The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

This book has been shortlisted for The Stella Prize 2017, and is the first of the shortlisted books I have read so far.

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

‘If racism is a shortcoming of the heart, then experiencing it is an assault on the mind.’

In this memoir, Maxine Beneba Clarke writes of the racism she has experienced, both as a child and now as an adult.  Here in contemporary Australia, a country which prides itself on its multiculturalism, on its acceptance of people of all hues, races and religions from around the world.

It’s a shame that the reality has never really matched the ideal.

Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian.  Her parents are of West Indian descent, and emigrated to Australia from London during the 1970s.  I read this book last month, and have been thinking about it ever since: thinking about the number of ways in which we ‘other’ people.  How people are differentiated on the basis of skin colour, sex, religion, sexual preference.  Differentiated (and often discriminated against) because of characteristics which are seen to be different (and somehow less worthy): characteristics that are part of human DNA.  What is it about difference (however it is identified) that brings out a distressingly common ‘us’ and ‘them’ response?  What is it in our parenting, teaching and community that enables racism to flourish?  What are we afraid of?

But this is Maxine Beneba Clarke’s story, a story of specific experiences, not a generalised observation of ‘othering’.  And the recounting of the specific makes it personal and uncomfortable. And it made me angry.  So what do we do now?  Where to next, Australia?

‘There are myriad ways of telling it.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


# Shortlist Stella Prize 2017