Table of Contents
- A List of Important Quotes
- Sample Essay 1: How does racism operate in Australia in The Hate Race?
- Sample Essay 2: ‘Finding a place to belong is a fraught process in The Hate Race.’ Discuss.
- Sample Essay 3: Discuss the role and power of language in the text.
- Sample Essay 4: Discuss the portrayal of the adult characters in The Hate Race.
- Sample Essay 5: Living with racism is described in the text as harbouring a “smouldering stifled rage.” To what extent is Maxine’s life characterised by rage?
- Sample Essay 6: How is identity formed and challenged in The Hate Race?
- Sample Essay 7: ‘Anger is the defining note in The Hate Race and Charlie’s Country.’ To what extent do you agree?
- Sample Essay 8: How are the protagonists of The Hate Race and Charlie’s Country pressured to conform to society’s expectations?
- Sample Essay 9: “I want to go home now… back to my own country.” “This is my country, that much I am sure.” How do both texts explore the need to belong?
- Sample Essay 10: How do The Hate Race and Charlie’s Country develop and explore notions of identity?
The Hate Race (2016) is an acclaimed memoir from Australian poet and author of Afro-Caribbean descent, Maxine Beneba Clarke. It tells a story of her childhood, growing up in Sydney, Australia, in the wake of the recently dismantled White Australia Policy. Lightly fictionized – for reasons, Clarke writes in her acknowledgements, of privacy and narrative necessity – it is an example of creative non-fiction; that is, non-fiction which employs fictive elements, structures or stylistic devices.
Although bracketed by scenes from Clarke’s current life in Melbourne, the book’s main narrative begins with the marriage and emigration of her parents. Clarke’s Jamaican-born father is a highly-qualified mathematician, and her mother a Guyanese actress. They are part of Britain’s vibrant Afro-Caribbean diaspora and “Black British to a tee.” The memoir opens in the 1970s in Britain, a time of economic turbulence and rising levels of racial tension. Politicians such as Enoch Powell are whipping up paranoid anti-immigration hysteria, disenfranchised youths turn to extremist groups and roam the streets. When an opportunity to work at a university in distant Australia calls Clarke’s father, it seems like a path out of an increasingly unstable Britain and into a new life of plenty. It was an opportunity opened by the final, complete abolition of the Immigration Restriction Act.
The Immigration Restriction Act was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the newly federated Parliament of Australia in 1901. Known more commonly as the White Australia Policy, the Act mandated a dictation test for immigrants which could be set in any European language. While Australia did not officially bar immigration based on race, it relied on the Act to provide a thin but effective mask for the virulently racist attitudes of the Australian government. The Act began to be dismantled under Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies, heralding a new era of movement into the nation. Consequently, the 1950s and 1960s saw increasing numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe fleeing the aftermath of the Second World War. The Immigration Restriction Act was finally completely abolished in the mid-70s by the reform-driven Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam – “that sensible man,” as he is referred to in The Hate Race. This is the vital historical context of Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir. Over the ensuing decades Australia would see increasing numbers of immigration from all around the world, leading to the vibrant multicultural democracy which exists today. Clarke also charts the dark flipside of this change, noting the rise of racist and xenophobic movements and politicians in the Australian mainstream.
The Hate Race is predominantly about the experience of growing up black in a predominantly white country. It explores the many permutations of racism, from outright, thuggish abuse in the school playground or from bigots in the street, through to more ‘benign’ or casual assumptions or slights. Clarke’s memoir is about one girl’s attempt to find an identity for herself while others constantly seek to define her according to their own expectations and prejudices. The Hate Race explores the utterly corrosive effects of constant marginalisation and abuse. However, it is also a memoir about a young black girl developing a love of literature and language. It is a memoir about self-expression, about family, and strength. There are victories, if small ones, alongside the relentless humiliations. The Hate Race charts what is for many Anglo-Australians a familiar, even deeply nostalgic trajectory through the last decades of the 20th Century, replete with Women’s Weekly cookbooks, Cabbage Patch Kids and all the accoutrements of a suburban Australian childhood of that time – but does so from an angle which will be unfamiliar to many readers.
The Hate Race enjoyed widespread critical acclaim upon publication. Clarke won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award Multicultural NSW Award 2017 and was shortlisted for a range of similarly prestigious prizes, including the Stella Prize and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction.
