When I first decided to do this project, I was a bit worried that people, friends especially, would think I was obsessed by issues around 'race' and racism, but, after the past couple of days, I have decided that white people, at least most white British and Australian people, are obsessed by 'race'. They talk about it all the time.

I spent New Year's Eve at my neighbour's. Had a fab time, chatting, drinking, dancing. Had a lovely long conversation with her mum, who for no logical or conversational reason, apropos of nothing at all, decided to talk about 'Pakis'. It was wierd. I couldn't see it coming and she's an old lady, dying, so I just left her to her vitriol.

She could acknowledge how much she liked her neighbours who are Bengali, though she also told me in the same breath that they have 8 children. She said that they come round with food for her sometimes. I decided to propose that the kindness might show how much respect Bengali people have for the elderly. She countered (backed up by her daughter) with a story of her falling in the street and a 'Paki' just stepped over her, without trying to help. It floated through my mind that I wouldn't necessarily help people I didn't know in the street either. I nearly always assume they're drunk or off their heads.

I remember I vomited once from illness, not drink, next to some public toilets. The people in the queue for the toilets talked about how disgusted they were at my drunken behaviour. But I was ill. And vomit waits for no queue. So I know what it feels like. I was in Spain at the time and have never blamed all of Spanish culture for the dismissive presumption of those 2 women. I don't think anyone would, unless they already hated the Spanish...

I spoke to mum on the phone today. It started out with happy new year wishes. My parents have recently been to Hawaii because my cousin got married there. At the end of my mum's description of everything that was so lovely about Hawaii, she said that it was funny because the New Zealand Maoris aren't at all like the Hawaiians. They were cannibals. "The Hawaiians have a deep respect for family, they're softer and more friendly than Maoris. And it's a truly multicultural society." To which I said, that it goes to show that we don't have to hate. I didn't point out how we, in Australia and New Zealand, are taught to understand Maoris and Aboriginal people as savages from the moment we are born. Myths reaffirm dominant society's fear and contempt for the indigenous people. I don't know whether New Zealand's Maori population were cannibals at any time in history, but that seems to be a 'fact' that has stuck in mum's mind and defines her every encounter with 'Polynesian' peoples.

I also just realised the other implication of what mum said. She stressed that Hawaii is a modern paradise. Its disparate populations are harmonious and there is no racial tension. And the natives are friendly.

In New Zealand, there is racism. Maoris, as a group, are poorer and mostly disenfranchised. Maoris are seen as 'dangerous'. They were cannibals.

Was she saying that comtemporary New Zealand (and Australia)'s indigenous people 'brought it on themselves'? Because they were bad? She said she didn't know what happend to the Maoris, if they all (Maoris and native Hawaiians) come from the same 'racial' group.

There are so many assumptions, so many myths and stereotypes that follow us around when we encounter the world. My neighbour's mum is surprised that her 2 neighbours, both of them 'Asians' don't speak to each other. She sees them as an undifferentiated group, so she doesn't understand that, like ANYONE, her 2 neighbours, might simply not like each other. Just because someone is from the same ethnic group as someone else, doesn't mean they will like each other, or be like each other. My mum thinks that just because 2 people look kind of similar, though from very different social backgrounds, different countries with different colonial histories, there must be some linkage. Blood will out. I try to remind her of her suppressed mixed-'race' background at times like these... but I didnt' this time.

NB: Like all my entries, this is subjective, from my point of view. Others may record these events differently.

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