Dealing with racism

Although in our interviews we did not ask any specific questions about racism, many people raised it as one of the challenges they experienced while growing up.

Unfortunately, there are no clear strategies to avoid experiencing racism, but the people we spoke to shared their experiences of how they dealt with it when it happened.

For some, experiences of racism shaped their career paths.

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I mean, just recently, someone, like a mutual friend of ours went on Facebook and went viral with it about sharing about their experience growing up as an Australian-born Tongan here in Australia and facing racism and it made me realise…and my brothers, we all watched it together and we’re like, “Wow, we weren’t the only ones that went through this.” I wish at that time I knew that, because I felt like we were just isolated in that way, that it was only happening to us, but in actual fact, I think a lot of us in some way have had to face racism in growing up here in Australia, as Tongans or Islanders.


I guess one of the few challenges that I was kind of met with, was the colour of my skin, obviously the ethnic side of things. I’m obviously Tongan Australian. Even though I was born here, my parents are Tongan and a lot of the things that I kind of went through in primary school was, yeah, things like…today nowadays they call it bullying and…but to me, it was more like them profiling you on who you are, and so that was some of the things that I had to deal with growing up. because when you get into a fight you got some good kids in your school who try and defend you and they’ll go, “Oh, leave my picker alone.” And so you, you feel like, “What the…?” Because you feel like, “Am I a picker?” But obviously they’re referring to the job that your parents are doing.

And so it was kind of degrading at the same time, but I guess I was the type of person who wasn’t too affected by it, because I kind of was…maybe just had this blocker in my mind growing up as a kid to push through, even through those things that I went through in life.


And Year 10, I started VCE in Year 11, which was hard for me because I knew that I could do VCE, what I was actually encouraged to do [was] VCAL. And that didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t like that. I knew VCE was going to be hard, but I knew I was capable. Come Year 11, resilience and ambition was lacking a lot because of the stereotype, because of the opportunities that were available, because of the barriers that were in my head that were drilled into my head by my surrounding community.

And one of, one thing that just gets me, it’s so patronising, is they’re always like, “Oh, are you Islander? You must be really good at music. You have really beautiful voices.” Yeah. We have beautiful voices, I don’t. I can’t sing. But in saying that, that’s all, they kind of think we are, that we can just, we’re just good at performing. We’re good at playing the guitar and singing. It’s patronizing. We are capable of so much more. And so I was like, “I am Islander, but I wanna do VCE I think, you know, I’ve got some things to learn. I’ve got some catching up to do, but I can do it. And I want to do it.”


I looked on this job search website and I found a job that was working as an assistant to an Indigenous Australian health consultant. Luckily I got the job obviously because I had experience in business administration. But also because there was a connection between my experience as a Melanesian person living in Australia and the experience of my sort of employer who was obviously an Indigenous person. I think there were some overlaps in experiences of being displaced from your own land and experiences of racism and wanting to reconnect with culture and being on this journey to reconnect with your culture and community, that I think that overlap of the Pacific Islander experience in Australia and the Aboriginal experience, there was a few similarities there.

I think because there was that personal experience that I had, I think that actually helped me more in getting that position at this consultancy. While I was working for the consultancy, I really enjoyed it because this particular consultant specialised in combating racism in the Australian healthcare sector. Being able to share my own experiences of racism in Australia really helped me perform in that job.


There was a lot of racism where I lived. And being different, you could have been different in a whole range of reasons. You were going to get picked on and so this is why I was picked on because I was brown, I was Fijian. I think as I grew older, I realised that that difference was going to be something I had to learn to manage or embrace so that I could (a) survive. But more than that, I really wanted to thrive. I wanted to have a life where I could have confidence to do any and all of the things I wanted to do. And so for that it really was probably a confusing time, I would say right throughout high school.

I remember having an English teacher. She just didn’t think I was very smart and I just remember working my butt off and I came first in the year for English. It made me realise and notwithstanding, there’s always challenges and these might not always come off for people, but it made me realise if everything’s in the right spot and I work hard enough, I’m pretty sure I can pull off most things I want to do. And that was important to realise that I had that ability to do it on my own. I think especially when you don’t feel like there’s a lot of support around you.

Working hard was important because as we all know, we tend to have to work harder than others to prove that we should have a seat at the table or that we are smart enough to be in the room or any of those things. I even think becoming a lawyer was a part of that, for me was proving that I could be a lawyer. At the universities in Australia, I could get a law degree, I could practice law just like the rest of them.

  • ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
  • Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
  • Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
  • Ashirah – University student
  • Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
  • Chris – Field Officer (HR)
  • Christopher – Carpenter & Stonemason
  • Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
  • David – App company CEO
  • Elisabeth – Teacher
  • Elvina – Building Services Mechanical Engineer
  • Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
  • Grace – Airline Customer Service Agent
  • Leki – Physiotherapist
  • Luisa – Registered Nurse
  • Malelega – Legal Assistant
  • Marita – Writer
  • Rose – Workplace Consultant
  • Sefita – Community Engagement Officer
  • Semisi – Lawyer
  • Talei – Lawyer & Community Engagement + Government Relations Consultant
  • Teisa – Medical Doctor
  • Tevita – IT Professional
  • Thom – Make-up Artist
  • Venna – Lashing Business Owner & Trainer
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