During and after NAIDOC week, my friends and family in Australia told me about events and media coverage from the First Australians and their long journey back to Country and Culture. (A huge shout out to all those people whose insight, skills, energies and lives are about to bringing to light the previously hidden truths of our collective stories.)
A white Australian person’s reaction to these revelations are commonly:
1) to fall back into the silence of denial,
2) to try to help Indigenous people to integrate with the dominant culture,
3) to minimise the effect our history has had on present day Indigenous Australians,
4) to ignore the effect our history has had on present day non-Indigenous Australians,
5) to feel guilty or ashamed,
6) to become defensive and point out all that is wrong with Indigenous Australians,
7) to run away by moving to another country,
8) to recognise that to be a white Australian person is to accept that we were born into a racist culture and that therefor each one of us has been infected by racism from birth,
8a) to learn about the culture and the people we are racist against,
8b) to explore in great depth our own racist attitudes and how they manifest. 9) to sit in front of the tellie for hundreds of hours of our lives while drinking a stubby/smoking a joint/having a cup of tea/eating chocolates. Or to go shopping.
10) to take up an all-engrossing job, sport, hobby or good cause that doesn’t involve facing our own racism.
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I started out in my mid-teens at point number 5) and remained there until I opted for point number 7). When I opted for point number 7) I still carried the weight of point number 5) around on my shoulders.
What helped me overcome the point number 5) stage was choosing as my country of exile that part of Ireland that had not lost its right to self-determination and independence. I could breathe here without feeling stifled. I could express long-held thoughts and feelings about colonisation and find, instead of opposition, there was understanding and even agreement. Over time, that greatly helped me to overcome my point number 5) reaction.
Over a twenty year period I actively practiced point number 10) and I started to feel good about myself. But during this stage I still suffered from feelings of rage on my visits back to Australia when someone stuck at point number 6) would open their mouths.
And on a few occasions when I saw an Indigenous person down-and-out or suffering from alcoholism and all alone, surrounded by white Australians who were still stuck on point number 1), I would feel the mind-numbing remorse of point number 5) all over again.
Then I had a meeting with Uncle Max Dulumunmun in 2013 and from then on I found myself at point number 8), 8a) and 8b), which is where I am now.
To help me with 8b) I’m reading and re-reading “What It Means To Be White” by Robin DeAglio, and looking up many of her online references. Without her work I wouldn’t have known where to start. (Many people have pointed out “But that’s about America!” It’s not about America, it’s about racism. America has a few hundred years more experience at racism than Australia, so Robin DeAglio has a lot to offer us.)
I’m discovering that racism is not something to waste time and energy feeling bad about, it’s something to study and find out about with urgency, and to overcome and get free of. Self-knowledge is the key to its dissolution, one person at a time.
We’ll have to develop skills of deep listening like the Dalai Lama; the maturity and wisdom of Bill Gamage and Uncle Max; the insight and determination of Dianne Biritjalawuy; the courage of John Pilger and Burnum Burnum; and a readiness to change, that we each will somehow have to find within ourselves.
From the sacred ground of tolerance and race equality, we could actually move forward together. To use John Lennon’s immortal word ~ Imagine! I believe that owning our individual and collective racism is the single most important challenge we white Australians must face. (For example, by not putting our focus on racism in Australia we now have a man like Tony Abbott as prime minister 😦
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