According to the Racism in Australia section on the All Together Now website, one in five people in Australia are a target of racism.
Eleni Pavlides is one of these people. A Greek-Australian, she’s an outgoing and very observant Bachelor of Arts student at UTas who hopes to go on to do a Masters of Teaching.
Eleni’s family is Greek Cypriot. Her paternal grandparents fled to Australia from Cyprus in 1974 after Turkish troops unleashed the atrocities of war onto the Greek island, causing bloodshed, chaos, and poverty. Her father was born soon afterward. Her mother, on the other hand, was actually born in Cyprus.
Her grandparents saw Australia as the land of opportunity, but were quickly subjected to racism shortly after their arrival. Their son (Eleni’s father) was also a victim of racism. Eleni eventually became a victim herself.
“Racism is wrong on so many levels,” she says. “When an individual is subjected to racism, particularly at a young age, they start to think they’re different. That was definitely the case for me.”
At various times in her life, Eleni and her family have travelled to Greece to visit her mother’s relatives. Upon returning to Australia after one of these trips in 2002, when she was eight-years-old, she became a target of racism for the first time. A classmate came up to her and said: “My mum said that people with dark skin don’t have showers.”
Because Eleni was still learning English at this stage, she didn’t quite understand the hostile meaning behind the comment. In broken English, she simply replied, “No, bath,” explaining that she didn’t have showers.
She eventually twigged on to what her classmate meant. When she got home later that day, she endeavoured to make her skin the same colour as everyone else’s in order to be accepted. She got a bottle of baby powder out of one of the bathroom cupboards and smothered herself with it to make herself appear whiter.
Eleni continued to be a target throughout the rest of primary school, which badly affected her self-confidence and self-esteem.
“I was called a ‘wog’ a lot in high school, as well,” she explains. “But being a lot older then, and having already experienced racist remarks in primary school, it no longer bothered me.”
She turned to her family and a group of close friends for support when it got too much for her.
Eleni wasn’t subjected to racism in college, or at UTas either. For this, she’s extremely grateful.
“I think it’s the result of changing times,” she says, “and the changing generations that have let go of backwards mentalities, like the white Australia policy.”
Eleni is now a mature young woman who is more confident in herself and her opinions.
“I think standing your ground is something that comes with age,” she tells me. “When I was younger, I was very quiet, and got embarrassed easily. So I never spoke up. I think this is why I’m such a dominant person now, because nothing good ever came out of me not speaking up. Australia is a very multicultural country, so when I find an individual who isn’t accepting someone of a different nationality, I definitely don’t stay quiet anymore.”
Even though there seems to be less racism these days, it still exists. All you have to do is read the statistics.
Australia prides itself on being multicultural, but what’s the point of that when some of our international citizens are not comfortable in their new-found home due to racism? It’s evident that something needs to be done about this issue.
Eleni believes that there should be programs and facilities that educate individuals about the impacts racism has on people of different nationalities. She also thinks that Australian children should be taught about the wonders and beauty that each country holds.
This would prevent people of diverse nationalities feeling different and lost due to others making them feel unwanted, as was the case with Eleni and her family.
“Looking back now,’ she says, “I can see how all the racism took its toll on me. For example, I’d avoid going to the ‘fun’ areas in the playground because my bullies were always there. I felt as if I was not good enough to go to the canteen or ask to play games with others at recess and lunch.”
Eleni’s advice to those who are currently targets of racism is this: “Don’t deal with it alone! No-one should ever experience it. We live in a day and age where racism is simply not acceptable. So don’t ever feel as if you shouldn’t speak up about because no-one will listen. Everyone is important, and every life is sacred.”