I was fortunate, I guess, to have the privilege of growing up with school friends from a wide variety of backgrounds. I have friends who are the first of their generation to be born here from Italy, Greece and various parts of the Balkans, from Argentina and Chile, and other friends who were born in Vietnam, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste. I grew up in a poor working class suburb, and some of those kids, my friends, they were tough guys. And you'd see us together, playing football, rough-housing, complaining about homework and hanging out together, the Slavs, the Italians, the Asians, the Anglos and the South Americans, and some of Aboriginal descent, and the idea of 'race' didn't occur to us. Culture did; it meant some of my buddies' parents spoke a different language at home, and we got to eat awesome different types of food when we were at each other's houses. I just thought that was the whole world, in primary and then high-school. Dudes with a variety of different facial features trying to get through teenage hormones together, talkin' the schoolyard BS, checking out the chicks, dreaming of our first cars, cramming study notes to get through Math, Science, History and English. Those years shaped everything I believed the world was. We knew our Vietnamese contingent - all skinny, cheeky, martial-arts loving cats who on the flip side could, when they weren't goofin' off with the rest of us, study pretty darn hard - came from a difficult background, being refugees from a war in which their fathers and uncles fought alongside Australian and US troops against the Communist North. We learned words and phrases in a variety of languages: hello, good-bye, how are you?, I'm hungry, I'm tired, and, of course, all the swear words, in Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, Italian, Greek and Vietnamese. We had fun together, we got in trouble together, we did school assignments together, we played sport together and we faced all the issues of adolescence together. Our only understanding of the word 'discrimination' wasn't related to ethnicity, but our socio-economic realities as kids living in south-western Sydney. We weren't the 'silvertails' from the northern or eastern suburbs, we were derided as 'Westies' by the rest of Sydney, the poor people, the working class, the hoodlums who used to run around stealing hub caps at night. Then came the time when we were old enough to drive, and we ventured outside our neighbourhood and surrounds. We went to dances and concerts in other, heretofore distant, parts of the big city. One of my mates got called a 'black ----' one night by some clown, and it started a hell of a brawl. We didn't understand what the issue was with his skin tone, but we did know that the second word was the worst insult ever. Or there were comments about another mate's eyes - no big deal to us, the shape of his eyes meant no more to us than the fact that mine are blue as opposed to green or grey or brown - but we knew he was being insulted on account of his appearance so it was on again. So we grew up and learned a strange truth. People in the world at large had this big issue that seemed important to them, and it was called 'race'. To some people, sandy-blond blue-eyed freckle-faced Benny Holiday, being of Anglo origin, had no place hanging out with guys named Gino, or Tien, or Dimitri, or Jose, because they were 'different'. They came from other 'backgrounds'. These were kids I'd played with in the sandpit with toy cars when we were in kindergarten, for pity's sake. They were like brothers to me (44 years later, most of them, those who haven't moved interstate, still are). And someone is going to insult them to my face? We learned about the civil rights movement in America, and weird ideas like segregation and 'people of colour' being required to sit at the back of buses, and even the way our own First Peoples were treated by the the dominant Anglo society, and we thought 'you people are all %$^& crazy!' The idea of some morons covered in white gowns and hoods terrorizing people because they were of African descent seemed like some sort of sick, twisted bad joke. People wouldn't really do that, would they? It didn't, and doesn't, make sense to me. Now our kids all play together when we meet up for BBQ or go out to a park or playground someplace. Like us, they don't even stop to think about the ethnic features of the kid next to them. What does it matter? All they care about is having fun together. Playing with dolls, or cars, in the sandpit. Going down the curly slide together, laughing. One day they'll grow up enough to share ideas, philosophies, foods and music from different cultures with each other, and they'll be enriched by it, as we have been. Now I'm all nostalgic, I'm gonna call some of the guys tonight. Organise a BBQ now the winter cold is starting to wane.