Maxine Clarke’s The Hate Race and Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country depict a society divided by race and cultural values, revealing the difficulties faced by people of colour in navigating a world characterised by social conflicts and hostility. In their respective texts, Clarke and De Heer portray race relations as inequitable and imbalanced, as the racialised ‘others’ struggle in negotiating the norms - which conceptualise ‘normality’ and ‘naturalness’ - in multicultural Australia.
Clarke’s anecdotal recount of her childhood experience as an Afro-Caribbean woman represents a system of values that disenfranchises individuals based on their ethnicity and race. Her agency is undermined by the entitled sense of power exhibited by her white peers, which sometimes manifests in the forms of bullying and vicious victimisation.
Likewise, de Heer’s film portrays an Indigenous community suffering from the consequences of European domination, as exemplified in the protagonist Charlie’s struggles. Under the Intervention, the community is robbed of their rights to the land, their freedom to maintain Indigenous practices, and, most importantly, their self-sovereignty. Hence, the film underscores the dangers of racial prejudice and alludes to its lingering impacts on Indigenous communities in Australia.
Notes: If you enjoy this blog, don't miss out on our upcoming $5 Crucible & Dressmaker lecture by Ella Waldman (50 in English, 99.85 ATAR) to learn how to write a perfect scorer in the exam. See bottom corner of this page!
The Hate Race:
Maxine Clarke's memoir, The Hate Race, delves into her life as a Jamaican descendant in Kellyville, Sydney. Born to Mathias and Cleopatra, immigrants from Jamaica and descendants of African slaves, Clarke's experiences provide a rare, poignant insight into growing up black in Australia.
Their journey of migration paints a vivid backdrop to the narrative, contextualising Bordy's view that racism is "treating people differently" because of their origins. Clarke further alludes to the racial battles fought by her grandparents in post-war Britain, touching upon their struggles with xenophobia and exploitation, which left a deep impact on their lives.
This memoir reveals the deep-seated and institutionalized racism in Australia's education system that Clarke faced growing up, leaving a profound mark on her self-identity. It elucidates the diverse forms of racism and their consequences on the individual, making Clarke's story a crucial read for understanding racial dynamics in Australian society.
Set in Ramingining, a community impacted by the Intervention, De Heer’s film, Charlie’s Country, elucidates the danger of cultural ignorance and racism in Australian society.
The protagonist Charlie, an Indigenous elder, witnesses the destructive changes brought to his community by the Intervention. Despite the government’s efforts to improve his people’s wellbeing and safety, Charlie finds himself, and others, homeless, unemployed, and impoverished. Most importantly, he sees his people dispossessed and deprived of their Indigenous identity by European domination.
Charlie is frustrated by these changes and carries out many attempts at rebellion. He fails, however, and comes to realise that he must accept European influences while encouraging the next generations to appreciate their Indigenous heritage. Nevertheless, underlying Charlie’s rebelliousness is a profound desire for harmony between Europeans and the Indigenous people, as conveyed through his treasured photograph of himself dancing for the Queen. Therefore, de Heer communicates the hope that peace and mutual understanding will be achieved between these two cultures, as well as many others that make up Australian society.
SETTING - ‘THE WORLDS OF THE TEXTS’
The Hate Race:
Clarke’s The Hate Race is set in a liminal period of social change, based on the impacts of the Whitlam Government’s anti-discrimination laws on Australian contempory society. Gogh Whitlam, from the outset, is referred to as “the new sensible Australian prime minister”, lauded for his dismantling of the “last vestiges of the White Australia Policy”. The Racial Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, effectively criminalising acts of discrimination based on the race and identity of individuals.
The author also makes references to the fight for land rights of the First Nations people. She presents a dual narrative that depicts the tensions between the colonial against the Aboriginal history. The ignorance of some of Aboriginal history is noted, and Clarke criticises the perception that society holds towards people of colour in Australia, a country with a “black history”.
In 1996, John Howard, formerly the leader of the Liberal opposition, became the prime minister and employed policies that starkly differ from his predecessors. Anti-immigration sentiments were spread, exacerbating the division between different races (enabled also by Pauline Hanson’s anti-Asian rhetoric).
