COMMENT

You didn't mean it? That's not the point

Fact is, I've never felt I truly belong. I can trace this unease back to childhood. I had an Indian stepfather. He was dark skinned and I was fair. And kids being mean, I copped nasty words all through school. "Boong", "Halfcaste", "Wog", "Abo" ... the whole gammut.

Social awkwardness, shyness, a lack of trust and, because a few teachers were in on the act, an abiding suspicion of authority - these were the end products of the casual racism to which I was exposed.

It was the 1960s. Australia had the White Australia Policy; until 1967 Indigenous Australians were not even counted in the census. We were part of a trio of white southern hemisphere countries whose very foundations were solidly racist: South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia.

The casual, off-the-cuff needling I received has to be seen in that context.

This isn't a pity party because apart from this constant racist acid bath, my childhood was reasonably privileged. For a start, I was white. In no way would my hurt measure up to the pain and isolation others experience because of the colour of their skin, their faith, their ethnic background, their sexuality. But it has left a scar - a sense I don't truly belong which has followed me like a shadow for decades.

And that has given me an insight perhaps lost on many white Australians: racism - however casual, unintended or thoughtless - has a lasting effect.

It sets you apart when you want to belong, it erodes self-confidence and trust. It makes you angry and angry can make you do things you come to regret.

For Indigenous people who have been here tens of thousands of years, being made to feel they don't belong is almost beyond comprehension.

This is why there has been so much anger over the "n---er in the woodpile" comment made by Group Seven operations manager Peter Mehl. In the context of a football comp that has so many Indigenous players, at an annual general meeting for juniors, uttering it was breathtakingly thoughtless.

So much has been done to confront racism on the sporting field. But if the administrators can't see the gravity in dispensing hurtful, belittling comments, if they downplay such as being "off-the-cuff", we still have a lot of work to do.

Such a comment might have been acceptable in 1960s Australia - we were a much less enlightened place back then - but there's no way it should be allowed to pass in 2019.