I was in Forest Chase - right in the heart of the city just as the sun was rising when I heard it. Music. A guitar and a tune that reached out and ran it’s fingers through my soul.
What was this?
I stopped. I literally stood still right in the middle of the cobble stone “square” and just listened.
A voice began to sing.
A man’s voice. A voice with a timbre and depths I had never heard before. Whoever was singing - was singing from the deep valleys of his soul.
I’ve never heard anything like it before or since.
My body moved of it’s own accord - following the notes; the warmth and complex layers of that voice down the stairs and into a below-ground store.
The store owner was behind the counter and greeted me with a warm smile: “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
In awe, I could only nod.
I swallowed and gathered my courage. I asked “Who is this?” and the owner seemed to know instantly what I meant. She said something like “An incredibly talented Aboriginal musician…he’s amazing, right?”
And in that moment, I mentally recoiled.
An Aboriginal…made this?
Images came to mind of Aboriginal people I regularly encounter on the gritty, grimy streets of Perth…covered in a layer of thick human-ness on their skin; sweat, dirt, human juices and body odor which stunk and made my eyes water.
Surely someone like that couldn’t make music like this?
I write about it now with the heavy weight of shame. I can’t believe those were my thoughts. I judged someone I’d never even met based on perceptions I’d formed about a people I knew nothing about. Wow.
So very wrong.
My eyes darted around the room, seemingly wanting to flee in my discomfort.
They landed again on the shop keeper’s face and in that moment she knew. I think she sensed it.
Instinctively I lowered my eyes. At least physically I knew I should be ashamed even if mentally I was a racist.
I mumbled something like “Oh. Ah. I have to go to work. Thanks” and raced up the stairs, breathless in my newfound racism and struggling with my thoughts. Somehow knowing an Aboriginal had made the music that drew me in that day turned me off it. Made me aware of the disgusting beliefs I held and hadn’t even been aware of until that moment. Had it been a white person, I would have left that day with his cd tucked into my purse…but because he was Indigenous, I fled.
I can’t believe it.
I’m a racist.
I had never come face to face with that ugly part of myself before. It was a deeply unpleasant experience.
It’s hard to admit this to the blogging community because I want to be seen in a good light by you all, but here and I now I admit it: I was wrong.
I wish I could go back, but Covid hit and the topography of the city changed dramatically. Stores closed one by one - almost as if covid had a sad, slow domino effect on the city. One store closing, then it’s neighbour…and on and on until the entire city felt like a ghost town.
So the store disappeared.
There would be no chance of a do-over.
I didn’t stay that day in the store. Oh, I wish I had. I wish I hadn’t listened to my ugly parts and had instead asked for the Indigenous artist’s name.
What was his name?
If I ever hear that voice again, I won’t hesitate to follow it, to ask about it, to buy the album, play it on repeat at home and to tell others about it with pride.
That’s the takeaway from this disgraceful, shameful confession…racists can change. I reflected on that fateful pre-work morning for months. Years, even.
And I changed my mind.
I researched Indigenous people and what I found about them was truly remarkable.
Aboriginals/Indigenous Australians are incredibly creative. They’re smart. They’re sweet, clever, funny, warm, shy, cheeky, brash, inspirational…they’re an incredible race that date back to the days of the dinosaurs. They are part of the land as much as Australia’s unique flora and fauna are. They are an extension of the land, not set apart but as guardians of all the red grains of Aussie soil, all the clear cool waters of our magnificent beaches and our bright blue skies. Their bones are probably created from the same sand and dust in rocks and cliff faces tens of thousands of years old.
Indigenous people are Australia in human form.
I was wrong. I am so very, very sorry.
…and I hope I get a second chance to hear that special voice again, because I’m not the person I was before…and the change started…with a song.
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