In 2007, the Howard Government introduced the Intervention to limit rates of child sexual abuse among Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, including the community of Ramingining where Charlie’s Country is set. The lives of Indigenous people in these communities were heavily regulated, with bans on alcohol and weapons, restrictions on land and property ownership, and reductions in welfare payments.
Whilst aiming to protect Indigenous communities from the effects of violence, the Intervention damaged many aspects of the communities' lives. They were disempowered and prevented from upholding traditional practices, such as the settling of disputes by Indigenous elders. They also lost their freedom, dignity, and identity, being constantly monitored by police officers and forced to adopt European culture. Thus, the Intervention has reinforced the cultural conflict between the Europeans and the Indigenous people and brought disastrous consequences to many Indigenous communities.
Racism and Discrimination
Both Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir 'The Hate Race' and Rolf de Heer’s film 'Charlie’s Country' elucidate the despair and sense of isolation experienced by individuals ostracised by society. Clarke vividly captures the cyclical nature of Maxine’s racial prejudice, which seeps into her psyche, fuelling a sense of inadequacy. De Heer, on the other hand, cleverly veils Charlie’s exclusion under the guise of governmental support and reconciliation. Both protagonists, due to their experiences, internalise the anxiety brought about by discrimination. Clarke’s evocative detailing of Maxine’s physical reactions to racial microaggressions symbolises the psychological entrapment victims of discrimination often face. De Heer’s visual imagery – Charlie behind bars - symbolises the physical and psychological entrapment experienced by indigenous populations, portraying him as a mistreated soul in an oppressive system.
- Charlie and Luke’s greetings near the opening establish the division between “black[s]” and “white[s]”. Despite the good-natured tone of their exchange, Charlie’s use of the English word “white bastard” demonstrates his awareness of the assumed inequality between those of different skin colours. Such discrimination comes to characterise laws and law enforcement in Australia, evident in Luke’s claim that “black fella[s] … take advantage of you” upon arresting Charlie. Thus, for Indigenous people under European domination, race ceases to be a source of pride and becomes instead a target for humiliation and injustice.
- De Heer underscores how racial prejudice blinds many Europeans to the sufferings of Indigenous communities. In the court scene, Charlie’s lengthy speech before the magistrate, delivered in his native tongue, shows how these innumerable sufferings can only be understood by the Indigenous people. Consequently, many Europeans are ignorant of the hardships that they inflict, as shown by the magistrate’s indifference.
- The photograph of Charlie dancing for the Queen communicates the hope that harmony will be achieved between Europeans and the Indigenous people in Australia.
The Hate Race
- The Ute driver's derogatory shout and the shop attendant's seemingly innocent comment both spark the same visceral reaction in Maxine: a "chest-tightening feeling...that can't-think freeze." This underlines the traumatic impact that both overt and covert racism can inflict on individuals. The former is an outright act of hate, while the latter is a more subtle, albeit equally damaging, display of racial stereotyping. Maxine’s physical reactions—her fear, her dry tongue, the gasping for breath—demonstrate the raw emotional toll of these encounters. It is a reminder of how racism can invade everyday experiences, leaving a person feeling vulnerable and "naked."
- Maxine's intent, as she explains in her acknowledgements, is to "show the lasting impact of living in a brown body in Australia in the eighties and nineties on one child.” This ambition is achieved through her vivid illustrations of everyday instances of both overt and institutionalized racism. The negative experiences she depicts underscore how racism, casual or otherwise, erodes one's sense of self and security, thereby revealing its extreme toll.
- The interaction between Carlita and Maxine highlights the pernicious nature of racial prejudice, ingrained even in children. Carlita's blunt accusation of Maxine being "brown" and "greedy" reveals an insidious stereotype tied to her skin color. The fact that Mrs. Allen praises her daughter's "honesty" further perpetuates this toxic ideology, sending a message to Maxine that her brownness is a deficiency. When Maxine retaliates, it's she who's made to apologize, underscoring the unfair power dynamic often present in racially charged situations. This pattern continues throughout her childhood, further pushing Maxine into a vulnerable position where she is often cast as the troublemaker.
