Introductory activities

Context

The Hate Race tells the story of Maxine Beneba Clarke, whose parents migrated to Australia, and her experiences as the target of racist remarks and encounters. To understand a little more about Clarke’s cultural heritage and background, explore the following topics with your students.

The Atlantic slave trade

Watch the TED-Ed talk on the Atlantic slave trade and record any key ideas or surprising pieces of information that arose. Having established a supportive and respectful classroom context, discuss these ideas with students, insisting on inclusive and non-discriminatory approaches and monitoring for insensitive commentary. Draw students to the long-term and lasting effects of the slave trade.

Consider the image of the ‘point-of-no-return’ from the House of Slaves on the Senegalese island of Gorée. This is the location of the market where African slaves would be traded and shipped off to the New World. What is the symbolism associated with the point-of-no-return? How does the door act as a powerful metaphor for the experiences of those involved with the slave trade?

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared 25 March as the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The 2020 and 2021 themes revolved around confronting and ending slavery’s legacy of racism. In what ways can your students contribute to these themes? What might ‘confronting the legacy of racism’ look like in your community or classroom?

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Australian slavery

In June 2020, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison proclaimed that there was ‘no slavery in Australia’. Whilst Australia was not a slave state like North America, there have been instances of slavery on Australian shores that your students may not know or understand.

Break your class into small groups and have them research the following:

  • the importation of Melanesian people to Queensland to work in sugar plantations from 1863 to 1904 (also referred to as ‘blackbirding’)
  • the use of Aboriginal Australians in the pearling industry in Western Australia
  • sealers in the Bass Strait who abducted Aboriginal women into sexual slavery
  • the forced recruitment of Indigenous station workers, labourers and stockmen starting in the early 20th century
  • the abduction of the Stolen Generations into government missions
  • the convict slave labour of British criminals sent to Australia between 1788 and the 1850s

On top of these instances of slavery, Australia still grapples with a colonial attitude towards those who are ‘different’, not white or considered lower class – and, most notably, towards our First Nations peoples. A colonial attitude is an internalised mentality of cultural superiority stemming from colonisation. Some early colonial attitudes continue to persist in Australian society and are dominant in the media, such as:

  • a preoccupation with Western Europe
  • celebration and reinforcement of Anglo-centric ideas and ways of life
  • a focus on conflict and war

After this research, allow some time for classroom discussion to unpack the following:

  • What kinds of attitudes towards people who may have a different skin colour or cultural background persist in the Australian media, or in networks you participate in?
  • How are these ideas detrimental or pervasive?
  • Why would generations of Australians go to great lengths to conceal our history of slavery, so much so that our own Prime Minister doesn’t acknowledge it?

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The ‘Windrush generation’

In the initial stages of her memoir, Clarke outlines her family heritage. Her paternal grandparents from Jamaica and her maternal grandparents from Guyana both migrated to Britain after the Second World War. Clarke details their voyage on the HMT Empire Windrush, docking in Essex on 21 June 1948, with hundreds of other Caribbean migrants hoping to seek a new life and opportunities in Britain. The BBC has compiled a photo essay documenting some of the early experiences of the migrants. In a similar fashion, Clarke’s parents (Bordeaux and Cleopatra) migrated to Australia in the early 1970s after the White Australia policy was renounced by then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

Have students study the paper ‘A multi-cultural society for the future’, written in 1973 by Whitlam’s Minister for Immigration, Al Grassby. Grassby outlines his vision for a multicultural Australia looking toward the turn of the century. Students should analyse the intentions and vision laid out by Grassby for the year 2000, and comment on whether his vision has been actualised and whether they believe that multiculturalism has been accepted as part of the ‘family of the nation’ Grassby hoped to create. Consider the early experiences of Bordeaux and Cleopatra when they arrived in Australia in the context of this examination and discussion.

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Western folklore

Throughout her memoir, Clarke makes continued reference to the ‘folklore way of telling a story that West Indians have’. Before retelling a significant story, she uses a variation of this expression as if to signal the change. Folklore refers to the stories that people tell, often orally, that are passed down through generations. What makes folklore different from fairy tales is that the stories have no author. Folklore is the passing on of stories that have become embedded in culture and custom. The main purpose of folklore is to tell a moral lesson about how people should behave.

Consider how The Hate Race could be an example of folklore. Arguably, Clarke’s stories of racism and the memories she shares of her experiences are so commonplace and frequent that they are like folktales – repeated stories about experiences that have, in effect, become customary for individuals of colour in Australia (though this shouldn’t dampen the grotesque nature of these occurrences).

Could Clarke be making a statement about such events entering into folklore, as if to warn future generations of the experiences to come? Consider:

  • the prologue of the memoir, where Clarke recounts unprovoked racist vitriol whilst walking her youngest child in the pram
  • her awareness of being brown and singled out by her classmate, Carlita Allen, who continues to point this out every day as a way to ostracise her (pp. 24–30)
  • her resignation that her nickname ‘Patch’ would stick, despite her earnest attempts to cover her pigmentation issues and ‘blend in’ with her peers (p. 73)

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Towards a definition of racism

It is important that students have a working understanding of racism when reading The Hate Race. The Australian Human Rights Commission is a useful starting point for unpacking the nuances with students. Have them examine the website and record their own understandings of racism, and any preconceptions they may have had that have been clarified through their reading.

