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18 March 2021
Reaching out to those experiencing racial abuse
Words Alphonse Mulumba
It was lunchtime on an ordinary Thursday. Hungry and tired after a 200km drive from Launceston to Hobart, the 26-year-old African man stopped by a well-known restaurant to order his favourite take-away meal – a hamburger.
For this story, we’ll call him Tatenda.
Tatenda parked his car and walked through the main entrance. “Next please!” he heard. As Tatenda began ordering, his accent caught the attention of a group of young men behind him in the queue. Clearly, he didn’t speak like an ‘Aussie’. They laughed. And laughed even harder when Tatenda looked back, covered with shame.
Just as he started eating his meal, the group occupied the next table and derisively began imitating his accent. Tatenda ignored them for some time until he couldn’t hold it in any longer. Visibly disturbed, he abandoned his meal and began walking out. Loud mockery and racial slurs followed him.
No one in the crowded restaurant said a word. Restaurant employees, people in the queue and those seated, no one uttered a word to the racist mob.
Tatenda thought, “Sometimes, silence is consent.” As he wrestled with a million other thoughts, and feeling unwanted in his new country, he missed his step, stumbled and fell.
The mob laughed, humiliating even more the vulnerable, quiet man who kept silent to avoid any physical confrontation. Tatenda had learned that lesson from many other painful, racial experiences in the past.
That was seven years ago. Tatenda still relives the scene. He thinks twice before going to any restaurant alone. As confident as he looks, he is still scared, and a part of him still thinks he doesn’t belong here. Not even his Australian passport can convince him otherwise.
Racism hurts. Racism dehumanises. Racism is a slow killer. Racism still exists.
Tatenda now works for the Salvos. He believes there are many others out there who live in the shadows and continue to suffer, and relive, the racial abuses they were victims of in the bus, at the train station, in shopping malls, in interview rooms and all over this country.
Tatenda’s work with the Salvos uses his experiences to fight for an inclusive and equal society and support the Salvos’ mission to create a welcoming environment for all.
Alphonse Mulumba is a former Salvos coordinator for the Diversity and Inclusion team.
Many may ask, why does this even matter?
The fight against racism and other forms of injustice is at the centre of the work and belief of the Salvos. We follow the example of Jesus, who held all humans equal and of great value. He died for them – for us all. Our work then, should be all about diffusing the love and unity of the Gospel, rather than disunity and differences brought by race and skin colour.
Consider these words from the Bible in the book I Samuel chapter 16, verse 7, ‘’The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
As an international movement, The Salvation Army knows and believes that, “Racism is fundamentally incompatible with the Christian conviction that all people are made in the image of God and are equal in value. The Salvation Army believes that the world is enriched by a diversity of cultures and ethnicities. The Salvation Army firmly believes that racism is contrary to God’s intention for humankind” (Salvation Army International Positional Statement on racism).
For the full statement, go to salvationarmy.org/isjc
As Salvos, we want to share the unconditional love of Jesus with all humanity. Just like Jesus, we cannot see injustice and pretend it never happens.
What can we do? Here are a few suggestions:
For more information, check out these links:
Salvationarmy.org/isjc (Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission)
Salvationarmy.org.au (search ‘racism’)
Salvosmagazine.org.au (search ‘racism)