The litany of the abuses and humiliations heaped upon Clarke over the years would have been damning enough, but she also unflinchingly explores the way the racism changed her. How she began to hate and harm herself. How she cruelly lashed out at others. And how she learned how not to let it crush her.
Clarke, always a bookish child, became a high achieving student. It was her way of showing her tormentors that she was better than them. She found friends, not many, but ones who were steadfast and true. She dated gorgeous teenage boyfriends who loved her for herself. As a senior high school student – and displaying an extraordinary strength of character – she began to report every incidence of racism, every time. Her high school signally failed in its duty of care towards her but each time she reported, she forced them to do something (albeit while suffering the inevitable backlash from the tormentors). Best of all, as she got older and smarter, she subverted the system, including a glorious, hilarious episode of ‘tribal dancing’.
It doesn’t do, however, to dwell on the positives. This is not a memoir of redemption, of overcoming adversity. Instead it is an indictment of Australian society. The anger that underpins this excellent memoir delivers prose that is dynamic, piercing and damning. In that sense, this memoir bears comparison to Roxane Gay’s Hunger (which I reviewed here).
Clarke doesn’t say so, but the Hate Race is, in my view, the white race. It is me. It is probably you too. After reading this book I found myself feeling a weird empathy for all those men who profess themselves shocked when they are shown the extent of sexism. ‘I didn’t know,’ they say. ‘I wasn’t aware,’ they say. ‘It’s not me,’ they say. I, too, struggled with the impulse to claim that racism was #NotAllWhitePeople. Except that, of course, it is. And it’s incumbent upon all of us to do something about it.
Don’t know where to start? Begin by reading this. Now.
But don’t just take my word for it.
- Whispering Gums thought it was essential reading too.
- While writing the manuscript, Clarke was awarded the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship (2014) and an Australia Council grant.
- The Hate Race won the 2017 Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000), as part of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards