"Silence is Violence. Complacency is Complicity." - Meyne Wyatt
When Emma first asked if I’d like to share my thoughts on the current Black Lives Matter movement and its context in Australia, I was hesitant. I am a privileged and self-educated White Australian, I don’t have a degree and nor have I lived and experienced the constant systemic oppression First Nations People experience. However, the quote “to stay silent in situations of injustice is to choose the side of the oppressor” struck a chord with me and I will no longer stay silent.
There is a line which I would like to make clear before I begin. It’s the line between spotlighting yourself in a movement which deserves your support and being an ally who uses their privilege to uplift the movement. This means that whilst we (as White Australians) are rightfully feeling angry, sad, disgraced and potentially even guilty, we must recognise the privilege that we have to learn about racism instead of experiencing it. It isn’t about us. As White Australians, we cannot expect gratification for making an effort to lessen the hurt that we’ve have been a part of… Because making this effort is what should be expected. So instead of projecting our emotions and feelings onto First Nations People across the world, speaking for them or even ‘staying neutral’ let’s be proactive in our actions. Use your White Privilege! It doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard. It means that your skin tone isn’t one of the things making it harder! Products are designed for you (band aids and bandages, dance tights, ‘skin colour’ crayons, movie characters and figurines almost always centring White main characters and plots). Your citizenship is less questioned, you are the dominant representation on the media. People at your work or school more often than not look like you and you aren’t segregated at these places because of your race.
There should not be shame surrounding learning and growing, we have all been guilty of playing a part in oppression. But if you are a privileged White Australian like myself, now more than ever is the time to keep going, to resist the feed fatigue, and to engage in those awkward and uncomfortable conversations about racial injustice. It is not just isolated in the United States, it’s in our own backyards and schools and families. The Black Lives Matter movement has been in action for almost seven years, and even those who have been involved from the start have stated that this time ‘feels different'. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. So where to start?
Firstly, recent deaths in the US have had Australia in uproar with millions taking to social media to demonstrate their support of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death. And while this is extremely vital, it’s important to realise that Australia too has witnessed the deaths of First Nations at the hands of our justice system. David Dungay, a Dunghutti man, uttered the words “I can’t breathe” 12 times before he died in a Sydney Prison during the Christmas season of 2015. But I myself only learnt this recently. Where was Mr Dungay’s national uproar? First Nations People are the most incarcerated in the world, and 432 First Australians have lost their lives inside custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. We need to recognise this and help stop this because in no way is it just.
Secondly, Invasion Day. The 26th of January was made a public holiday in 1994, despite contention from all states and territories. On this day, in 1788, the British flag was planted on Australian soil under the falsehood of terra nullius (land belonging to no one). While it is described as the date to ‘celebrate Australia’ it was in fact the date which started an extremely dark period of slaughter, dispossession, injustice and hurt for First Australians. It marks the day families, children, cultures, rituals, languages, friends and basic human rights were stolen. Like many, I wasn’t aware of the loss Invasion day is marked by and I too have celebrated on this date. So, to move forward, I acknowledge these wrongdoings and I apologise. I pledge to continue to educate and to learn the history of this land and its people. I will not party on this date.
Lastly, the Aboriginal Flag, did you know that it’s copyrighted? I sure didn’t until recently! Did you know that Victorian Aboriginal owned and lead social enterprise was served a ‘Cease and Desist’ notice from the non-Indigenous company WAM Clothing? This means First Nations People cannot use their own flag without paying royalties… Its honestly incomprehensible! Clothing the Gap currently has a campaign called Free the Flag and on their website you can find all sorts of information, petitions and email templates to get your local politicians to support the movement. Check them out!
So while above issues don’t even scrape the surface of Australia’s current racial injustice I do hope they’ve helped shine a light on some examples of systemic racism which is occurring in our country. I’ve been collecting resources on how to be a good ally when fighting against this racism and below are the main and most frequent points made:
Use your voice, not to ‘make it about you’ but to amplify and share First Nations voices by raising their stories and names up. Pass on their messages. Acknowledge your own privilege and stand up for those who suffer from it. Share true, factual and educational resources to aid White friends and family in their education. (And if they quote misinformation or make racist statements, pull them up on it! Have that uncomfortable conversation!) Don’t expect to be educated by First Nations People. Continue to fight against racial injustices, not just when activism is a trend on Social Media. Being consistent is so important.
Do your research, read a book, an article, listen to a podcast or watch a documentary. Address your own biases and look inwards at your own mistakes, change and address them. Have a conversation with your White friends and family afterwards about what you’ve learned and help them change their own biases and work through their mistakes. Save and share links to educational resources so you can help others learn. Learn about the land you’re on and who the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians are. Explore the language of these people. Diversify the accounts you follow and support First Nations businesses. Don’t ‘go back to normal’ once the social media buzz burns out.
No, a solution will not be found overnight, but I pledge to keep educating myself, supporting First Nations People and trying to be a better ally. I hope this has encouraged others to do the same.
- Felicity Palmer | Undergraduate Student
FAQs answered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHVbVBLlhCM&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR26ZYZBrtMniSz7tv85YoV3aeNYcDOytEbTYkbnIRNdVO8ZzwXsKNnAUoQ
Free the Flag: https://clothingthegap.com.au/pages/free-the-flag
Invasion Day: https://www.commonground.org.au/learn/australia-day
Who the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians of the land you stand on are: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia
Reconciliation activities: https://www.commonground.org.au/7daysofcommonground
Acknowledgment of Country: https://www.commonground.org.au/learn/acknowledgement-of-country
Reconciliation Australia’s statement on Rio Tinto: https://www.reconciliation.org.au/statement-on-rio-tinto/
The language of your land:https://50words.online/