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Personal response on reading the text

Welcome to Oz

Bordeaux and Cleopatra Clarke arrive in Australia to a ‘luminous southern hemisphere sunlight they had never seen before in an impossibly clear blue sky’ (p. 14). Contrast the socio-historical context of Britain in the 1970s with that of Australia using a table such as the one below.

Australia United Kingdom
Politics
Cultural changes
Science and technology
Key events

Clarke makes the comparison between Australia and Oz from The Wizard of Oz. Play the scene to which she refers, and discuss with students what connections can be made between the two stories of arrival.

  • What does Clarke hope to evoke in the reader by using this analogy?
  • Does it work?
  • What connotations are implied by comparing Australia to the Land of Oz?
  • In what ways might this analogy foreshadow what is to come in the lives of Cleopatra and Bordeaux?

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Life in Sydney

Show students the Life in Australia: Sydney film made by the Department of Immigration in 1966. Consider encouraging them to view this film through a postcolonial lens and address the following questions:

  • What do you immediately notice about the way that Sydney is advertised in this short film?
  • From whose perspective do we view this film?
  • Who is central to this film? Who is marginalised? Who is not represented at all?
  • Whose version of Sydney do we see in this film?
  • How does the text represent a particular view of Australian culture, values and history?

Consider how two Afro-Caribbean migrants such as Cleopatra and Bordeaux Clarke may have been enticed by the Immigration Department’s video, and how the values conveyed in the film translate to their actual lived experiences in Kellyville.

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‘Tallying up the brown people’

Clarke begins to notice other ‘brown people’ she sees on a daily basis. At the end of p. 25, she outlines those she sees and the context in which she sees them. Present the following statements that Clarke makes here to students. Have them discuss the groups of people that the author sees and recognises as being like her, and what kinds of assumptions others may make about ‘brown people’ if these are the only contexts in which they see them.

  • ‘There were a few family friends of varying shades, perhaps ten or so.’
  • ‘I saw people on the telly sometimes, on the news, or in the running races my father liked to watch. The telly was black and white though, so I could never really be sure.’
  • ‘I saw brown folks in the newspapers some mornings, little kids even. But they were mostly so swollen-bellied and sad-looking that I didn’t feel I was anything like them at all.’

Ultimately, you are helping students consider Clarke’s observation that people of colour are only celebrated in sports, and are otherwise pitied as victims of inescapable poverty who are ‘worthy’ of charity. Have your students pay close attention to when Clarke observes ‘brown people’, and to the connotations associated with them in the given circumstance.

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The brown Cabbage Patch doll

After pleading with her mother, Maxine is finally promised a Cabbage Patch doll for her birthday, which preoccupies her thoughts for several months. When Maxine unwraps the doll, she is disappointed to see that her mother has picked a brown doll for her, exclaiming, ‘I’d been talking about [a Cabbage Patch doll] for months, and this was what I was supposed to show [the girls at school]’ (p. 50).

Discuss the scene that unfolds with the girls in Maxine’s class and how she perceives the brown Cabbage Patch doll bringing her closer to her classmates (p. 51). How does the doll further contribute to observations that society is preoccupied with brown skin only in specific contexts (such as sport, poverty or uniqueness)? What does this highlight about Maxine’s own insecurities and desire to ‘fit in’ with her peers?

Show students this image taken by American photographer Chris Buck. In what ways does it reverse the power dynamic that exists in society?

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Representations of beauty

Maxine really struggles with accepting her physical appearance, and at various points in the story aspires to make it more palatable, including wanting braces and hoping her skin turns white. Later on, she has her hair braided and acknowledges the process as a form of cultural expression. Ask students why she would be so concerned with wanting to change her appearance so drastically. Analyse the comments she makes after each of these changes and what they reveal about acceptable beauty standards in Australia.

Additionally, if you can source a collection of old magazines such as Cosmopolitan or Dolly (or even those with a lot of advertising such as New Idea or Woman’s Day), students could undertake an assessment of the types of women who are represented in these magazines and those who are not.

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Outline of key elements of the text

The Hate Race

The title of the text, The Hate Race, is a play on the concept of racial hatred or race hate. Discuss with students their understanding of this phrase. You may like to give them some examples from the media, or ask them to share moments when they have read or heard about expressions of racial hatred. Draw their attention to media treatment of the Cronulla Riots, the appearance of neo-Nazi graffiti in Melbourne and Sydney, and recent accounts of racially-motivated attacks on people of Asian descent in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Consider exploring the two words separately and brainstorming the implications and connotations of each. This worksheet (PDF, 87KB) may be of use. Given the reversal of the two words, the title can be interpreted in a different way. When using the worksheet and exploring all possible meanings, encourage students to consider the implications of word order:

  • How are specific images conjured by the reversal of the words?
  • How does the order of words change the meaning of the original phrase?
  • What kind of image do you see when you think about a ‘hate race’? Consider other types of races, such as a running race, the Melbourne Cup (touted as ‘the race that stops the nation’) or even a race car. Where does the ‘hate race’ fit amongst these other examples?
  • If a race is a competition to see who can most quickly cover a course, who are the competitors in the ‘hate race’ and what might be the prize for the winner?

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Plot

Clarke’s work revolves around the damage caused by racist views, attitudes and actions that she encountered growing up in Australia. Each memory serves the purpose of illustrating the pervasive effects of racism and the trauma caused by such abuse. Her stories are woven together with recollections from her childhood, stories about her family, and snippets of historical information that help flesh out the experience of being a woman of Afro-Caribbean descent finding her way in Australia.