Charlie’s Country is a 2013 film from Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer, written by de Heer and the film’s star, David Gulpilil. Set in Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory, Charlie’s Country follows Charlie, an Aboriginal man living in an isolated community, as he struggles with a profound sense of cultural dislocation. The script is minimal. Over the course of the slow-burning plot Charlie attempts to leave the community, in which he feels stifled by the white police force, and instead live in country. Initially hopeful sequences of Charlie living on the land, hunting fish, cooking in traditional ways and sleeping under an outcrop of rock adorned with Aboriginal iconography give way to near-death in monsoonal rains as Charlie’s health declines. He is sent to Darwin for treatment, where he becomes involved with a hard-drinking Aboriginal group living under Intervention-era policy. An alcoholic spiral sees him convicted of assault. After serving time in prison, Charlie returns to his community, and the film ends with him teaching local boys traditional dance rituals.
Like The Hate Race, Charlie’s Country is concerned with living black in Australia. A crucial difference is that Charlie suffers the indignity of racism on his own ancestral land, imposed by a colonial system which traditionally – and to a great extent currently – has not respected Indigenous ways of life. Where The Hate Race is largely concerned with individual racists, in the schoolyard or the supermarket, Charlie’s Country is about an entire system; indeed, there are very few irredeemable racists in de Heer’s film, with even Policeman Luke shown to feel conflicted about his job, only betraying outright and violent racism when he is attacked by Charlie. The film is in many ways more concerned with the long-term effects of cultural destruction than the actions of individual racists.
An important backdrop for the film is a notorious chapter in Northern Territorial history known as the Intervention. The Intervention was a collection of policies introduced under John Howard’s Liberal government in 2007. Initiated in response to a report detailing horrific rates of domestic violence, child neglect and sexual violence against children in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, the Intervention was characterised by broad brushstroke measures including bans on alcohol and pornography, the withholding of welfare money from recipients, and increased police presence. All of those measures feature in the film. The Intervention was wound back in 2012. You can read a broadly critical account of the Intervention here: https://theconversation.com/ten-years-on-its-time-we-learned-the-lessons-from-the-failed-northern-territory-intervention-79198 . As Diana Perche notes, the Intervention has been considered by many to be broadly unsuccessful, discriminatory, and to have ignored many of the more complex points of the report it was designed in response to. While some Indigenous leaders, such as the respected academic Marcia Langdon, expressed support at the time for some manner of drastic intervention given the unmistakeably significant threat to women and children in the area, the actual outcomes of the Liberal government’s policies have been criticised locally and internationally.
Charlie’s Country addresses these complex legacies with great poignancy and occasional flashes of humour. It is a film characterised in many ways by restraint, often focused for extended periods on the face of legendary Yolngu actor David Gulpilil and shot in a naturalistic style which eschews non-diegetic sound, with the occasional exception of muted piano music by composer Graham Tardif. Ian Jones’ cinematography provides stunning backdrops of the Northern Territory interspersed with powerful close-ups on the film’s performers. The film was generally well received on release, picking up a raft of awards, including Best Actor for Gulpilil at Cannes Film Festival.
- The remembering how it can happen anywhere, at any time.
By contrasting the banality of a school pick-up against a sudden outburst of racist vitriol, Clarke establishes the pervasiveness of racism from the prologue of her memoir.
- If racism is a shortcoming of the heart, then experiencing it is an assault on the mind.
In Clarke’s elegant summation of the racism’s toxicity bigotry is presented in binaries; of weakness on the perpetrator, and of brutality on the part of the victim.
- The cumulative effect of these incidents is like a poison: it eats away at the very essence of your being.
Clarke’s metaphorical description of racism as a poison aptly describes the corrosive effects of random and sustained bigotry on the victim’s sense of self.
- After all, what else is a story for?
Variations of refrains on singing and storytelling run throughout The Hate Race, serving to bridge the worlds of the Caribbean and 20th Century Sydney, and highlight the self-consciously creative element of Clarke’s memoir.
- That was not how the locals expected black folk to talk.
A theme which runs throughout The Hate Race is the casual assumptions by white Australians that Maxine’s parents must be less qualified, intelligent or successful than they are, as demonstrated by the surprise of the Clarkes’ neighbours to discover they speak elegant, fluent and expressive English.
- “You,” she whispered loudly, “are brown.”
The prelapsarian comparison of preschool to a paradise with a serpent establishes Carlita’s statement as a defining moment for Maxine – it is the moment when she becomes aware for the first time not of her blackness but of what this means for how others view her.
- “How dare you say something like that to Carlita?”