The intricate tapestry of identities woven in both texts depict the struggle of the protagonists to belong in a world that seeks to alienate them. Both Maxine and Charlie resort to self-destructive tendencies as a means to navigate their disorienting realities. Maxine’s fantasy of 'becoming white' and her subsequent self-harm underscore the psychological trauma and loathing rooted in racial discrimination. The destruction of Charlie’s identity through dehumanising processes, notably his head-shaving scene, further amplifies the effects of racial prejudice on one’s sense of self. These narratives represent the tragic outcomes when individuals are forced to adapt to oppressive societal standards and norms.
- De Heer portrays the ways in which European laws and intervention rob the Indigenous people of their identity and dignity. Charlie is forced to bear the title of a “recreational shooter” rather than “hunter”, as his Indigenous way of life is rejected.
- De Heer propounds that an individual can derive strength from an assurance in their identity. Having returned to his “Mother Country”, Charlie at once declares, “I have my own supermarket”, thus transitioning from a state of dispossession to that of possession. This highlights Charlie’s ability to regain his agency through reconnecting to his Indigenous heritage, as accentuated by the low-angle shot which presents him as dominant in his environment.
The Hate Race
- Maxine becomes frustrated by her peers' focus on her racial differences. Most of their comments centre around her ethnicity and skin colour, contributing to a feeling of alienation: "Maxine is not Australian. Maxine is brown... Maxine is brown. She is brown. She has brown skin." Yet, Jennifer's comments provide a stark contrast. She praises Maxine's abilities and affirms their friendship, a validation that Maxine values greatly. This juxtaposition reveals Maxine's yearning for recognition beyond her skin colour.
- The Cabbage Patch doll, a birthday gift from her mother, becomes a source of shame for Maxine who deems it as “ugly”. This sentiment mirrors the societal perception that favours the white aesthetic, normalising it as desirable and associating the colour black with inferiority. The scorn from her peers, particularly from Susana and Carlita, further emphasizes this bias. The derogatory remarks about the doll, and by extension about Maxine herself, highlight the disturbing reality of racial prejudice infiltrating the innocence of childhood.
- Maxine's attempts at self-erasure present a poignant illustration of the intense psychological toll of racial prejudice. She strives to "claw [her] way out of [her] skin," manifesting as self-harm, which is indicative of her deep-seated desire to escape her racial identity. This behaviour reflects her struggle with internalized racism, stemming from societal whitewashing and negative racial representation. Despite her father's attempts to help, and visits with the school counsellor, Maxine finds herself trapped in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour, marking the severity of her "unfathomable brokenness." This deeply unsettling account is a stark reminder of how racism can inflict lasting psychological harm, leading to serious consequences like self-harm and mental health issues.
Power and Alienation
Power dynamics and their influence on the lives of the marginalized are central to both narratives. 'The Hate Race' captures Maxine succumbing to the torment of bullies, resorting to racial slurs to find acceptance amongst her peers. Contrarily, 'Charlie’s Country' centres on the titular character’s defiance against the racial profiling enacted by White power. Maxine’s misguided retaliation results in her adopting the tactics of her oppressors, whereas Charlie’s defiance becomes a testament to his strength. While Maxine’s attempt to conform leads to the perpetuation of racial prejudice, Charlie’s resistance subverts the portrayal of minorities as powerless. This divergence emphasizes the different strategies adopted by individuals to resist racism and maintain their cultural identities.
- De Heer demonstrates that the Intervention controls the lives of Indigenous people with restrictions rather than liberties. Numerous prohibitions, including alcohol and weapon bans, characterise the life of Ramingining after the Intervention. Consequently, they are denied the freedom to practise Indigenous traditions, such as hunting and spear-making.