Prologue

In this section, Clarke recounts her experience of being followed by a man in a ute as she walks with her youngest child. The man hurls racist slurs at her, disgustingly telling her to ‘fuck off’ and ‘go drown your fucken kid’ (p. vi). The prologue provides the premise for the memoir, describing the ‘only home [she] knew’ (p. x) and the pride she takes in carrying the stories of her ancestors who lived on the continent of Africa.

Part One: Chapters 1–11

Part One provides an overview of the formative experiences that shaped young Maxine’s life. It also illustrates her family ancestry and heritage, acknowledging the struggles of her grandparents and parents in paving the way for her to grow up on Australian soil. This part grapples with young Maxine’s desire to be accepted and liked by her peers, and her fierce individualism. It retells those events from Maxine’s primary school years, up until the age of 13.

Part Two: Chapters 12–24

Part Two centres around Maxine’s teenage and high school years. There is a notable shift in her attitude towards her classmates as this part progresses, especially as she starts to develop close friends and interest in the opposite sex. Clarke carefully retells the instances of bullying, harassment and teasing that she faced with searing detail, and offers contrasting stories of victimising her peers in an attempt to fit in – taking the reins as oppressor rather than the oppressed to regain control of her life. Interestingly, in this part of the memoir, Maxine appears to be more aware of her culture and grapples with balancing, acknowledging and respecting it.

Epilogue

The final part of the memoir sees Clarke circle back to the central ideas outlined in the prologue. It is her son’s first day back at school after the holidays and he is enthusiastic about returning. This time, we meet a pensive Clarke who reflects on ‘the chest-tightening feeling’ (p. 255) brought about by the years of racist taunts she has suffered at the hands of others.

There are several elements to explore here with students. When considering the plot and structure of the text, encourage them to think about:

  • The significance of breaking the text into two distinct parts. What is the symbolism of beginning Part Two as Maxine enters high school?
  • The importance of the prologue. How does this set the tone for the memoir? How does the prologue serve to foreshadow the events to come, as well as provide the backstory to the central themes of The Hate Race?
  • The circular nature of the narrative with the inclusion of an epilogue. How does the epilogue provide closure for the reader or add to the development and understanding of Maxine’s character?

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Themes

Clarke’s text is an account of the struggles faced by people of colour in Australia, and reveals the colonial attitudes of white Australians that are ingrained into every facet of daily life. The following themes have been identified to help students explore key ideas and issues. Some starting points for discussion have been suggested, but by no means constitute an exhaustive approach to unpacking these topics.

Racism

The theme of racism is central to The Hate Race. It is not possible to study the text without a thorough understanding of this issue.

  • Consider exploring the topic with students in detail, taking in a number of different definitions and examples.
  • The Australian Human Rights Commission and All Together Now are two very helpful websites that students could explore to better understand the nuances of racism and the extent of pervasive racist attitudes in Australia.
Bullying

Like racism, bullying is a key theme and Maxine is both bullied and a bully in the text. Building empathy is crucial to be able to unpack the memoir respectfully. You may find that your students already have a great deal of experience with bullying.

  • It is worth breaking down the differences between bullying and harassment to help students understand Clarke’s accounts.
  • The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has collected extensive longitudinal data on children’s experiences with bullying, which may shed some light on the frequency and specificity of bullying in Maxine’s circumstances.
  • It may be an interesting task for students to talk to their peers or families about bullying, and/or to share their own experiences.
Difference and acceptance

A crucial component of The Hate Race is the idea of being considered different. Maxine finds this very hard to cope with in the text and is torn between loving her background and the things that make her different, and then loathing them, desperate to change herself to fit in with her peers.

  • There will be many students in your class who feel different for some reason and it is worth acknowledging this with them.
  • If comfortable, students can share ways that they have tried to change themselves for another person or group, and how this has been a positive or negative experience.
  • Both Maxine and Cecelia go through periods of accepting their differences, strengths and weaknesses, as well as the experiences that have shaped them. Discuss with your class the power of self-acceptance as an ultimate aspiration for both young women.
Family and heritage

Clarke proudly recounts her heritage in the early chapters of the memoir. She eloquently explains how her family arrived in Australia and recalls the experiences of her ancestors and the Atlantic slave trade. Family and family history are clearly very important to Clarke. The text unpacks the importance of connection and of knowing, understanding and appreciating where you come from – acknowledging the work of those who came before you to bring you to where you are. She says of her children at the end of the novel, ‘[they are] descendants of those unbroken’ (p. 256): a testament both to her own ‘survival’ and to those who preceded her.

  • Discuss with your students the importance of family and of pride in culture and family history.
  • As a point of contrast, you may like to proffer why Australians were so bent on burying their convict ancestry before genealogy searches became wildly popular.
  • Ask students why they think Australians are so proud of being a multicultural country when racist ideas and values still seem to be so prominent.
Belonging

Another overarching theme in this text is that of belonging. The tales we hear about young Maxine’s upbringing paint a picture of a lonely girl looking to fit in: to be embraced, seen and acknowledged by her peers. This is best seen when Maxine is named Student of the Week and has only one friend who writes down comments about her personality and friendship in the class card.

  • What is the importance of belonging?
  • How can a simple gesture, such as that of Maxine’s primary school friend, go a long way to helping someone to fit in?
  • Students can identify a time when they wished they could belong and how isolating it felt to be on the outside.

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Characterisation

The character of Maxine

In her interview with Astrid Edwards for The Garret, Clarke reflects on the character of young Maxine and describes her as more of an anti-hero than a hero. This may be an unfamiliar concept to students. Share the definition and ask them to come up with some examples. See if your students can explain the differences between villains and anti-heroes.

