When we look at a map of the world’s major trouble spots we see or at least I see, a white footprint superimposed over each and every one of these trouble spots. Via this process it is possible to trace the path of European avarice, imperialism and religious bigotry. The ‘gifts’ white man has left along this path are murder, rape, theft and ultimately genocide. These have given rise to an intractable array of conflict; of brother against brother, father against son, conflicts fuelled by the destruction of indigenous people’s rights, language, culture and hope.
The reason for raising this issue now is that over the weekend I was having coffee with a friend, a former Principle Singer with Opera Australia and a man who had spent some time in PNG in the 1970s, a time that happened to coincide with PNG independence and the Javanese colonisation of West Papua. White man has an obvious hand or should I say foot in both of these processes.
While discussing issues ranging from the attempted genocide of the Wiradjuri by white colonists following the 1824 Bathurst war to the ongoing genocide of the West Papuan’s by Indonesia, carried on to this very day, we were accosted by a plump, bespectacled white lady, sans her front teeth, we later learned that her name is Sue.
After interrupting our conversation, Sue proceeded to regale the entire coffee shop with story after story about how white people are mistreated, unfairly disadvantaged and generally discriminated against by Aborigines and that Aborigines have “it way to good” and should be “thankful to white Australians” for corralling them into Housing Commission tenements in the far flung reaches of Sydney. In such salubrious locations as Glenfield, Raby or god forbid Macquarie Fields, a place so infamous that according to the popular media all of its denizens exist in a ‘zombiefied’ state leaching the life force from the good Christian souls of white Australia. Nothing mentioned about the fact that prior to 1788 Aboriginal Australia was in quite possession of the whole of the continental Australian landmass. There was also nothing mentioned about the fact that the land we sat on drinking our coffee was prior to 1788 in the quite possession of the Gadigal and was stolen from them by white colonists from Europe without compensation or even acknowledgement that a wrong had been committed.
In the end we established that Sue herself was one of those ‘zombiefied’ denizens from the Macquarie Fields Housing Commission estate, who had somehow managed to escape from the corral for the day. Her ‘problem’ as it turned out was that she resented being forced to live next to people whom she felt naturally superior to. Why did Sue feel this way? Simply because she is white and many of her neighbours are Aboriginal Australians leaching the life force from the good Christian souls of white Australia!
While I have many fond memories from my youth of being racially abused when visiting friends and family in Macquarie Fields I have never considered its denizens to be anything more or less that fellow humans living in strained circumstances. It’s at this point that my post actually begins.
A defining feature of my experiences while living in PNG in the 1990s was that even the most base of white fellas living up there considered themselves superior to the nationals. Why? Again, simply because they were born white and the PNG national not! Simple logic from simple minds, no need to think when your only equal is a mirror image of yourself. No room for Tonto, the preverbal native ‘sidekick’ in this scenario.
It is this attitude by the white fellas of this world that has and is fuelling all the trouble that the indigenous people of the former European colonies and meeting out to each other. This is also where the concept of complicity or collective responsibility comes in. Prior to China’s entrance onto the world stage as an economic juggernaut in the last decade or so wealthy western societies were able to experience phenomenal economic growth by exploiting, at under value, the natural resources of their former colonies. This economic exploitation was achieved by the crudest methods imaginable, sow internal discord with the indigenous peoples of your former colonies and send in your military either directly or by proxy to restore the ‘rule of law’ and continue the process of plundering their resources that started in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Only this time all is sanctioned by international law, whether in fact or fiction.
The genocide that is currently underway in West Papua is a direct outcome of European colonization of the area in the 15th through 20th centuries. Yes I know that the direct invasion was carried out by Indonesian military forces which back the colonization of the area by Javanese, but the real beneficiaries of this process are the wealthy western societies who gain access to cheap resources plundered by western multi-national mining companies such as Freeport – McMoRan. In 2006 productions from the Freeport mine were 610,800 tonnes of copper; 58,474,392 grams of gold; and 174,458,971 grams of silver. All of which is the rightful property of the indigenous people of West Papua. What have the rightful owners of these riches reaped from the western exploitation of them? Rape, murder and genocide – all in the name of maintaining political and economic stability in wealthy western societies, we may close our eyes to this reality, but we remain complicit in the process. If there was not a market for cheap resources driven by western greed, the criminals perpetrating these crimes would have less incentive to do so and the west would have more incentive to speak out on behalf of the oppressed.
I’m white so I’m right
My encounter with Sue in the coffee shop is relevant, in that, she with her few sordid stories about being disadvantaged because she is white and therefore entitled to more than a black which to her mind she is not getting, encapsulates the whole notion of complicity. I’m white so everything I do to an indigenous person to improve my lot in life, no matter how harmful those actions might be to that class of people known as indigenous, is right, why? Simply because I’m white and they are not, isn’t life simple when you look around and all you see are mirror images of yourself!
Well if those who profess to be Christian, or enlightened or even plain human chose to open their eyes and look around, they would see that not all is right or white and that their mirror reflecting themselves is nothing more than an illusion. Yes we might have big houses resplendent with central heating and cooling, new cars, fancy clothes and be prepared to spend $500 on a night out, but this is illusion. The reality is the suffering of those who pay literally with their very lives so we can squander their resources in the name of western political stability and avarice.
If we extent the notion of complicity to include all the potential beneficiaries of the outcome of the ongoing genocide of the world’s indigenous peoples in the name of the illusion that is the western standard of living, then all those, including Sue who benefits via the process of affordable state funded housing, are complicit in the genocide of entire races of people. Is this Christian, humane or ethical, this is a judgement that is open to each and every of us to make as individuals, but it is how we decide this issue that will determine how we develop as a species. In the same way that might does not make right, white does not make right. If we don’t speak out against the West Papuan genocide or the more subtle forms of genocide that are currently being waged against Australia’s Indigenous people, or Australia’s neo-colonial exploitation of the Pacific via RAMSI, the ADF and the AFP under the pretence of bringing the ‘rule of law’ to the “savages” of the region then we are complicit as beneficiaries in the death and destruction that follows.
While we await the decision of the High Court of Australia in the Julian Moti affair, it is worth giving some thought to the current plight of a man who ventured to put the interests of the indigenous people of the Pacific above those of his own self-interest. He attempted to shatter the mirror of illusion that Australian society is so fond of gazing into, for this, he was branded an anti-Australian ‘trouble-maker’ and removed from the scene. We’ll have to wait to see if justice prevails.