[OPINION] Silence & acceptance of racism close to home make us complicit

The thing that racism enjoys the most is complicity. It’s a branch of evil that thrives in the awkward silences and nervous laughs when a k-bomb or similar racist occurrence surfaces. We find it among close friends and family members, sometimes even among strangers. And often we have neither the courage nor the inclination to speak against it. We remain civil at the dinner table, and afterward we shrink back to check our wokeness on our timelines.

“How can a family member be racist, and yet I consider myself not racist? Oh well, you can’t choose your family, right?”. And we move along.

Except that you CAN choose your family. The idea that just because a relative or close friend is racist we should look the other way is ludicrous. We can get up from the dinner table, we can excuse ourselves, call them out, draw a line in the sand – leaving no doubt, no awkward silence and no grey area.

There’s a difference between the racist video of #AdamCatzavelos and say Vicki Momberg’s tirade caught on camera. Momberg verbally assaulted a police officer and hurled her abuse very publicly. She was caught off-guard. The video Catzavelos made was more intimate, it was meant for a closed group. He didn’t post it on social media himself. He was fully in control, and aware of his repulsive behaviour.

Go back, and listen to his tone and conviction in his voice. Take note of his confidence. This is not the voice of a man who believed his friends and family would find him offensive. This is also not the voice of someone who used the k-word for the first time. As far as we know Catzavelos believed he was talking to people who shared his bigotry, and who have condoned his racism before.

The fallout over Adam in his so-called Eden has been spectacular, and deservedly so, but it doesn’t end there. Much of the banning and exclusion of Catzavelos from business and social circles has been about self-preservation, rather than atonement, and ownership of the problem. The Catzavelos family needs to own this sorry episode instead of trying to cut off a branch, why not heal the entire family tree with more meaningful engagement and service to disadvantaged communities. A racist inheritance is poisonous to the tree in its entirety.

Nike closed shop for fear of violent protests, and Catzavelos’s family business cut him off. Smart moves. Suddenly, for 24 hours, racism became this contagious disease that no one wanted to be around or in contact with. Everything and mostly everyone Catzavelos came in contact with wanted nothing to do with him. He was so offensive that even his family couldn’t bear with him? Or perhaps having created an environment where Catzavelos felt comfortable enough to use the k-word was the real shame?

It’s easy to present racism as something you just catch like a virus, and that it chooses its victims at random, like cancer. But to deny that racism is bred in children from a young age is to deny the root cause of the problem. Racism is an ideology formed in the home and reinforced by the power relationships that exist alongside that ideology. It needs to be dismantled in the home before it manifests on our timelines.

We raise our children to behave in a certain way, and we raise by our own example. And so, the things we actively teach them like “please” and “thank you”, cleanliness, how to eat tidily; and the things they learn unconsciously like self-worth, patience, courtesy, humour and respect for others, are what shape them as human beings.

Out in the real world, it’s too late for warnings. To be racist is to be less of a human, and it is never acceptable. Prepare them for that world, while you lecture them about drinking and driving.

Catzavelos is no child, but he is someone’s son and he is someone’s father. Without a doubt, his children are being taught a lesson in not being racist today through the experience of their father.

As an adult, Catzavelos made a choice to be racist – and in choosing his racism chose ignorance over enlightenment which no doubt his privileged position in society afforded him. He chose to be racist, he chose a particular view of his fellow human beings, he chose to make those beliefs public (and we’re glad he did) – and he is now paying the price. We knew there’d be more Penny Sparrows and Vicki Mombergs. And there’ll be more Adam Catzavelos because bigotry needs oxygen.

There’s a standing joke about everyone having that drunk uncle in the family. For many white and brown families, it could be the drunk, racist uncle - the crazy one we try to shield during the wedding reception who’s treating the waiter badly. It’s time we kicked that uncle to the curb and banished him from the dinner table not just as an example to our kids, but as a way to fix us.

You don’t have to use the k-word to be a racist. Complicity and acceptance of bigots like Catzavelos in our everyday lives, without calling them out make us more culpable of racism than many would like to admit.

Adrian Ephraim is deputy news editor and national sports editor at Eyewitness News. He’s a writer and digital media expert with nearly 20 years in journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @AdrianEphraim