Have students create a chart, table or page of sketchnotes that explains the ‘anti’ components of Maxine’s actions, as well as the ‘hero’ components. They should support their comments about Maxine with specific examples from the text.

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Identifying with Flo-Jo

Florence Griffith Joyner is one powerful and influential African American that young Maxine idolises. Her family watch several of her races on television and Maxine is captivated by her physical appearance, costuming and speed. Flo-Jo was known for her wild fashion choices whilst competing. Watch this video with students for some insight into her performance and style. Consider:

  • How would watching Flo-Jo on television inspire a young Maxine?
  • What kind of characteristics does Maxine assign to Flo-Jo?
  • How does she apply these to herself when playing Catch and Kiss?
  • What are the implications for Maxine when she discovers the real reason the boys can’t catch her in Catch and Kiss?

The aim of this activity is to draw your students’ attention to a positive connection Maxine makes with her heritage. There are very few times in the text when she is proud to be associated with a black woman. These questions are designed to pull apart Maxine’s idolisation of Flo-Jo and the importance of having a role model who is celebrated for her athleticism and individuality rather than criticised for it, as is Maxine’s experience in the text.

Later in the novel, Maxine finds out that some students at school refer to her sister as the ‘Black Flash’ (p. 143). Perhaps coincidentally, the Black Flash is also a character in the DC Universe, whose touch can cause instant death. In this section of the novel, Maxine wonders if she should start running like her sister and other people of colour she sees on television. She imagines herself ‘doing something a real black person could do’ (p. 144).

  • Discuss the connotations of describing Cecelia as the ‘Black Flash’. What could be another appropriate nickname for her that excludes colour?
  • Discuss the resignation in Maxine’s assertion that running was something ‘a real black person could do’.
  • Discuss whether the comments made by the running coach were helpful or harmful to Maxine and her sister.
  • What kind of parallels can be drawn between Cecelia and Flo-Jo?

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Characterisation of Cleopatra and Bordeaux Clarke

In Chapter 23, Clarke recognises her parents as individuals with unique personalities that function outside of their roles as father/husband and mother/wife. She describes her mother as creative and patient and her father as hardened and cynical. As students read the novel, have them record the details that Clarke reveals about her parents in a table resembling the one below.

Direct characterisation What it reveals Indirect characterisation What it reveals
Cleopatra Clarke ‘Then there was Cleopatra, ever-stylish in her head wraps, earrings and boots’ (p. 18). The fact that the neighbours have recognised and gossip about Cleopatra’s fashion shows that her style is unusual, unexpected and uncommon for their area.
Bordeaux Clarke ‘Dad had this list of things that needed doing around the house’ (p. 247). Shows Bordeaux’s persistent attitude. He is houseproud and continually works to improve the appearance of his house. Pre-empts a conversation where he explains that, as a black person, Maxine will have to work harder than others to be recognised for the same feats.

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Carlita Allen

It is through Carlita that we see the beginnings of racist taunts and comments levelled at Maxine. Clarke describes Carlita as a ‘joy killer’ (p. 22) who had ‘just stepped out of a glossy illustrated copy of Seven Little Australians’. Seven Little Australians is a pre-Federation children’s book that follows the antics of seven siblings in 1880s Sydney. It has been adapted into a television miniseries, a film and even a stage play. Show students the first episode of the television series.

  • Considering Clarke’s cultural background, what connotation is she hoping to bestow by describing Carlita as a ‘Judy type’?
  • What similarities can be drawn between Carlita’s description and actions in Chapter 3, and that of Judy and the other female characters in Seven Little Australians?

The concept of ‘othering’ is worth unpacking with your students. Powell and Menendian define it as ‘a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities’. Othering is always expressed in a negative way, as groups that are othered are considered strange or harmful to the microcosm of society. These groups may be othered on the basis of:

  • religion
  • gender
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • disability
  • skin tone
  • sexual orientation
  • socio-economic status

Bearing this concept in mind, how detrimental is a television series such as Seven Little Australians to those who are othered? What kind of values does this program seem to promote, and how are groups othered based on its representation?

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Synthesising task

When Maxine is named Student of the Week, her classmates are required to write something nice about her, but the exercise turns sour as her peers write insults and derogatory remarks on her card. The only nice comment comes from Jennifer, a friend of Maxine’s who writes ‘real’ things about her and makes her feel valued and seen.

Dutch photographer Paul Piebinga writes on his website: ‘I see you. Meet people, and bring no expectations.’ A lot of Piebinga’s work involves capturing people as they go about their business with no expectation of being acknowledged or recognised, let alone photographed. The photographs are powerful because they show people’s daily lives: offering prayers, undertaking religious rituals, sipping coffee, walking in the rain or cooking meals. In many ways, Piebinga is like Jennifer: he recognises people outside skin tones and stereotypes, and sees them for who they are and what they can do. Explore his website and note the focus of his work.

Set students the task of photographing someone in moments that try to capture who they really are. They could take pictures of a parent or guardian tending the garden or putting on jewellery; a friend who has a special talent but is caught up in their reputation at school; or people at a local café being good friends, listeners and confidants.

Students can compose individual photo essays for submission, or they could assemble a classroom gallery that pays tribute to their efforts to really ‘see’ people in their community.

