Tell me who you are, what you stand for what you mean
Tell me what the lines and whirls upon your hand do mean
Show me plain the markings of the Jew, the black, the slave
Then march in regiment formation ‘til the end of time and days.
Mix not the seed of black with white or brown with yellow tones
Lest men become confused and think that each is all the same;
There cannot be a master race if contamination be
All power, all truth, survival lies with no-one else but me!
There’s a calming sense that I get from being near the sea that cannot be equaled by any other water source. Sitting on some shoreline, whatever the weather, brings into focus my extreme obscurity in the splendour of the universe. I know that without the support of others I would be less than a blip in time and it is for that very reason that I strongly believe in community. Without community there is nothing. No reason to be, no sense of self. And when one subset of mankind ignores another, we are not only consigning them obscurity, but demonstrating to every other branch of mankind our selfishness and hubris.
Greed underpins all the conflict in our lives, driven by our own insecurities about who we are and our value in the world. We cannot afford for one man, or worse yet, community to become greater than ourselves, lest we be exterminated. Differences, rather than being celebrated for the diversity they bring, are often seen as a threat and used to stereotype others. Many races and cultures have experienced such marginalization over the centuries, with the Jews of the twentieth century perhaps being the most recognizable victims of the past century.
The Holocaust, or Final Solution as it was also known, was driven by a Nazi Reich presenting the minority Jews as the cause of the loss of the First World War. Stereotyped as wealthy people who only gave jobs to their own, the Jews were singled out for persecution via legislative means such as the Nuremberg Laws which stripped Jews of German citizenship and made inter-marriage of Jews and non-Jews illegal. In an effort to prevent becoming involved in the politics of Germany and having to support a rapidly increasing population of asylum seekers, other countries tightened laws and refused entry to those who left their escape too late.
In 1938, seeking money to fund the growth of the Nazi golem, the Kristallnacht marked the beginning of the attempted genocide of the Jews by the Brownshirts with a violent pogrom that decimated vasts parts of Germany and Austria. Blamed for the actions of one Jewish man, Herschel (Hermann) Feibel Grynszpan who was responsible for the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath, the Brownshirts took it upon themselves to exact revenge for the death of one of their own community, killing 91 Jews, destroying almost every synagogue and Jewish shopfront and arresting 30,000 Jews who were subsequently sent to concentration camps.
Many Germans apparently did lodge complaints with the British embassy over the Kristallnacht riots, but the world nonetheless ignored them. The result, was World War Two, the Holocaust and a world that wondered how mankind could ever have reached such a point.
Many Germans did express concern to the British embassy about the Night of Broken Glass, but perhaps in a remarkable show of empathy and the realization that all men deserve equal respect, the Australian Aborigines League led by Yorta Yorta man William Cooper marched to the German Consulate in Melbourne with a petition holding more than 1800 signatures. It was the only private outcry made in response to the horrors of that awful night anywhere in the world.
This is the perfect example of why human rights is everyone’s business. In our hour of need, when it is us under attack, who will aid us if we fail to heed the cries for help from our neighbours? The indigenous people of Australia, downtrodden and beaten for 150 years, were able to see that whilst their own plight was grim, that of their fellow man on the other side of the world and of white skin, was no better. Perhaps the action meant little in the grand scheme, but the ideal, the intent could not be dismissed.
This is why, through Blak and Black, the human rights of people of all religions, cultures and colours are given focus. Yes, the indigenous people of Australia have suffered and continue to suffer beyond limits most non-Indigenous would find unacceptable, but the plight of our friends in West Papua, Palestine, the Congo and many other places are no less worthy of our concern and support. This is what Blak and Black is really about – the fact that colour is irrelevant. Black skin or yellow star, the tone of a person’s complexion means nothing. If the Kristallnacht teaches us anything, it is that the marker of difference is identity, how a person chooses to identify or worse yet, how they are forced to identify. Colour does not make a man black, I do. A yellow star does not make a man a Jew, I do. However an individual chooses to identify, whatever forms his id is not half as relevant to his place in society as that stereotypical narrow-minded view of the world that is formed within my own mind. When I shed this and choose to see the person as he is, stripped of his star and blind to his complexion, I see only a person with the same frailties as me.
It’s a very simply concept, but putting it into place is certainly not easy. Seeing any person simply as they are is almost impossible, as the filters we learn throughout life shade and crop our view. Dallas Scott discussed the consequences of colour and identification in an article in The Australian a few months ago, stating that he was relieved that his autistic son would not have to deal with the issue of having dark skin, because his life would be difficult enough by being on the spectrum. And yet, what the very statement he has made fails to realize is that the point of difference, will remain his Aboriginality. If his son pins a small aboriginal flag on the board in his workspace or wears an Aboriginal t-shirt, he will be marked, regardless of his skin colour. This is what happened to some of those involved with Blak and Black. This was the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue’s burden and remains that of subsequent generations of his family, some of them with skin as fair as me.
In the days when it is no longer possible to recognize an Aborigine by the colour of his skin, a muslim by the cut of her clothes or a Palestinian by the brand of cigarette he smokes, how will the world differentiate between descendents of Babel? Will the Jews wear yellow stars again, the muslims sickles and the buddhist ghanta so we can here them coming? More importantly, would we allow it? You say no now, but the Kristallnacht and the Holocaust are not too far in the past.
There is little to mark a man’s worth on this earth than the effect he leaves behind on others. Deeds that have good effects, leave the whole community in a better place than those that destroy and marginalize. There can be no expectation of support in the pursuit of our own rights if we do not support those of the people we see wronged before us. If William Cooper and Australian Aborigines League, with no recognition even as people, can speak up for the Jews persecuted by the Nazis, why can’t you support those around who you see are persecuted and denied their rights?