… What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?”
And he to me: “This miserable mode
Maintain the melancholy souls of those
Who lived withouten infamy or praise.
Commingled are they with that caitiff choir
Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,
Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.
The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair;
Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,
For glory none the damned would have from them …
… When some among them I had recognised,
I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
Who made through cowardice the great refusal.
Canto III, Inferno, Dante Aligheri,
I am in less that a magnanimous mood at present. In fact, I’m downright white hot angry and there’s nothing to make me stand my ground more firmly than malicious and self-serving manipulation. You see, my meditation on metta has been given a new focus for loving-kindness with one person creeping into last place as the one I find most difficult to send metta and at this stage, I am still not inclined to forgive. Until I can do that, I know that metta will not come for me.
Conversely, it seems that the Australian Government has found that the spiteful hate it wrought upon former gold and silver medal winning Olympian Peter Norman was wrong. And perhaps for them, in coming to the realization that they as an institution mistreated this one man means that they have moved a little closer to metta. Perhaps that small gesture frees the Australian Government of one of its own yokes of misery. But what of the hundreds of others not acknowledged? What of Cameron Dommadgee, Mr. Ward, Kwementyaye Ryder, Martin Noble? What of the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue, Ms. King, Angelique, Lucinda McMillan? The non-Indigenous man is finally acknowledged, but those for whom he stood remain ignored.
I have written before of reconciliation of the soul, with God if you like, and I have thought a great deal about forgiveness. It is one thing to forgive the self for the harms we perpetuate on others; it is entirely another to be granted the forgiveness of a victim. For this reason, the acknowledgement and apology of the Australian Parliament seems to me, hollow. The Parliament may have forgiven itself, but Peter Norman cannot give any response.
The question of forgiveness must be borne in the light of ongoing actions beyond the initial harm. Has the source of your pain made significant efforts to amend behaviour? Has the perpetrator of your disadvantage continued to brag of his exploits at your expense, to lie, to cheat, to manipulate at your expense? If it was me being offered an apology without such contrition being evidence of these conditions, I would reject it as little more than political posturing.
You see, the problem with the Australian Government’s apology to Peter Norman lies in the actions of it’s representative on the international sporting stage, The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), whom the government has conveniently saddled with any residual blame without any consideration of the fact that they are a heavily federally funded entity. Having excluded Norman from competing in any Olympics beyond 1968 with excuses suggesting he was injured despite having met all qualifying criteria and maintaining that position into the new millenium, the AOC has proved the emptiness of the gesture. It even failed to invite him to participate in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Norman instead invited by Michael Johnson and Ed Moses to stay with the US Olympic team. What’s more, the reprimand given to Damien Hooper at the hands of the International Olympic Committee at this year’s Olympics backed by the AOC, proved that politics trumps free expression. Hooper found more support among the Canadian Indigenous athletes than his own countrymen. I don’t remember Cathy Freeman getting permission before she ran a victory lap with an Aboriginal flag either!
Conviction in one’s actions is the true test of integrity, that is what I believe. There is no sense in making an expression of defiance or difference if you become a shrinking violet at the first sign of attack; you become a hypocrite. Worse yet are those uncommitted souls who refuse to take a side in a battle for fear of being among the losers, those deserving of Hell’s vestibule with it’s hornets, wasps and maggots. They are the one’s I consider to be the Peer Gynt’s of the world. All I can say about them is that the vestibule would be a preferable place of suffering to one of the bolgias in the circles beyond Acheron’s inner shore.
Peter Norman seems to have been the sort of person I hope to emulate. He never resiled from wearing the badge of equality or his actions in 1968. He endured the scorn of a people and the condemnation of its leaders with dignity. He went to his grave never hearing the admissions of fault nor the apology of a nation for the hurt it inflicted upon him at the height of the Black Rights era in this country. I note that the non-Indigenous former Chief Justice Jim Spigelman did not suffer similar long-term derision for participation in the Freedom Rides during the same period.
There is one positive I take from the actions of the Australian Parliament in the tale of Peter Norman’s activism; it is that in apologizing for the actions of leaders more than a generation earlier, the institution has proved the timelessness of the Parliament, as it did with Rudd’s Apology. When backed by real initiatives to eliminate inequality and to serve justice for the victim and/or his kin who suffered as a result of the racist attacks, the changes in attitude and culture that make up our leadership will be realized.
It’s such a seemingly insignificant place in which to embed my hope for the spiritual growth of this nation. I chose long ago to swallow the blue pill and do not, for one instance regret doing so. I make no apologies for my opinions in these matters or for standing by the cause of Blak and Black. I look to Peter Norman, no longer able to accept or decline his country’s apology and know that he is the type of person I seek to emulate. I remain a suffragist (note, not a suffragette) and I too wear the badge of equality with pride, in the face of whatever manipulative denigration that may bring. I have nothing to forgive myself in these matters and in that, I have peace. Metta will come in its own time. The miscreants can look after themselves.