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The writer’s craft

The following activities are designed to assist with exploring the text’s primary themes and concerns: the impact of racism and the desire for acceptance and belonging. Clarke’s intentional use of parallels to Australian history, her characterisation and use of a child’s ‘voice’ to tell the story – along with the structure of a memoir – allow her to deftly examine these ideas. In addition, the attention Clarke gives to language and words through the eyes of the young Maxine helps us see the subtle yet pervasive ways that colonial ideologies are perpetuated in the environments of a young woman of Afro-Caribbean descent in Australia.

Words and their meanings

On p. 103, Clarke recounts an experience with her teacher who scolds her for using the word ‘racist’ in class.

  • Why is this such an important moment in Maxine’s development?
  • How does her new knowledge of this word enhance her ability to stand up for herself at school?
  • Why do you think Mrs Hird punishes Maxine for her assertion about racism?

Discuss the opening chapter of Part Two, where Maxine is overwhelmed with nostalgia thinking about her primary school days. Clarke writes, ‘This is how it changes us. This is how we are altered’ (p. 130). Ask your students what they think this might mean. There are several times when Maxine entertains the idea that she is overreacting to the racism she is experiencing. This is encouraged by those around her who insist that the bullying and racism is ‘just teasing’.

  • Why do you think the people around Maxine refuse to acknowledge racism?
  • How is it that when Maxine stands up for herself, she finds herself in more hot water?
  • ‘Sticks and stones’ is a motto that Maxine adopts at certain points in the novel. In what ways does Maxine’s changing character defy this statement?

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The power of a name

On p. 103, with inadvertent permission from her teacher, Maxine’s demeanour changes after she is encouraged to call Derek ‘whitey’ because that’s ‘what he is’. Armed with this permission, Maxine retaliates and uses insults against her peers when they start to jeer at her. Clarke comments that she could see the damaging effect of her words and that she felt ‘powerful and remorseful at the same time’ (p. 105). Despite the permission from her teacher, Maxine doesn’t reap any positive benefits from these experiences. As the bullying continues, Clarke lists all the names that she has been called (p. 155): names that greatly impact Maxine’s character and her ability to cope with her young life.

Later, Clarke recounts an experience where she taunted and mocked her classmate Bhagita about the length of her hair (keeping hair uncut is an important cultural practice for Sikh women). Clarke notes that as the bullying and taunts started to take their toll, she resorted to ‘unforgivable’ jeers – a complete change in her usual impeccable and stoic behaviour. In this instance, Maxine threatens to cut Bhagita’s hair off in class. The crucial moment occurs when Maxine’s peers recognise her and use her name. She remarks that their voices were ‘tinged with awe. With respect’ (p. 201).

It is important to discuss the impact of names with students. The above chapters are worth extracting and analysing separately, particularly in light of Clarke’s commentary: ‘this is how it alters us’ and ‘this is how we succumb’. Facilitating a Socratic seminar focused on these two chapters would be a rich experience for students. Stems to facilitate thinking and discussion are available here.

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Parallels to Australian history

Clarke draws several parallels with Australian history throughout The Hate Race, but particularly in Chapter 9. Her references to important historical events and figures demonstrate her awareness of Australia’s rich Indigenous history, and highlights the institutionalised racism that operates in Australian society. Additionally, her willingness to acknowledge Australia’s First Nations peoples stands out against a white population that not only condones racism, but struggles to make gains towards reconciliation.

Explore each of these references in more detail and discuss why Clarke ties them into her memoir:

What can be learned about Maxine’s own experiences as she uncovers more about Australian history? Explore the irony in Maxine coming to terms with Australia’s racist ‘past’ whilst undergoing racist experiences in her present.

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Memoir

The Hate Race is crafted like a work of fiction, with fully-formed characters and details not typically found in non-fiction texts. This act of storytelling enables the reader to better experience young Maxine’s life, and differentiates this memoir’s structure from the traditional episodic style used by other authors. You may wish to share excerpts from other memoirs – including some that are more episodic – to determine how Clarke’s structure is specifically different. Completing a chart that outlines the key differences between the two types of memoir, such as this memoir comparison (PDF, 86KB), will help students to unpack their ideas.

Consider also:

  • How does Clarke’s attention to detail assist with telling her story?
  • How would The Hate Race differ if the story was told in a more episodic manner, with characters who feature infrequently or about whom we know little?
  • What kind of relationship to Clarke (the author) is established through her storytelling?

Clarke has been interviewed about The Hate Race by The Garret’s Astrid Edwards. In this interview, Clarke explains that constructing a memoir is effectively ‘playing with the truth’, as authors select what to include and what to leave out. There are several stories in The Hate Race that don’t paint Maxine in a particularly good light. Have students make a list of these events, especially those that involve Maxine’s changing attitude towards Bhagita.

  • What is the significance of including events that don’t portray Maxine in a favourable light?
  • How would the story change if these events were excluded?
  • In what ways do these stories make Maxine a reliable narrator?

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Point of view (Maxine’s voice)

Clarke states in her Garret interview, ‘once you put a child in the driving seat [as the protagonist] it becomes a completely different story’, and that a child is ‘so much easier to go along with’. Ask students what they think she means by these statements. What is significant about the way a child tells a story that adds meaning to the narrative?

Along with The Hate Race, consider other stories with child narrators or protagonists. Some examples include:

Provide students with excerpts from these texts and have them discuss specific examples of the child protagonists’ innocence and naivety. Compare Maxine’s experiences to those of children in these other stories. How are readers encouraged to ‘go along with’ the character of Maxine whilst reading her story? Contrast her childlike voice in the first part of the text with her more mature voice in the second part. How is her innocence and naivety eroded in the second part of the memoir?