An experience Maxine will come to recognise as she grows up is how frequently accusations of racism are treated as much more offensive than the perpetration of racism.
- At five and a half, racism had already changed me.
Racism, in The Hate Race, is not experienced as an occasional hindrance or obstacle. Rather, it becomes fundamental to how its victims self-regulate and approach any given scenario.
- It was happening. I was turning white.
Maxine internalised racism leads her to believe that her future happiness, and all prospects of inclusion into society, depend on her shedding her blackness.
- Other than a little bit of teasing?
Many, though not all, of the characters in The Hate Race consistently fail to appreciate the constant barrage of racist abuse Maxine receives as anything other than innocent teasing.
- The pool party marked the end of longing-to-belong, destroyed the final remnants of caring-what-they-thought.
Maxine’s attempts to change the natural state of her hair may be less fantastical than her earlier wish to become white, but still represents a desire to physically alter herself for the imagined benefit of white people, a desire finally killed off by the events of the pool party.
- There’d be barbecues, and McDonald’s, and dodgy caravans or motels. There’d be the locals, gaping open-mouthed at us, in whatever small coastal or country town we’d drifted into [.]
In this passage Clarke weaves two worlds together with characteristic dexterity – that of the Australian road trip, intimately and immediately familiar to countless white Australians, and the experience of being regarded as different, which makes the familiar become strange to white Australian readers.
- My tormenters’ voices were tinged with awe. With respect, if such a thing could even be possible.
One of the most disturbing passages in The Hate Race is Maxine’s racist outburst against Bhagita, learnt from the abuse heaped on herself, demonstrating the how corrosive and infectious racism can be.
- This is how we shame it. How we make it break.
There are small moments of hope in The Hate Race, such as this incident in which the racism in the decision to award an inferior speaker a prize is called out by its beneficiaries.
- The man was trying to be nice, I knew it.
Clarke demonstrates how constantly she is viewed by white neighbours through the prism of race, even if those neighbours mean well.
- If Mr Brady wants cultural dancing, I’ll give him cultural dancing.
There are moments of high comedy in The Hate Race, including the unforgettable sequence in which Maxine, playing off the well-meaning but ignorant desires of her teachers, performs a “tribal dance” for the school, including the po-faced and deeply respectful drama class.
- My children are the descendants of those unbroken.
The Hate Race ends on a note of profound pride in the strength of Clarke’s ancestors, leaving the reader with a sense of awe.
How does racism operate in Australia in The Hate Race?
In her award-winning memoir The Hate Race, Maxine Beneba Clarke details her experiences of growing up black in a predominantly white Australia. The book contains countless incidents of overt racism experienced by the protagonist, as both a young woman and an adult. This racialized othering takes a variety of forms. Most evident is the crudest form – racial abuse, often involving slurs or derogatory nicknames. However, Clarke also explores the subtler manifestations of racism, in the form of low expectations, assumptions, and well-meaning but nevertheless racialized remarks. Finally, Clarke understands racism on a macrolevel, a systemic issue with historical contexts and trajectories. All of these levels operate simultaneously in Clarke’s memoir.
An example of the crudest form of racism opens the memoir with the rhetorical force of a bombshell. Clarke recounts a present-day school drop-off as a prologue. Minding her own business, she is interrupted by a stranger screaming racist obscenities from a car, demanding that she “go back to where you came from” and “drown your kid.” The randomness of the event is shocking. It is not, however, unusual, and Clarke recounts the first time she realised a relative stranger felt compelled to treat her contemptuously because of her race. On their first day of preschool Carlita Allan says “You are brown” – and young Maxine immediately registers the “implied deficiency.” The brutality of racist taunts encountered by Maxine through primary school and high school can be traced incrementally from that moment, beginning with Carlita’s variation on a theme mere days later: “You are greedy and brown.” Racial slurs and insults relating to excrement become increasingly common, and her peers consider the name Patch – as in a dog – to be unusually witty. At high school, racialized abuse encompasses traditional slurs, comparisons to monkeys (including forcing her to declare herself as such to gain entry to the girls’ toilets), and references to AIDs. Slurs are hurled randomly by other children as the Clarke and McGuire kids go cycling, or developed into sustained quasi-narratives amongst the bullies at high school. The apotheosis of blatant race hate probably occurs in history class, in the wake of Keating’s historic Redfern speech, when a fellow student suggests that colonisers should have “wiped out” the Aboriginal Australians “when we had the chance.” This type of extreme and overt racism is the most vicious and calculated – but far from the only variety of racism to saturate The Hate Race.
