Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene I hardly paid any attention. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that 18 years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. I was at that age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. Scenery was the last thing on my mind.
Haruki Murakami, (1987), Norwegian Wood (trans. Jay Rubin, 2000).
My internet ‘voice’ has been silent for the last few weeks as I have been busy finalising parts of my thesis and organising the documents I’m intending to place before the United Nations in support of my allegations of racism against the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”), the Australian Government and the Australian Capital Territory (“ACT”) Government, which incidentally goes to the polls in October.
After completing my tasks, I decided to take some time-out sitting on the beach and reading the latest edition of Artlink. The theme for the July edition of Artlink is Indigenous Indignation. Within its covers is a two page article on Bindi Cole’s latest project seventy times seven which is all about forgiveness and the cathartic effects forgiving can have on the human psyche. Those of you who followed the Andrew Bolt saga, which came in the wake of a series of articles he wrote for the Fairfax press in which he accused certain high profile Aborigines of using a kind of pretend aboriginality to further their professional and artistic lives and for which he was found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act, will recall that Ms Cole was singled out by Mr Bolt for special condemnation. To Mr Bolt, Ms Cole could not be a ‘real’ Aborigine because she had a “distressingly white face”. I wonder how Mr Bolt would classify those Aborigines in Northern Australia who have distressingly Asian faces or those of us who live in Sydney who might seem to have distressingly Muslim faces?
Back to my post, as its point is not to have a rant at Mr Bolt and the Fairfax Media; rather it is to think about the implications of Ms Cole’s project. Cole’s seventy times seven project could be equally called the ‘I forgive you project’, I forgive you because while being videoed:
…members of the Aboriginal community stare directly into the camera chanting, “I forgive you”. As they repeat these words, their focus turns inwards: they find within themselves the sources of their hurt and the reasons for its forgiveness.
Bruce McLean, I Forgive You, Artlink July 2012, p.44.
While I can understand the importance of forgiving generational pain, pain we inherit from our parents and grandparents, I can’t see the value in forgiving those who still oppress us as a people. Speaking for myself, I certainly do not forgive those members of the AFP, the Australian and ACT Governments, who have caused untold pain to my extended family, destroying lives and causing a suicide for the sole purpose of protecting an illiterate and xenophobic racist within ACT Treasury. For me, and to my mind, forgiveness can only come after accountability and redress. When I asked Captain Fred Martens, whom I have written about extensively on Blak and Black, why he had singled out AFP Officer Tania Ann Stokes to be the first defendant in his Statement Of Claim, he responded:
Her actions resulted in the death of my daughter; she died while I was in jail for a crime I did not commit. The only way I can move on with my life is to receive redress and personal accountability for the hurt and pain Tania Stokes inflicted on me and my family. Forgiveness can then follow.
Many esteemed members of Australia’s white community, such as the aforementioned Mr Andrew Bolt who was found by a Victorian court to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act, accuse the Aboriginal Community of operating a guilt industry over what can, to the minds of these people, be best described as generational crimes. I in turn accuse the white community of peddling forgiveness as a way of avoiding personal accountability and redress for current wrongs, wrongs that are still being committed against Australia’s Aboriginal Community on a daily basis by the dominate culture.
Memory is a funny thing
Haruki Murakami observed “Memory is a funny thing… every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me”. Indeed memory is a funny thing; funny in the hurt and pain it causes; funny in that it allows us to experience feelings of regret, anger and undeniably joy from our personal histories; funny in that it drives many of our daily actions turning some into saints and others into sinners, revolutionaries, etc… For me, memory is that all empowering ‘fire in the belly’, the thing that pushes us beyond the psychological boundaries that were set for us in childhood, boundaries that might be signposted with warnings such as “You’re Aboriginal, you’ll never be one of us” or “All Aborigines are lazy, no-hopers” or my all-time favourite, in the words of the ACT Government “All Aborigines are compulsive liars and criminals”. These are the psychological boundaries that memory has empowered me to cross.
One of my favourite activities as a child was to watch puppet shows, an activity I introduced my nephew to, though perhaps a show centred on the Ritt der Walkuren or Ride of the Valkyries was not the ideal introduction to the magical world of puppetry!
Kenneth Gross in his book Puppet argues, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, that puppetry is a kind of madness. A madness that lies along the spectrum of things, like all madness does; it might be a very ordinary form of madness, but madness it is. The madness lies in the hidden movement of the hand, the curious impulse and skill by which a person’s hand can make itself into the animating impulse, the intelligence or soul, of an inanimate object – it is an extension of the more basic wonder by which we can let this one part of our body become a separate, articulate whole, capable of surprising its owner with its movement, the stories it tells. Fundamentally this is the issue I have with Bindi Cole’s seventy times seven project. By forgiving whitie for the crimes whitie still commits against us, as a people, we become nothing more than whitie’s finger puppets – this is madness!
If there is an Aboriginal guilt industry, an assertion I reject out of hand, forgiveness without personal accountability and redress is whitie’s competing product. Forgiveness without personal accountability and redress is a denial of memory; memory, in the final analysis, is one of those things that marks us as human, puts us above fauna into another category altogether. If as individuals or as a people we are asked to forgive whitie without personal accountability and redress where does that leave us as a people?
If in forgiveness we lose the will to fight against our oppressors – and make no mistake, racism, patriarchy and sexism are all types of oppression – then we become something akin to the inanimate object a puppet is, until someone’s hand gives it the animating impulse that brings it to life. But this life is not life in the true meaning of the word; in this scenario, whitie’s hand becomes the intelligence or soul, of our inanimate bodies.
For me, I intend to maintain the rage, and hold whitie accountable to the standards s/he set but refuses to meet. Standards whitie applies in the harshest ways possible to Indigenous Australians. Forgiveness can only follow true equality, personal accountability and redress – until then, forgiveness is merely another way of saying, “I intend to allow whitie to turn me into a finger puppet of fickle fate”, which just ain’t going to happen!