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Text and meaning

The following activities are designed to explore some of the repercussions of Clarke’s experiences with race hate. Each activity aims to further illustrate the damaging effect of her exposure to racist ideas, and her discomfort in her own skin after years of taunting and insults.

The changing political landscape and tolerance

Clarke comments on the changing nature of politics and the climate of acceptance in Australia in the mid-1990s. Divide your class into small groups to compare Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech to Parliament (1996) and Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech (1968).

Consider:

  • how the language used in both speeches contributes to fearmongering and racism
  • catchcries or catchphrases that became popularised
  • key arguments relating to people of colour and those from different cultural backgrounds
  • other examples of political rhetoric in each speech
  • the reception of the speeches at the time

Discuss with students the changing landscape of Australian politics during Maxine’s youth and early adult life. In particular:

  • The Whitlam and Fraser governments of the 1970s implemented a number of multicultural policies that were continued by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in their terms of office.
  • The Racial Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, making it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their race.
  • This followed on from the 1967 Referendum to amend the constitution to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census.
  • 2020 marks 45 years of the Racial Discrimination Act.
  • Bob Hawke’s term as Prime Minister saw him try to overcome the xenophobic ideologies and racist attacks occurring against migrants and Indigenous Australians in the community.
  • Paul Keating implemented the Racial Hatred Act of 1995, despite widespread objections on the basis of so-called ‘free’ speech.

These steps towards acceptance are what make Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech so extraordinary. Despite the work of past governments to improve the culture of acceptance for migrants and families of immigrants in Australia, racist ideologies (represented by Hanson’s election) still managed to find a way into the Australian Parliament and were given a voice on the political stage.

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‘Clawing my way out of my skin’

Maxine experiences episodes of self-harming, her skin ‘bearing witness’ (p. 158) to the toll the bullying was taking on her. Teachers and the school counsellor seem reluctant to acknowledge this cry for help. As students read about Maxine grappling with discomfort in her own skin, some may resonate with her disconnect. Make sure you provide space to do so in a non-threatening way.

In a low-stakes writing task (which you may or may not read), students can offer advice to Maxine: the kind of advice her school counsellor should have offered about feeling like she didn’t belong in her skin. It may be necessary to set some parameters around this task to ensure that the content is handled sensitively. Be sure to remind students of appropriate helplines they can reach where they live.

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Cultural appropriation

In Chapter 23, Maxine performs an ‘African dance’ for her school assembly on Multicultural Day. The whole episode is quite layered in meaning and interpretation. Re-read this chapter with students. Introduce the concept and practice of cultural appropriation. After discussing pertinent and relevant examples, especially of colonial appropriation (or outright theft) of Indigenous culture, come to a definition of what cultural appropriation actually means.

  • Is Maxine’s display of African dancing cultural appropriation?
  • Is she mocking her ancestry by putting on a fake dance?
  • Is it acceptable for Maxine to behave like this?

Discuss the way that Maxine’s school appropriates her culture. Her teachers seem happy to use her blackness to their advantage for their Multicultural Day, but they are reluctant to assist Maxine when she brings examples of bullying and racism to their attention.

For contrast, you may like to ask students to consider the appropriation of First Nations culture and designs. In 2017, Bob Katter reintroduced a Bill to Parliament to make it illegal to sell inauthentic ‘Aboriginal style’ art. It was estimated that 85% of all Indigenous art sold in souvenir shops was fake and imported. Perhaps students can identify other examples in:

  • fashion
  • music
  • stories
  • language/slang

The ABC series Black Comedy has a short skit about appropriating Indigenous culture that you could show students to get them thinking.

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Synthesising TASK

In literary theory, ‘othering’ is the depiction of another person or group of people as distinctly different from the mainstream. It is the idea that people feel stronger allegiances with those who are ‘like them’, and have an easier time identifying and empathising with them as opposed to ‘the other’, who is considered inferior or strange. The ‘other’ could be a different nationality, religion, social class, gender, sexual orientation or ethnic origin.

Maxine is very much ‘othered’ during her childhood as recounted in The Hate Race. Using Maxine’s experience, discuss:

  • What harm is done to Maxine by ignoring her individuality?
  • How have Maxine’s experiences contributed to her ability/inability to form a positive self-image?
  • How might people from the mainstream be challenged by Maxine’s ‘otherness’?

Once students have a broader understanding of the role that othering can play, set them a task to emulate Clarke’s poetry style whilst writing about this concept. Examples of Clarke’s poetry, as published in The Saturday Paper, are available here. Students could write about:

  • their experiences of being the other
  • familiarity with othering certain people
  • judgment being passed onto the other
  • loss of individuality
  • grappling with identity

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Ways of reading the text

Applying a postcolonial lens

Consider examining The Hate Race with some questions informed by postcolonial criticism:

  • How does the text represent aspects of colonial oppression?
  • What does the text reveal about the relationship between personal and cultural identity?
  • How does The Hate Race comment on cultural difference and the ways we perceive ourselves, others and the world in which we live?
  • What does The Hate Race reveal about power balances and cultural difference?
  • How does The Hate Race represent Australian culture, values and history?