Perhaps more insidious, because less obvious, is the “innocent” racism which characterises many of the interactions between Maxine’s family and other characters. Sometimes this is a racism of low expectations, obvious from the moment the Clarkes arrive in Australia. As Clarke notes of her white neighbours’ incredulity towards her parents: “That was not how the locals expected black folk to talk.” Elegant and eloquent, the Clarkes are far from a set of racial caricatures, confusing characters such as Maxine’s preschool teacher Mrs Kingsley, who dismisses Maxine’s honest account of her parents’ professions as the product of a “very vivid imagination.” These assumptions are simply thinly veiled racism. Subtler yet is the non-intentional racializing of Maxine by others, especially well-intentioned adults, who are quick to flaunt their progressive credentials at her, purely because she is black. For example, Marcus’ father is quick to present a fairly insubstantial connection to Martin Luther King upon meeting Maxine. Likewise, Marcus’ mother is quick to drop references to black hairstyles into conversation. The overall effect is to make Maxine feel like “an exotic thing” which exists to intrigue Marcus’ parents. Even in random and should-be innocuous encounters in shops and service-stations it is impossible to escape from racialized comments. In the epilogue, Clarke is ‘complimented’ by a shop attendant who fawns over the “instinctive” way that “you people” hold their babies. Even though many of these comments are intended to be harmless, even complimentary, they are ultimately not that far away from Carlita Allan’s bluntly put “You are brown.” Whatever the intent, this subtler form of racism ensures Maxine can never forget her physical difference.
Finally, Maxine Beneba Clarke contextualises the racism she experiences in the broader, fraught history of Australia. On the first mention of the country to her parents, she lists what they know of it; that it was founded on the “genocide… of black Indigenous inhabitants,” that it had long existed under the White Australia Policy which meant it was characterised by a “lack of diversity.” Attitudes in Australia, positive or negative, are consistently placed in the broader context of Australian social and political history. The decision by the Clarkes to move is directly attributable to the reformist aspirations of the “sensible” Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. As Maxine grows up, she sees things change for better and for worse. She watches in amazement as Uluru is returned to Indigenous people, directly contradicting previous teachers’ whitewashed history of Australia in which the Aboriginal presence was “different” – presumably inferior – to white settlement. A favourite teacher shows her class a recording of Paul Keating’s famous speech at Redfern. However, the sudden opening-up of Australia, to the outside world and to its own history, creates a backlash. Right-wing populism in the form of Pauline Hanson reminds Maxine of the bullies of the playground, only “a little more tactful, and with a much broader reach.” According to Clarke, Hanson wants “multiculturalism” – the very right of people like the Clarkes to exist in Australia – “abolished.” As Clarke notes, the sort of racial tensions that led to her family leaving the UK catch up with them in the 1980s and the 1990s in Australia. Thus, Clarke teases out the relationships between crude comments in the playground and broader cultural and political shifts.
The Hate Race adroitly weaves together the layers of Australian society to depict the operations of racism. Clarke recounts racism in the crudest, most obvious form, in bullying, racist taunts, unprovoked outbursts from strangers. However, she also examines the subtler ways that racism operates, through assumptions and well-meaning racial othering. Finally, Clarke contextualises her experiences in the sweep of Australian history (and further yet in African, Jamaican, and British history). The result is a multifaceted, personal, political, and fascinating memoir.
‘Finding a place to belong is a fraught process in The Hate Race.’ Discuss.
Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir of growing up black in a predominantly white Australia, The Hate Race, is on one level a tale of a young girl trying to find a place in the world. The first important context for the difficulties faced by Maxine is historical, as Clarke must struggle with the legacies of slavery and migration. As the memoir progresses, Clarke recounts her painful attempts to change herself in order to fit what she understands as a “normal” white ideal. Finally, Maxine locates arenas in which she can find some sense of belonging, but Clarke does not romanticise environments such as family or friendship groups, unflinchingly demonstrating how fragile even those communities can be. This is not to portray The Hate Race as bleak or unremittingly tragic; Clarke is simply clear-sighted about the realities of adolescence, which can be difficult for anyone – especially when one’s race is treated as a signifier of difference or inferiority.
