I didn’t think I was racist. I was ‘one of the good ones’ that didn’t make racist jokes or discriminate against people based on their race. I have said things that in retrospect, were unhelpful and demonstrative of my white privilege – such as declaring that I ‘don’t see colour.’ Ugh, how cringe.

My parents are English migrants, and came to Australia in the late 70’s. I was born in Meanjin and we moved to Mparntwe, Alice Springs, when I was a toddler. I grew up on Arrernte Country, a naive and oblivious white kid with migrant parents. I considered myself to be educated enough and progressive enough not to be racist, but never did any work to confront – or even acknowledge –  the racism that lived inside me.

I worked at the Aboriginal Legal Service in Victoria for a few years after the birth of my second son. I believed that I was not racist, so working with First Nations people was not meant to be a huge educational leap. I was struck though, on a daily basis, by how oblivious and ignorant I had been for my entire life; how much learning I needed to do, and how much I need to sit down, and listen to First Nations people.

My Aboriginal colleagues attended more funerals in a year than I have been to in my entire lifetime. My two white boys have a higher chance of attending university than their Aboriginal peers who are more likely to go to prison than to tertiary education. Despite representing barely 3% of the Australian population, Aboriginal people represent almost 30% of the prison population. I know all of this, but was I doing anything about it? Was thinking I was not racist enough?

I’ve completed more than one cultural awareness training course and I’ve got the certificates to prove it. At some point thought, we need to move away from not being racist to being anti-racist. At some point we need to confront our ingrained socialised racism and work towards being anti-racist. There is no end point; there is no day where we will not have some racism we have absorbed and allowed to live inside us.

When I was at university, sometime in 2000 when I was about 19, I dressed in blackface for a college party. I don’t remember the reason, or even the context. It was a dress-up party and I decided I should paint my face to look like the character I chose. I don’t even remember what the character was. I don’t remember anyone in my college dorm questioning it but if they had I probably would have been upset at being labelled as racist. It was only years later that I learned that blackface is racist and reflected on what I had done. I am deeply sorry that I did something without any forethought or consideration for the impact of my behaviour or that the act of blackface is rooted in racism.

We can keep calling ourselves not racist. And we can be offended by someone calling us racist. This is white fragility – being more offended by being labelled as racist than the impact of our racism on people of colour and First Nations people. White fragility is centring our hurt at being called out, rather than listening, accepting that we have said or done something that was racist and apologising for it, and learning from and never doing it again. White fragility is demanding that we be treated softly and nicely because we believe we are not racist and if they want us to be good allies then they shouldn’t use harsh words against us.

It is a confronting to learn that we are racist. It feels uncomfortable and we may react by getting angry or defensive. But sitting with that discomfort, shame and guilt, accepting those hard feelings, can also be liberating. Because when we sit with that shame, and accept it as a challenge, we can have the most powerful conversations, and we can apologise. There is so much power in the word ‘sorry.’

I am grateful the work and labour of black activists and writers including Celeste Liddle, Stan Grant, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Antoinette Lattouf, as well as international authors such as Layla F Saad. Layla’s book Me and White Supremacy is a guide and workbook for recognising white privilege and fragility. The piece Dadirri is helpful for a deep meditation and deep listening to bring to the conversation about racism, and the book Decolonising Solidarity by Clare Land is helpful too.

Conversations about race often bring up discussion about identity politics including about trans rights and transphobia. I’ve written my thoughts about this, and I think the conversation about white fragility could be useful for conversations about cis-fragility too.

Sarah Jefford OAM (she/her) is a surrogacy lawyer living in Naarm with her family. Sarah practises in surrogacy and donor conception, assisting intended parents and surrogates across the country. Sarah produces The Australian Surrogacy Podcast, and has published a book, More Than Just a Baby, a guide to surrogacy for Australian intended parents and surrogates. In 2023, Sarah was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia, for services to the law and the surrogacy community.

Hi! I’m Sarah Jefford (she/her). I’m a family creation lawyer, practising in surrogacy and donor conception arrangements. I’m an IVF mum, an egg donor and a traditional surrogate, and I delivered a baby for two dads in 2018

I advocate for positive, best practice surrogacy arrangements within Australia, and provide support and education to help intended parents make informed decisions when pursuing overseas surrogacy.

more than just a baby

Book an initial 30 minute consult