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Comparison with other texts

Experiences of minority groups in Australia

Clarke’s memoir recounts her experiences of racism in Australia, but racism, sexism and homophobia are the experiences of many in this country. Consider sharing excerpts from the following texts for authentic tales of life in Australia for people from minority groups:

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Drawing comparisons

Clarke has previously explained that Looking for Alibrandi and My Place are two texts that she believes ‘cut through the noise’ of growing up with a different cultural or ethnic background in Australia. Consider the following activities with students:

  • Explain the idiom ‘cut through the noise’ and what Clarke might mean when she says this
  • Share and read excerpts from the texts
  • Explore each text’s reception by audiences
  • Characterise the significance of each text for the time it was written

In particular, Looking for Alibrandi has stood the test of time and is still taught in many classrooms across the nation.

  • What similarities can be drawn between Looking for Alibrandi and The Hate Race?
  • Does The Hate Race challenge norms and expectations in the same ways as Looking for Alibrandi?
  • In what ways are Josephine Alibrandi and Maxine Beneba Clarke similar and different?
  • What makes these texts enduring works about the experiences of descendants of migrants in Australia?

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Evaluation of the text

As representative of Australian culture

In her Garret interview, Clarke very animatedly describes the literature she read growing up in Australia as ‘rural fiction or coming of age stories set on the coast’. She notes that most people lived in the suburbs and cities, yet there were no stories that mirrored these experiences. Clarke credits a change in the Australian literary landscape to a number of authors, musing: ‘Imagine if they had been around when I was 15 and was devouring literature.’ These are authors like:

Present passages from key texts by these and similar authors to your students. Working in small groups, have students analyse each passage for commonalities and differences, particularly in how the authors explain their circumstances and the Australian experience. Get them to ascertain why Clarke may have named these authors as instrumental in challenging and changing the picture of Australian society that is presented to readers.

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Significance to literature/the world of texts

Othering in the world arena

Clarke’s memoir is an important testament to othering, staking its place in illustrating the formative experiences of a person on the outside. When mainstream culture rejects the ‘other’ as inferior, strange, dangerous or foreign, categorically dehumanising certain groups, it makes it ‘easier’ to harm them without feeling guilty. Stereotypes also play a detrimental role here, with those who are othered often ‘lumped together’ rather than acknowledged and seen for their diverse needs and strengths. This is very evident in Clarke’s memoir through the actions of Maxine’s peers, who continually other her and commit violent and hateful things against her. Indeed, Maxine carries out such behaviour herself when she threatens to cut Bhagita’s hair.

It would be too simplistic to use Clarke’s memoir as a point of contrast with students who may or may not have experienced being othered. Establishing some cultures, races, genders, abilities and sexual orientations as mystical only perpetuates the feeling of othering these groups experience, as well as romanticises one’s own experiences. Instead, Clarke’s memoir should be used as a touchstone for exploring the experiences of ‘others’ in an effort to understand and promote belonging and acceptance.

Consider the following areas as opportunities to expose students to different views – not to other them, but to offer alternative, valid and rich experiences of the world. Alternatively, you could approach any other texts you have studied in class with a critical lens and explore the concept of othering in more familiar titles.

Gender

Texts whose writers or characters identify as non-binary, as well as texts that subvert traditional gender norms.

Ability

Texts whose writers or characters have a disability or different abilities.

Sexual orientation

Texts that relate to the experiences of people with varying sexual orientations.

Race

Texts that relate to the experiences of different cultures and ethnicities, highlighting the nature of growing up and living in a specific community.

There are also several talks you could show your students to expose them to similar ideas and encourage them to consider the impact of othering on individuals.

‘Descendants of those unbroken’

The final line of The Hate Race reads: ‘My children are the descendants of those unbroken’ (p. 256). Clarke’s memoir celebrates the spirit of her ancestors, who survived the horrors of the slave trade, as well as her parents, who learned to live as one of the few black families settled in Sydney’s Kellyville. In many ways, the memoir speaks directly to the Black Lives Matter movement, urging Australians to take note of the anti-black racism prevalent in our country. It is a statement about nurturing difference and acknowledging the struggles of many in our communities, with the aim of restoring equality and tolerance.

Being ‘descendants of those unbroken’, Clarke acknowledges that the strength of her ancestors is proudly passed onto her children, who may have similar (but hopefully different) experiences to her and her family. The last line provides an opportune discussion point for the class, taking into consideration everything that has been studied and learned about the experiences of one Afro-Caribbean woman growing up in Australia. What do they think it means and what can they take away from this memoir?

Black Lives Matter in the Australian context

Clarke documents her own experiences of anti-black racism in Australia, but the reality is that this is not just reserved for people of African descent. Here in Australia, our First Nations peoples are some of the most marginalised and systematically isolated people in the country. In many ways our governmental, judicial and healthcare systems have let them down, and Australians tend to tolerate this. In her 2020 Thea Astley Address at Byron Writers Festival, Professor Marcia Langton recounted the failings of the justice system in protecting Indigenous Australians from deaths in custody. Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man covers similar content, as does The Guardian newspaper, which broke down a scathing investigation into deaths in custody from 2008 to 2020. This is rich material to present to your students and will invoke much discussion.

In June 2020, protestors took to the streets of Sydney in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Have students search the web for posters used at the protest. There are many good photo galleries from the event, including those on Buzzfeed and the ABC and SBS websites. Have students select a few of their favourite images and analyse:

  • What are the slogans on the posters demanding?
  • Are the issues progressivist?
  • How do the slogans challenge the status quo?
  • Are the slogans utopian in anyway?
  • Are any of the slogans accusatory?
  • What kind of images feature on the posters?
  • What colours are used and what is the symbolism?

