Antoinette Lattouf on writing a guide to anti-racism: ‘I was sitting there and sobbing’ | Australian books

How to Lose Friends and Influence White People was borne of changing times. When Antoinette Lattouf’s father suggested she pursue hairdressing instead of journalism, he warned people may not like a woman like her. “Especially not one who has so many opinions,” he had said. In her nonfiction debut, the Australian journalist responds with the benefit of hindsight: “Dammit, dad. Maybe you were right.” The Black Lives Matter movement landed on Australian shores in 2020. Lattouf, the co-founder of Media Diversity Australia and former Network 10 reporter, sensed a shift in public awareness and an appetite for change.

“People are looking and listening who had ignored the issue before,” she says. And her book, which plays off Dale Carnegie’s 1936 How To Win Friends and Influence People, capitalizes on that. How To Lose Friends And Influence White People is out May 2022 through Penguin Random House. “Times have changed,” Lattouf says. “Every right has had to be fought for and negotiated.” Her guide speaks to white Australians and people of color, teaching readers to be better advocates and push back against institutionalized racism.

Lattouf parcels up data with her own experience as a daughter of Lebanese refugees. She turns to the expertise of other diverse media thinkers and advocates, such as Benjamin Law and Celeste Liddle. And a deft list of dos and don’ts summarises each chapter. (On how to be a white ally, for instance, “Do … ensure your allyship is not just superficial,” and “Don’t … say ‘I don’t see color’ – unless, of course, you are clinically colorblind.”)

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It’s a searing, witty, meticulously crafted manual to anti-racism, feminism, advocacy, power, relationships, and individual responsibility. But the process of writing was not without pain. Personal stories hurt, data was sobering, and revisiting memories of her journey triggered trauma, Lattouf says. “There were times I was sitting there and sobbing, ugly crying,” she says.

For instance, in chapter eight – Letting go of friends, family, and unexpected foes – Lattouf opens up about opposition to her work by people she considered mentors, allies, and friends. In 2020, Media Diversity Australia released its report Who Gets To Tell Australian Stories? It was the first comprehensive dataset to reveal the woeful lack of representation on television news. Lattouf had expected backlash from divisive commentators or networks analyzed the report. She didn’t ewishpublic criticism from people she thought were on her side.

It’s easy to block nameless, faceless people online, she says. “But it is hard to be let down by the people you care about.” In the book, she cites data that found Indigenous women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalized because of family violence and that a person is three times more likely to get a callback for a job application with the name Adam than with the name Mohamed. She points to problems with diverse representation in the media, legislature, and government. Australian institutions “fall short when you look and see that all our pillars of power are white”, she says.

“The most damaging racism is structural racism that doesn’t allow non-white people in Australia to fully participate and have safety, access to power, and a voice in our democracy.” Speaking out is scary … At an individual level, as a mother and a woman of ccolorAntoinette Lattouf Lattouf brings forth a lineup of case studies, from Adam Goodes to Yumi Stynes, to show what happens when non-white people speak out on racism, religion, and equality.

The Sydney Swans player was targeted by what Lattouf calls a character assassination by the media after he called out a racist remark from the crowd at a game in the AFL’s 2013 Indigenous round. That prompted an instant plummet in the player’s popularity and ended in Goodes walking away from his career two years later. An Anzac Day Facebook post in 2017 ultimately led to Sudanese Australian writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied losing her media job and leaving the country after copping torrents of abuse. Most recently, the discovery of ABC journalist Fauziah Ibrahim’s anti-Labor Twitter “shit-lists” saw her vanish off TV screens.

Lattouf says that when a white media commentator makes a controversial comment – such as Prue MacSween saying on 2GB that “I would have been tempted to run [Abdel-Magied] over” or Alan Jones’s many “offensive highlights” – they are free from front-page critiques, offensive cartoons, and exile. But for people of color, “the bandwidth to fail is much smaller … lives and careers can be ruined,” she says. ‘I was scared that what happened to Yassmin Abdel-Magied would happen to me.’

Lattouf says precedent “definitely has a silencing effect” and leaves people asking: “Why would I want to try and stick my neck out?” “Speaking out is scary … At an individual level, as a mother and a woman of color, She reflects on the fallout following Abdel-Magied’s Facebook post. “I feel so bad I never stood up for her,” she says. “I was scared that what happened to her would happen to me, and I didn’t have enough power to change anything.”

One survival mechanism for Lattouf has been “banding together” with other people of color in media and activism, including Mariam Veiszadeh and Stynes. Sign up to receive Guardian Australia’s weekend culture and lifestyle email. Thanks to practical advice she has picked up from them, Lattouf avoids revealing her location on social media, protects her children’s identity from the public, and makes mental health a priority. (“Do … remember that exposure to racism can have long-term mental health impacts. Don’t … worry about strongly opposed people, as they will do little more than wear you down.”)

“I guess for me, I had to practice what I preach,” Lattouf says. That also meant shining a “pretty scrutinizing light” on communities that, on the surface, seem allied or subject to racism themselves. In her Arabic-speaking community – who “got a taste of what it was like to be unfairly treated” – Lattouf notices a lateral anti-blackness. She calls it bboehmite. “There is a pecking order of racism … for people like myself, who are neither black nor white.

“These migrant and refugee communities think that if they try to be white-reaching, they will get a free pass,” she says. “It is a false sense of security.” (On how to avoid being off-white: “Do … use your proximity to whiteness to support rather than denounce other people of color. Don’t … forget that you can be at the receiving end of racism and simultaneously be racist to others.”)

She scrutinizes white-conditioned feminism that tramples on Indigenous and diverse people’s voices, dubbing them the “pprosecco-flavoredprogressives”. “They are middle class, white, but unable to confront their racism, diverse champion voices, or be happy when they see people of color thriving.” Among it all, Lattouf remains hopeful that humans are decent. “I’ve ddealta dial shift in the past couple of years,” she says. “Australians want to do and be better. People are looking for the right things. “We can invest in that goodwill. Equip people with the evidence-based tools to achieve it.”

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.