Australian syllabus for high school. But in a curriculum that still struggles to acknowledge this countries indigenous heritage it's unlikely. Nothing about this strays outside the Australian experience. The cream brick house. The Ford Falcon. The mention of potato scallops (the victorian in me screamed 'CAKE' at that part...). The only difference is this families skin colour. But Australia is stuck on the idea that the only stories worthy of being told are those of white people.
A very important book, which shows in great detail (through events in Maxine Beneba Clarke's youth) how pervasive racism is in Australia, and how the insidiousness of it can affect and impact upon a person's life and mentality.
Maxine Beneba Clarke mostly recounts incidents from her school years, and it is upsetting and alarming how all of this didn't happen all that long ago... making one question how frequently these kind of racist comments still happen in schools in Australia today (and in other countries too). Most books on contemporary racism that I've read have been by Americans, so this was notable for its different perspective.
A powerful memoir about growing up black in Australia in the 80s and 90s. Maxine Beneba Clarke pulls no punches about her experience which, from my white privileged position were shocking and uncomfortable and sad and made me angry. Clarke relents a little in the final two chapters, giving some insight into rising above it and coming to gain some respect in her school, which was nice to readers but detracted ever so slightly from what was otherwise a tightly woven narrative. Still, I will absolutely be adding this to the reading list for my first year class on race relations in Australia - a stunning addition to Australian literature.
In Maxine Beneba Clarke’s twitter bio, she says “I try to write beautifully, about ugly things.” And that’s precisely what she does.
The Hate Race is a stunning, devastating, and powerful memoir. Clarke tells of her ‘typical’ Australian childhood – there was just one major difference between her and the rest of her classmates – she has brown skin.
The most striking thing about The Hate Race is how similar Clarke and my childhoods were. And also how very, very different.
Clarke and I both new the joy of a first bike; catching tadpoles; perfecting bubble-writing; watching Degrassi Junior High and The Cosby Show; and playing mixtapes on our boom boxes. Her description of her local swimming pool was exactly like my local swimming pool –
“The local outdoor swimming pool was all thigh-scalding concrete bleachers and grungy changing rooms with there-since-forever hairs caught around the shower plugholes. The toilet floors were always wet with pool water from peeled-off swimmers and who knew what else. The only salvation was the pool kiosk. stocked with banana Paddle Pops, Ovalteenies in orange foil packets and fifty-cent paper bags of chewy red and green frog lollies.”
This is one example of dozens where Clarke described things that were so familiar to me, so exactly like what I remembered.
But I never hid in the toilets at lunch time.
I never had kids calling me a ‘filthy bitch’ and ‘dog’ because of the colour of my skin – and then teachers tell me that it was “only teasing”.
I’ve never had a stranger pull over in their car and tell me to “Go the f*ck back to where you came from.”
“Greg Adams called me dirty and disgusting. He recoiled when I came near him, in a deliberately exaggerated way. Greg Adams hated w*gs, and chi*ks, and ni*gers, and ab*s, and cur*y munchers. His hatred was wide, and loud, and vicious, and entitled. His hatred knew no bounds.”
This is terrifying stuff. And I only had to read it.
I could go into detail about Clarke’s arresting writing, her cleverly structured text (based around the Afro-Caribbean storytelling tradition from which she is descended) and her repeated use of the poetic line, “This is how I tell it, or else what’s a story for” but it’s not necessary. What you will take from this book are the similarities and differences in childhoods. And how damaging that can be.
I wish this story had a happy ending but I’m afraid it does not – casual, overt and institutionalised racism still exist. As Clarke writes –
“I love this country, but I believe we could be so much kinder to each other. So much more equitable. So much better. I hope I live to see it happen.”
4.5/5 I want to make this book ‘required reading’.
I've not read any of Maxine's fiction, nor her poetry, I can see I will have to. I picked up this book to read yesterday and began. I left my glasses at school and had to go and buy a pair just so I could continue reading on the train home. I'm appalled (but sadly not surprised) by the treatment of Maxine by her peers and the acceptance of such behaviour by her teachers. This is our country and we can do so much better than this people, Pauline Hanson notwithstanding. And such amazing resilience to rise above it. I was embarrassed by the ignorance of the Lions Club members who were to quiz Maxine on her knowledge of current affairs. Oh the irony! The 'something important' that her father had to tell her while mending the flyscreen reminded me of the Una Marson poem 'Black Burden':
I am black And so I must be More clever than white folks More wise than white folks More discreet than white folks More courageous than white folks.