Similarly, examine this mural by Scott Marsh that was painted over by NSW Police. The mural, located in Redfern, was a tribute to TJ Hickey: a young Aboriginal boy who died in a 2004 police pursuit, triggering the Redfern riots.

  • What is easily understandable from the image?
  • What do you notice about the depiction of the police car and the graffiti on it?
  • Why do you think this was painted over?
  • How might this artwork inspire a protest or motivate people to take action in standing up for the Black Lives Matter movement?

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Rich assessment task (productive mode)

Bearing in mind Clarke’s experiences as a young woman from a non-white cultural background growing up in Australia, as well as the experiences of other young people in the texts suggested above, have students respond to the question:

How is my experience of growing up in Australia similar or different to the experience described in one of the texts studied in class?

Students should compose a personal reflective piece (PDF, 145KB) in the style of Clarke’s memoir, depicting a formative experience in their life and linking it to their beliefs, values and perceptions.

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Synthesising core ideas

Reflection

‘I was quite happy’

Clarke references a poem by Nikki Giovanni, ‘Nikki-Rosa’, in the Acknowledgements section of her memoir. The poem describes an impoverished upbringing and the assumptions that people make about this. Clarke paraphrases the last line of the poem – ‘people will never understand that all the time, I was quite happy’ – when underscoring that her memoir is about a very specific time in her life. After a close reading of ‘Nikki-Rosa’, students should be able to move away from identifying that the poet is black, and instead identify the speaker’s priorities. How can they take this same approach with The Hate Race? If we remove Maxine’s skin colour from the picture, what does the memoir reveal about a young woman’s desires and hopes?

Some students may be challenged by The Hate Race, but ultimately the text is about developing an understanding of how to treat and accept others, as well as the importance of belonging. Ask students if they think it is possible to understand someone else’s background if they don’t share it. Is race essential to understanding other people’s experiences, or are there other things to consider when trying to form a relationship with someone?

Some students may wonder: if Clarke was ‘quite happy’ most of the time, then why go to the lengths of writing a memoir? Some may be apathetic to her experiences or, frighteningly, may condone them. Regardless, Clarke has been acclaimed for shedding light on the experiences of a young woman of colour living in Australia.

Ask students to prepare a presentation on the importance of studying other people’s experiences. They should use The Hate Race as the basis for their discussion but may like to include other texts or experiences highlighted in the course of their study. Have students follow the 6/6/6 rule for presentations (no more than six slides, six points per slide and six words per point) in order to convey their arguments.

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Doing something about it

One of the motivations for Clarke’s memoir, which she espouses in the Acknowledgements section, was to ‘show the lasting impact of living in a brown body in Australia in the eighties and nineties on one child’ (p. 257). Facilitate a discussion with students about how their lives are similar or different to Clarke’s. Some may identify with her experiences and may want to share their thoughts; others will engage in this activity more objectively. They should refer to their responses to the personal reflective task in the Significance section of this unit.

Using the results of the discussion, call your students to action: how can they help to change the treatment of people of colour around them? Ask them to brainstorm how they might confront direct racism and incidents of racial abuse, harassment and discrimination. They might witness this behaviour on the football field, in the classroom, or whilst walking through the corridor. Have students come up with some respectful and safe comments they could make to encourage their peers to rethink discriminatory language and actions.

Clarke’s memoir also speaks to indirect racism: the lack of recognition for cultural diversity and practices outside their entertainment value, and the damage done by stereotypes and prejudice. Her experiences highlight the lives of people on the margins and those who are ‘othered’ in our communities. Together with your class, consider ways that your school environment can be more accepting. Some suggestions:

  • Petition the Head of English to include more diverse texts on your text lists. Conduct an audit of texts studied from Years 7–12 to see how many are written by men, women and people of colour; which are written, visual, auditory or multimodal; and whose perspectives are represented.
  • Ask teachers to consider selecting texts that offer alternate viewpoints, or exploring a text from a different cultural perspective.
  • Ask the Health and Physical Education Faculty to review the way they teach personal and intimate relationships. Is there a way for them to be more inclusive in the language they use around same -sex relationships?
  • If you are at a religious school, consider inviting those with different religious/cultural practices to share their annual celebrations with you so you can learn more about them.
  • Is your school accessible for people with a disability? Can anything be done to support a student in a wheelchair or a student who is blind?
  • Does your school have a diversity committee or group of student representatives that you could work with to create a more accepting environment?

Rich assessment task (receptive mode)

Clarke’s The Hate Race has been touted as providing much-needed insight into the experiences of the bullied in Australia. The inside cover includes a page of praise from The Sydney Morning Herald, The Stella Prize judging panel and The Monthly. A quick Google search will reveal the full reviews for your students to read (see the Additional Resources section of this unit for other reviews).

Challenge students to respond to one of the above hyperlinked reviews, drawing on specific parts of the text that contribute to the reviewer’s argument and celebrate the essential nature of the themes and ideas in The Hate Race. This response could take the form of an analytical or discursive essay response. Students’ work should explore:

  • the range of themes you have discussed in class, including the colonial attitudes that persist in Australia, the reception of migrants, and the bullying and harassment faced by people from different backgrounds in the school environment
  • the concept of belonging and the profound impact of feeling displaced
  • the experience of othering and the place of Clarke’s work in relation to this phenomenon
  • the role Clarke’s memoir plays in illuminating the experiences of young Australian people of colour

Encourage students to aim for 1,000 words.

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