One of the most powerful things I have learnt from my children is that we’re not born racist, sexist or elitist. Discrimination is learned.
While babies apparently emerge from the womb with an innate aversion to Brussels sprouts or broad beans, the same pre-set tastes don’t apply to people.
A child in a wheelchair is a would-be friend in a chair with wheels. A kid with an unusual appearance or outfit is just another potential playmate — until a toddler’s acute radar senses that other people are reacting differently to their new acquaintance.
My son, Lawson, began teaching me from the moment I saw him perched in a supermarket trolley, smiling at and flirting with another shopper.
Before our trolleys lurched in different directions, the shopper turned to compliment me on my toddler. She had a skin condition: dark growths over half her face. Where adults may have recoiled, Lawson saw the whole person, not the blemishes. And her radiant smile showed she appreciated that.
Lawson attends a creche where he mixes with a kaleidoscope of kids, staff and parents from countries such as Chile, China, Ethiopia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Philippines, Somalia and Vietnam. He is learning by experience about different cultures, religions, festivals and foods. He will be the better for it.
Two of the older children Lawson quickly took a shine to are twin boys of Italian-Australian origin. The twins are fair and freckled but Lawson doesn’t see them this way.
We know this because at the creche there is a mural of children from many ethnic backgrounds. Near its centre, two grinning dark-skinned boys share a permanent embrace. Lawson has often pointed to them and told us that the lads pictured are his friends, the twins.
It’s the smiles he sees, not the pigmentation. He is colour-blind in the best possible way and I intend to follow his example when I exercise my vote this Saturday.
If adults were as compassionately colour-blind and fair-minded as children, we would not tolerate inequality or difference. We would make the health and well-being of our indigenous peoples an urgent priority, doing our utmost to correct the tragic disparity between the life expectancies of Aboriginal and other Australians.
We would apologise for the policies of past governments that demolished indigenous families and cultures and wrought the inter-generational damage that continues apace today.
We would treat people with respect for paying us the compliment of wanting to join our country, rather than incarcerating them and their children for longer periods than many convicted killers, rapists and paedophiles.
We would abolish ill-conceived, wasteful bribes such as the $3000 baby bonus that throw money at some families (and not others), regardless of whether they need it.
We would tackle poverty here and overseas, rather than spending millions on wars not sanctioned by the United Nations.
We would attend to the thousands of disadvantaged Australians languishing on waiting lists for medical, residential, therapeutic and other support services.
And we would commit ourselves to the Kyoto protocol as an important initiative to preserve our planet for generations to come.
Hate-fuelled atrocities such as September 11, the Bali bombing and Beslan mean we have lost our social innocence. We can’t see our world through the eyes of a child.
But when we vote we can think about the world we want our children to inherit and the goodwill we want Australia to have as a member of our global community.
Whoever gets elected represents our children. Hopefully it will be someone who leads a government that resents, rather than represents, discrimination and inequality.
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