This book has been on my radar since it was released in August, but when I found out that local Canberra journal Feminartsy would be using it to kick off their Read Like a Feminist book club this month, well I knew I had to get myself a copy ASAP. I picked it up from the National Library of Australia bookshop and I’ve been waiting to read it.
“The Hate Race” by Maxine Beneba Clarke, is a memoir about Clarke’s experiences growing up black in 80s and 90s Australia. Born in Australia to British parents, a mathematician and an actor, Clarke’s childhood was largely the quintessential suburban 90s Aussie kid experience. However throughout preschool, primary school and high school her skin colour again and again makes her the recipient of assumptions, stereotypes, microaggressions and even outright racism from teachers and children alike. As she grows older, Clarke learns about the significance of her West Indies and Guyana heritage and about Australia’s own dark past – one that from her perspective doesn’t seem so very distant after all.
I just recently reviewed a famous childhood memoir by Maya Angelou about growing up black in America’s south. This is better. This is a book that Australian kids should be reading. In fact, the high school curriculum should be reviewed, another book scrapped and this put on the list instead. There is no doubt that Angelou could write, but Clarke can do that and more: she can tell a story. Each paragraph, each chapter has a purpose and each memory echoes after you turn the page. For any kid who grew up in the 90s, this book will resonate. Clarke’s experiences – new bikes, concrete toilet blocks, spitballs, cabbage patch kids, 50c bags of red frogs, Trish on Playschool – they’re all of our experiences. Except when white is Australia’s default colour, it’s not white kids who get constantly reminded what colour they are.
This book is one of the best that I have read all year and it should be mandatory reading for all Australians.