I am black And I have got to travel Even further than white folks, For time moves on.
Th lifelong racism endured by the author in Australia is definitely worthy of examination. However the book focussed too much on cruelties perpetrated by other children - incident after incident of childhood bullying in the 80s & 90s were certainly sad & disturbing, especially when backed up by ignorant & evil adults but somewhat repetitive & unenlightening. I wanted the author to move to the present day & engage with the current racism in our country & provide some insights about how she deals with the challenges as an adult but aside from a short epilogue that, disappointingly, didn't happen.
"I wanted to show the extreme toll that casual, overt and institutionalised racism can take: the way it erodes us all."
Like foreign Soil, by the same author, this was a really awful subject - I felt angry, I felt sad, i felt ashamed, I felt like I might vomit - but the writing is so beautiful that I enjoyed it completely. If I could pick one book that everyone had to read to teach us to be kinder to each other this would be it. (There was a big hold queue at my library for this one so get on it right away!)
The Hate Race is a thoughtful, nostalgic, confronting, funny, sad, and important book. Maxine Beneba Clarke grew up in Sydney, not too far from where I grew up, in the 90s. Though she is younger than I am, there is so much that is familiar in her childhood, including her feelings of being different , being left out, being made fun of. Her "fault", however, was not being uncool, or failing to meet the current standard of beauty, it was that she is of Afro-Caribbean descent. The racism she experienced, and continues to experience, is both insidious and in your face; from those you'd expect, and those from whom you would expect protection. It is relentless, shocking and destructive. We need to know what it is like, so we can do our part in resisting this element of our culture. Clarke is a great storyteller, and this is a great story for us all.
So much of this book resonated with my own experiences of growing up in Australia. The striving to be the smartest and being the devastating third speaker on the debating team but also dealing with the debilitating small-mindedness and large cruelties of the lowest common denominator of "Australianness". That cringe we feel now - post Hanson - when we see an Australian flag is portrayed most authentically in this book. The memoir begins with a truly awful incident of racism and as Maxine Beneba Clarke recounts her memories we witness more incidents both large and small but all shameful. I cheered when the teacher threw the racist jerk out of the class and when Maxine is cast as the beautiful, smart and sassy Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night.
This book has many personal associations for me. Maxine is the same age as my daughters, she lived, and the book is based, in Kellyville just near where I live and many landmarks like my local library and various other places are mentioned. But there the similarities end. Her school life with its bullying and humiliation was appalling and though my children suffered to an extent, her experiences are something else entirely. I think many Australians are very uncomfortable with difference, whether it be colour, origin, religion, mode of dress, weight, whatever. These attitudes are fanned politically, as is described in this book. She simply asks that we be kinder to one another, not a big ask one would think, but I can't see it happening in the current political climate.
4.5 stars! It's times like this that I really wish Goodreads had that elusive half star rating. This book is so good. It is heartwarming and funny, angry (rightfully so!), heart wrenching and incredibly sad. How she does all of this in a seemingly effortless way is a true mark of a gifted writer.
This book is a must read. It opened my eyes not only to the shocking direct and indirect racism that was and still is part of our culture but also to the realities of growing up in a place where the majority of people don’t look like you and how that can affect a child. Maxine’s stories made me realize the privilege that I have in ways I had never fully considered (and am still processing). Her writing style was beautiful and incorporated details that drew me in to her life. I am not Australian and had almost no knowledge of Australian history but after reading, I think it’s important to learn about experiences of those from different countries in order to realize that these issues are so much larger scale than we may want to realize.
In this fine, exceptionally honest but disturbing memoir Maxine Beneba Clarke achieves exactly what she set out to do "... to show the extreme toll that casual, overt and institionalised racism can take: the way it erodes us all". p 257
The examples of racism described by Maxine which so destabilised her young life occurred in suburban Sydney in the 1980s and 1990s; I would like to think that things have changed for the better in the intervening years but I'm not so sure.
The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke is one of the most moving accounts of racism in Australia I've read recently. She tells an all too familiar story, which was set around the same time and area I grew up in. These were very similar experiences to my own, which lead to profound realisations of the long and short term effects of racism. Such a great book, well written, poetic and poignant. A stand out book for this year.