- De Heer shows that the Intervention reinforces European dominance by disempowering the Indigenous people, as apparent in Charlie's meeting with Errol, where Charlie is depicted sitting lower than the police officer. This position symbolises the power imbalance between Europeans and the Indigenous people, asserting the former's superiority and the latter's powerlessness.
The Hate Race
- Clarke persistently underscores the dynamics at play between individuals who possess authority – the ethical arbiters – and those who find themselves in positions of vulnerability. She argues that the trauma experienced by the young girls is compounded when individuals with the capacity to assist fail to take action. As Clarke articulates: "When an incident of name-calling is reported to a teacher - 'Blackie', 'Monkey girls', 'Golliwog' - the response is a gaze of exasperation, an unspoken question: 'Do you genuinely expect me to intervene?'". The repercussion of such indifference, Clarke posits, is a behavioural adaptation: the aggrieved party, when faced with a future grievance, will seek out a different authority figure.
Trauma and Memories
The crippling effects of past trauma and the struggle to reconcile with one’s history are explored extensively in both narratives. Clarke’s 'The Hate Race' conveys the disintegration of Maxine’s sense of self, leading to her obsession with physical self-harm and erasure. Similarly, Charlie's descent into substance abuse parallels the dehumanisation he experiences, his erosion of self reflective of his systemic disenfranchisement. The authors successfully highlight the enduring effects of racial prejudice on individuals, leading to a fragmented sense of self and a profound loss of agency.
De Heer propounds that the past can both bring both healing and pain. Charlie’s reconnection to his ancestors’ lifestyle facilitates therapeutic impacts, as he is revitalised upon returning to his “Mother Country”. This is reinforced by his ability to fish and forage for bush foods, which are sources of nourishment unattainable to him in the built-up world. Accordingly, de Heer suggests that by suppressing Indigenous traditions and practices, the Intervention severely damages the lives of Indigenous communities. This is apparent as the health of Ramingining deteriorates due to Western junk food and drugs despite the government’s promise of improved community wellbeing.
- Charlie’s speech before the magistrate alludes to the perpetual sufferings experienced by Indigenous communities due to colonialism and unjust laws. By reinforcing these pains, the Intervention leaves enduring damages upon the Indigenous people.
The Hate Race
- Clarke delves into Maxine's desperate attempt to eschew her identity by fabricating an issue often associated with 'pretty white girls,' an eating disorder . This is a manifestation of 'un-becoming yourself,' which is essentially adopting a different persona. Maxine's affinity for 'artifice' reveals her desire to step into other lives, to act as though she was not herself. This portrayal signifies her struggle to grapple with her identity in a society that consistently ostracizes her due to her racial background.
- The doctor's reading, which outlines a common medical condition among blacks, results in a new wave of trauma for Maxine, reminding her of her racial origins . Maxine's internal dialogue, marked by sentence fragments, italics, and a conversational tone, reveals her painful introspection as she confronts her ethnic roots. Transported in her mind to Jamaica, she faces the harsh reality of her lineage as the descendants of African slaves. The phrase "most commonly occurring in blacks" further reinforces the betrayal she feels from her own skin color, as if her history is asserting itself without her consent (171). This moment underscores her constant struggle with racial identity in a society that fails to accept her.
Alienation and Belonging
The dichotomy of alienation and belonging is aptly illustrated in the narratives of Maxine and Charlie, both victims of cultural displacement. The protagonists' sense of exclusion is contextualised within their shared history of cultural segregation. Both narratives explore the dual effects of past trauma on individuals; it can either empower resistance against dominant power structures or further marginalize individuals. Clarke and De Heer depict characters whose experiences of displacement and dispossession provoke diverse reactions.
- By contrasting Charlie’s energetic dance with “[his] country” against his fragile figure as he lies in a modern hospital, de Heer symbolically conveys how a sense of alienation robs Charlie of his strength.
- Under the Intervention, the Indigenous people were outcasts in their own land. Charlie lacks a “house” and a “job” through which he can find a sense of belonging and self-worth in society. Conversely, the police officers and government officials live in well-built facilities, ignorant of the privileges that they have over those who are rightly entitled to the land.