Conceptions of belonging often revolve around culture or nationality. In the prologue to The Hate Race, the author employs the racist tirade of a random passer-by as a springboard for reflecting on the nature of belonging. The tired banality of the racist’s exhortation to “go the fuck back to where you came from” exposes the complexities of history. To begin with, as Clarke notes, “This is my country, that much I am sure. I was born here.” What the man in the car means, of course, is that she should return to whatever singular point of origin he imagines she came from. But where is that? Clarke writes of how her parents came from England, and before that the Caribbean, via the vicious passage of the Atlantic slave trade. Her ancestors may have originated from Africa, but that was “so long ago… that Africa herself might not now recognise me.” In a poignant passage Clarke imagines her spirit being denied passage to her ancestral lands, being turned back to Australia, “The only home we know.” This eloquent reflection on what belonging can possibly mean in the aftermath of slavery and subsequent stories of migration is repeatedly flattened by students, teachers and others into caricatures. When Maxine introduces herself to her kindergarten class Mrs Kingsley asks “where are you from?” It is a question which bewilders Maxine, who answers in the only way she understands – she came from her mum. Her assertion that her parents came from England is treated as absurd. In the early chapters of The Hate Race Clarke outlines the tensions of belonging at a macro level; the only place she has ever belonged to is Australia, land of her and her children’s birth. Yet so many of the people of that country cannot bring themselves to accept that simple notion.
Over the course of The Hate Race, this constant assumption of the otherness of Maxine develops into toxic attempts on her part to belong to what she understands as wider society. One of the most disturbing manifestations of this is her initial delight at a skin condition which she assumes means she is “turning white.” She imagines that her life will be easier when she lives “on the other side, where stares on the street and nasty remarks in grocery stores weren’t commonplace.” This is clearly a naïve conclusion, borne from a childish notion of reality. However, its more ‘grown up’ iterations are in their own way equally poisonous. Clarke recounts a disastrous pool-party, which she is desperate to attend even though she knows the birthday girl only invited her because “my mum said I’d better invite you.” She describes her desire to associate with the “cool” kids as “desperately trying to grab the next rung” of the social ladder. This might not be the same as imagining that she can magically become white, but it is nevertheless a demeaning concept; she “didn’t care that she wasn’t really wanted” but was determined to attend anyway. Actually entering the pool means undoing the painful hair-straightening she had just undergone (itself an example of trying to alter a sign of difference), with disastrous results. In the long run, however, a positive realisation comes from this: it is the end of “caring-what-they-thought.” While liberating, it is also a painful realisation that no matter how much she tries, certain groups will simply never allow Maxine to belong.
There are moments in The Hate Race in which Clarke seems to really and truly belong – yet even these milieus often transpire to be fragile and unstable. At school, Maxine joins the debating club, which she finds allows her to “channel her rage.” She is her team’s “secret weapon,” putting on displays of passion while quoting the words of “peaceful black revolutionaries.” For a time, Maxine appears to have found a place where she can not only belong but thrive, command attention and respect, and – although she feels a little guilty about it – utilise the words of legendary black activists to symbolically combat the ideas which make her life miserable. This scene disintegrates, however, when Eric thoughtlessly reveals that “one of my ancestors was literally a slave-driver.” For Eric, this is a “funny” and ironic piece of trivia. For Maxine, it is a callously uncaring declaration that Eric’s ancestors profited from brutalising Maxine’s; that Eric’s ancestors were actively involved in cultivating the ideas which are against Maxine every day in the schoolyard. Her debating family quickly breaks up, but Maxine still has her own family to rely on – her own world of loved ones with the same history, the same experiences as her. But even her family breaks suddenly, when her dad abruptly leaves without warning. Shockingly for Maxine, the neighbours, so many of whom treated the family as an exotic presence, notice Bordeaux packing his car. The bonds of family are challenged not only by Bordeaux leaving Cleopatra for another woman, but by the fact that he “broadcast his departure to the entire neighbourhood even before telling his kids or his wife.” This is not to say that Clarke’s entire world of belonging within her family is shattered – but it does prove just how fragile any community of belonging can be.
The Hate Race is in many ways an exploration of the difficulties of belonging, of its attractions and its tensions. Clarke describes belonging from the perspective of a history shattered by slavery, the poisonous effects on the psyche of the desire to belong to a hostile world, and the fragility of communities of belonging. In the acknowledgements to The Hate Race Clarke stresses how much her life was also characterised by joy, and how certain she is of her identity as an Australian of Afro-Caribbean descent. The Hate Race, then, is not an account of her failure to belong, but the testament of an identity passionately fought for.