This post, originally posted by Cate Bolt on her blog An Ordinary Life, is reposted here with permission. Her open willingness to question the status quo and ask how best we can work together to end Indigenous racism in Australia, to acknowledge that perhaps help is not what the Aborigines want, but rather respect, is a reflection of the sort of attitude that Blak and Black wishes to emphasize. Thankyou for letting Blak and Black share your post, Cate. With such an open mind you will find many friends in many places, not least of all among Australia’s Indigenous. Over to Cate …
I don’t even know how to start this post. It’s been brewing in my head for weeks. I never let anything brew that long. A day maybe – I have a short attention span. The fact is I’m nervous about writing this post. Probably far more nervous than I’ve been about writing any other. It could be received badly… or worse, it could be met with complete silence.
A few weeks ago I watched, via media coverage and social media, the removal of the Brisbane Sovereign Embassy at Brisbane’s Musgrave Park. More than 200 police arrived at dawn with an order to remove the Embassy to make way for the Greek festival that was booked for that weekend.
I remembered thinking early in the morning how much progress we, white Australia, had made in reconciling with the Indigenous people of Australia. I thought back to when I was a child growing up in the Snowy Mountains, I’d never seen an Aboriginal person but I’d heard about them. Terrible things. I’d heard them called things like “Coons” and “Abos” and I accepted that that was OK. Nothing I ever heard made me think otherwise. I heard that these black Australians were fundamentally just savages anyway and that they shunned any offers of assistance the government made to them because they weren’t incapable of living like “normal human beings”.
We weren’t taught about the stolen generation or the atrocities that were inflicted on this country’s indigenous when I was at school. We were raised with a sense of entitlement to this country, its land and all of its resources. No one ever implied that the Aboriginal people who were here long before us should have any rights.
So now, in 2012 as I watched the Musgrave Park happenings unfold, I was perplexed by this belief that we’ve made such progress and yet, not come so far at all. Why? And then I did something I almost wish I didn’t do – I clicked the #MusgravePark hashtag and read what others had to say. And there it was – we hadn’t come far at all. 140 character episodes of repulsive racial intolerance invaded my eyes. The “C” word – both the one I mentioned earlier and the one I won’t say – appearing hand in hand.
I did some ranting that day but unlike other days – other topics – I kept it within the safety of my home. My daughter came home the next day and told me with absolute horror what she had learnt at school about white people taking Aboriginal babies away. I asked her many questions to see how much she understood about the truth and I felt somewhat consoled that perhaps, finally, children were being taught the truth. She harassed me until I agreed to look up a video they had watched on YouTube and then we watched it together.
She cried. And then I cried because she cried. Not simply because she was crying but for the fact she truly understood it was wrong and had caused great pain – and she felt their pain.
And when it finished she asked me to play it again.
At this point in my life where I am driven obsessively with the need to help others it drives me to distraction that I feel so completely helpless to do anything to assist with the problems that lie on my own doorstep. The irony that I can go into a foreign country – a country that I have never been to before – and start an orphanage and save the lives of dozens of children, easier than I can assist the same number of children in my own land, is not lost.
It seems to me that there is still this great divide between indigenous and white Australia and I don’t think some of it is intentional. I nearly didn’t write this post out of fear. I can count the number of Aboriginal people I know on one hand. I love them all dearly but I don’t pretend to fully understand the complexities of reconciliation. If I’m sitting here scared to say something which might not be politically correct, scared I might use the wrong words, or the wrong references and somehow show ignorance or disrespect – then I’m pretty sure others must feel the same.
Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know.
Is it even OK to say that you want to “help” indigenous Australians? Is that offensive to imply that they “need” our help? Is it arrogant to even assume that we as white Australians even have anything that Aboriginal culture can benefit from? Or is that what got us into trouble in the first place?
Whenever possible I will donate to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation and hope that the money is used in the best way it can be, but like everyone else I’m just guessing that’s the best I can do. There just doesn’t seem to be open dialogue. There’s still this culture of “us” and “them” and I don’t know how we go about undoing that – or if in fact Aboriginal Australia wants to remain somewhat detached. Which I could probably understand. I’m sure there’s no short answer and I’m sure the diversity amongst the first Australians would mean that they all don’t even agree on what “reconciliation” would mean.
I just wish there were more Aboriginal people talking about what Aboriginal people need and less white people telling them (and me) what they need.
We’ve come so far and yet – here we are – standing still. Frozen.