Where we've been, and where to go.
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Friends, where do we start?
These past weeks have felt like a time for lil ol’ white me to shut up, sit back and listen. To share and amplify Black voices, anger, art, music, perspectives, experiences. Right now we’re watching history being made and I’m all too aware of my ongoing need for education and perspective. I only learned what white privilege WAS as an adult, for crying out loud. That was an embarrassingly short time ago (the learning, not becoming an adult), so I’m very clearly no expert. I’m learning every single day and I’m sure I will continue to be, right up until my own shuffling off this mortal coil. I’m very aware that right now I need to listen and learn, and centre others.
And that won’t stop, until I get to the shuffling stage - but this is a writer blog. A blog about a writer and writing, but this writer is also a human living in this world, with a perfectly good, matching set of eyes and ears, and quite a smattering of empathy. Who knows that words are powerful and have to be used, because saying nothing when you can see wrong will only support the status quo. And this status needs to be less quo, and more go. So, deep breath - where to start?
Let’s start by clearing the air. Black Lives Matter. To anyone who just can’t suppress that kneejerk cry of ‘But All Lives Matter!’, you are:
1 - embarrassing yourselves by stating the bleeding obvious.
2 - inadvertently underlining the whole point of the BLM movement because yes, they do, but right now all lives are not remotely equal, nor fairly treated in our society, nor have they ever been, which is why the BLM movement is necessary. Have a little think about that, and get over yourselves.
With that out of the way, let’s also acknowledge that we here in Australia have a looonnng way to go. This is not a problem imported from the US, or anywhere else (well, possibly colonial Britain). We’ve done a very solid job of institutionalising racism into our systems in our own short white history, so this is one area in which we need no help from outside, thank you very much. We’re up there with the big boys in this. Why, just over a week ago we made international headlines when a mining company blew up a 46,000 year old Indigenous site - 100% legally - with absolutely no encouragement from anyone else. How could that have happened without some good, working structural racism in place? (I also had a little think about that in another blog here.)
Let’s also keep in mind that there’s been more than 430 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody ended in 1991. Indigenous Australians are 15 times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to be incarcerated, and this bald fact opens onto another destructive scenario of families and cultural identities deliberately torn apart, across generations. Indigenous communities have collectively borne the brunt of inter-generational trauma and the havoc wreaked by that.
In spite of this, it seems that most Australians believe, along with ScoMo, that there is institutional racism in the USA, but not Australia. I would say we need to listen well before making such assumptions. Listen, and read, and learn our own history; not just the whitewashed version I grew up with. Today my kids are learning about settlement and colonisation, rather than discovery, and have maps showing the Indigenous nations in the classrooms as a matter of course. Things are changing, though it might feel very slowly.
And today it’s easier than ever to learn. There are important, articulate, wise, impassioned Indigenous voices we can tune into. This knowledge is there at the end of our fingers, if we care to look and listen, and enrich ourselves in the process. We have to understand there’s no shame in realising we've been wrong, or badly informed, or even just oblivious. There’s nothing wrong with learning something we didn’t know before, whatever age we are, and maybe even changing our minds. With getting to know our own country as never before.
I have a feeling this moment isn't going away. Not really. Like a post-COVID world will never be quite the same, neither will the world after the week that was. 2020 will be in the history books as one of those crucial, defining moments in time. So let’s go with it. And let's be on the right side of history, eh?
So, where to go from here?
There's some great books by Indigenous writers here. I would add the mind-bending Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta, the classic My Place by Sally Morgan and Tara June Winch’s latest magnificent novel The Yield to this list. I’m also reading Black British writer Reni Eddo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, which is a must read, and the exquisite Audre Lorde in The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. The Indigenous publisher Magbala Books are also definitely worth checking out.
I did an EXCELLENT online Noongar language and culture course, run by Edx and Curtin University, which I thoroughly recommend. Learn at your own pace, interactive discussions board, solid, generous and enlightening content, and completely free. Boola moorditj! Unfortunately this year’s course has just started but they tend to run it every year, so keep an eye out for this.
You can also check out the amazing doco In My Blood It Runs, which follows 10-yr-old Arrernte Aboriginal boy Dujuan as he grows up Alice Springs, Australia.
If you are moved to pay the rent by supporting Indigenous charities and organisations, here are some worthy causes (I will keep updating this list):
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation - this is one I support with a monthly subscription, they do such excellent, important work.
The Djap Warrung Embassy, which works tirelessly to protect the ancient culture of birthing trees on country. They need our support as this battle is, incredibly, still ongoing.
Change the Record works to end the incarceration of, and family violence against, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Sisters Inside (Indigenous women make up just 3% of the Australian population but up to 1/3 of the prison population).
Fire Sticks - dedicated to Indigenous fire and land management.
Pay the Rent (Victoria)
Justice for David Dungay Junior fundraiser
Community First Development seek volunteers
Family of Aunty Tanya Day fundraiser
The excellent charity Children's Ground, led by First Nations communities.
And some other conversations and resources:
Blackfulla Revolution on Facebook are impassioned, tireless advocates for increasing understanding of Indigenous Australia and Australians. The page is run by both Indigenous people and wadjelas and it is fierce in its advocacy, but welcoming to all genuinely wanting to learn and discuss. I have a special respect for these guys ever since they were incredibly generous giving me personal feedback on a story that included a Noongar woman using language, including providing Noongar words I didn't have. I'm still humbled by that extraordinarily generous response, which they absolutely did not have to give.
Thanks to miss fata morgana (@itselleokay on Twitter) for her own list of recommendations of who to support (some reflecting links above).
Thanks also to Amy Thunig for the resource list on her blog, which fills in a few of the knowledge gaps about Indigenous Australia that so many of us wadjelas have.
Go well, be safe, be kind.
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