Book review: I’m Not Racist, But… | Anita Heiss

This summer, if you’re interested in expanding your thinking and examining your biases and behaviours, there is no better book than I’m Not Racist, But… which is unfortunately timely—forever timely—but especially so given current world events.

Author, Anita Heiss—a member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales—presents us with a collection of poems that will grip our attention.

“You say you want the truth

about Indigenous lives,

Of our reality.

But your own reality means

You can’t handle it”

The writing is scalpel-sharp, with evocative rhythm and pacing. In particular, the staccato of Different Lives, Different Values emphasises the stark polarity of Australian experiences.

Who’s Truth shows us the role of power in our dominant narratives. Anthropology is… and Aboriginal Studies push us to reflect on the study of Other, to the exclusion of Self. I am left with the dehumanising feeling of being trapped under a magnifying glass, while others exotify and criticise every twitch I make.

Apologies shoves us in to the reality of being an Aboriginal Australian: we see the cumulative effect of the last two hundred and twenty-nine years and catch a glimpse of what might be the daily struggles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples.

Heiss’s prose is honest and relentless, the courageous stuff of change. It’s often visceral, uncomfortable—goose bumps could swarm, throats could roughen. The more I read, the more new understandings roared through me like a road train.

Heiss asks us to consider and own the many ways in which we may wear blinkers and be complicit: when it comes to racism, there is no neutral place.

“I do not ask you to tell me—

            the entire history of your society

            or the customs of your ancestors

            or why your people can’t seem to

            agree on anything.”

I’m Not Racist, But… is a gift, mandatory reading for all Australians.

I close the book and know I will visit it again and again.

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