- A sense of belonging provides meaning: After learning that Albert will be sent to Darwin hospital, Charlie grieves that the sick man will die “a long way from [his] country”. In overlooking the fact that Albert can receive better treatment in Darwin, Charlie’s sorrow conveys how connection to the land is an essential part of his people’s existence, and that separation from their country renders both their life and death meaningless.
The Hate Race
- Maxine's encounters with television and her expressive dance routine serve as a reflection and an outlet for her racial and cultural identity. The representations of Black individuals on TV programs such as "The Cosby Show" and artists like Whitney Houston offer a counter-narrative to her daily experiences of racial marginalization and provide her with powerful figures who exude confidence and grace.
- Conversely, Maxine's original dance performance, a raw expression of emotion and cultural identity, is viewed with incredulity by her mother and met with surprising indifference by her classmates, suggesting a disconnect between her inner experiences and the external perceptions of those around her. This contrast underscores the complexity of expressing one's cultural and racial identity within a context that is often dismissive or indifferent to these experiences.
- In her confrontation with Bhagita, Maxine reveals her internal struggle with identity and her ability to exhibit the same cruelty inflicted upon her. As Bhagita questions her new hairstyle, Maxine, overtaken by shame, adopts the role of the bully and belittles Bhagita's hair and Sikh faith. Her transformation earns the perverse 'respect' of her usual tormentors, reflecting the disturbing effects of internalized racism. Ultimately, Maxine's horror at her own behavior leads her to a physical reaction of disgust, symbolizing her realization of the degradation she has inflicted upon her own dignity and self-respect.
Repercussions of Colonialism
Both narratives vividly portray the detrimental impacts of colonialism. The narratives of 'The Hate Race' and 'Charlie’s Country' elucidate the complexities of racism, identity, trauma, power, and alienation. Authors Clarke and de Heer adeptly illustrate the despair and isolation felt by those ostracised by society. The cyclical structure of Clarke’s memoir amplifies protagonist Maxine’s ongoing battle with racial prejudice, while de Heer reveals Charlie’s subtle exclusion, masked by a veneer of government support.
Maxine’s internalisation of racial prejudice is conveyed through the contrast of a ute driver’s overt racial slurs and a shop attendant’s covert racist remarks. By referring to Maxine as “you people”, she is isolated and marginalised, characterising people of colour as lesser beings compared to domineering cultures. Charlie’s experience mirrors Maxine’s, but his ostracism is further underscored by his physical entrapment. De Heer’s prolonged mise-en-scene of Charlie behind prison bars symbolises his physical and psychological confinement in a system built by a white society. The intertwined examples of racism and discrimination experienced by Maxine and Charlie paint a stark critique against marginalisation, where language and power are weaponised to isolate and victimise the powerless. Experiencing such exclusion, both Maxine and Charlie demonstrate self-destructive tendencies as a means of invisibility. Clarke captures the psychologically damaging effects of racial discrimination through Maxine’s self-effacing tendencies. Her yearning to erase her cultural identity evolves into acts of self-harm, indicating the magnitude of her self-loathing. In contrast, Charlie is physically disempowered and resorts to substance abuse to cope with his forced assimilation. Maxine’s and Charlie’s self-destructive behaviours exemplify the harmful effects of escapism, with Maxine’s being a product of socialisation and Charlie’s being a reluctant survival tactic.
Both 'The Hate Race' and 'Charlie’s Country' reveal the detrimental impacts of colonialism on indigenous populations, challenging the depiction of imperialists as superior. Clarke underscores the harmful consequences of xenophobic sentiments, while de Heer highlights the eroding effects of colonialism on Indigenous communities and their traditions. Both authors condemn the negative repercussions of colonialism, particularly on the lived experiences of indigenous communities.
Both narratives present the realities of migration and displacement, effectively stripping away a sense of belonging. De Heer uses Charlie's marginalised living conditions as a symbol of division, while Clarke illustrates the segregation of Indigenous individuals through the collective ignorance of a small
Co-written with Vy Vu -- Past Student.