“I have just read the story of Atem Atem, which refers to confronting racism [Face-to-face with racism, ANU Reporter Vol 47, No.2].
“I found the story most disappointing in its emphasis on the negative. I don't attribute any blame to Atem as I presume he did not write the story himself.
“Rather, the author of the article has specifically focussed on one particular instance that Atem experienced to extrapolate a general proposition that racism is rife in the Australian community, or at least in and around Canberra, where Atem is currently residing.
“It seems to me that the person Atem came across, despite using abuse related to his skin colour, was very likely a person with a severe mental problem.
“I don't think it is reasonable to classify that incident as a "racist" attack any more than the abuse hurled at me could be considered an "ageist" attack or a "misogynist" attack – both are straight forward mental health issues.
“The article about Atem goes on to talk about his discussions with other colleagues and notes that many were very supportive of him re wearing a flag T-shirt.
“Atem has been accepted to do a PhD at ANU, which has literally dozens of nationalities on its campus and where, in my experience, being black, red, white, Asian, African, French – whatever – was completely unremarkable. In my two years studying at ANU I never saw or heard any examples of racism and I'm sure that if I had, it would have been condemned by every person I knew at the Uni.
“I think the advantages and freedoms with a person like Atem, coming from difficult beginnings and taking advantage of the opportunity to better his education and opportunities, should be emphasised rather than focussing on two individual instances of poor or insensitive behaviours which can happen to anyone for all sorts of reasons.
Let’s have more balance in this area.”
Christine Davitt, MSA (Hons) ’06, Forestville, NSW
Editor’s note: This story came to ANU Reporter’s attention through an article in The Canberra Times. Atem wrote directly to ANU Reporter after this article because he felt racially abused. ANU Reporter spoke to Atem and he agreed to share his story with our readers.