I have started this post about six times now. I honestly don’t know what to write about Black Lives Matter and the racism debate that is raging in Australia right now. As an Aboriginal woman it is overwhelming. The racism that the world seems to finally be seeing is an everyday part of Aboriginal life. As an Aboriginal mum I am terrified for my boys and what they will endure in this world because of the colour of their skin.
I wondered if I should share my childhood experiences of racism, like:
Surely this would highlight that racism starts at a very young age and Australia needs change so that no child has to be at risk because of the colour of their skin. That no child should face racism before they even know what it is.
Or should I talk about the many times when the treatment of two boys in my extended family group – one white and one black – highlighted that being black meant you always got the raw end of the deal? Especially with the police. Should I talk about the time that they were riding an unregistered motorbike owned by the white kid, the black kid on the back: both wearing no helmets; both making stupid decisions as teenagers often do? Should I point out how the black passenger was arrested, not just fined, while the white owner of the unregistered bike, who should not have had a passenger, who also should have been wearing a helmet was given a warning? Should I talk about how this is just one of many examples I could talk about just in relation to those two lads? Surely this would highlight that race is often a factor in interactions with police.
Should I talk about white privilege and when I first became aware of mine? I was 17 and got called to the principal’s office to support a younger Aboriginal student who was in trouble for her response to being racially attacked by a white student. He was returned to class with no consequence while my koori sister was facing potential suspension. As we discussed the issue, she told me how lucky I was to be able to pretend I wasn’t Aboriginal if I wanted to while she could never escape it because of the way she looked. Should I talk about the awareness that her comment brought to my life and how sad I still feel that she once felt that way? Would talking about my white privilege help others acknowledge their white privilege and the impact it has on how they see the world?
Or is it better to talk about the racism I have experienced as an adult – the many cabs I have had to hail for dark-skinned friends, family and even strangers because cabs don’t stop for black people? Or the mouthfuls of hate I have copped from cabbies when they realise that the fair skinned person is letting Aboriginal people into their cab? Should I talk about the times I have had to pay for my trip up front because the driver refuses to move until we do? Amazingly this has only ever been an issue when I am with black people. Should I mention the time that I was filling out paperwork to start a new job and while making small talk with my new boss I mentioned I was Aboriginal? She instantly withdrew the job offer and eventually told me I was unsuccessful because they needed someone with more experience with petty cash. I had been working very similar roles with larger sums of petty cash for three years and had glowing references. But sure, let’s pretend my lack of experience was the issue. Should I talk about the many conversations I have had to listen to about how terrible Aboriginal people are, or how many times I have been told “but you are different, you are one of the good ones”?
Should I talk about my weekend on social media? In many of the groups I am part of – whether it be mums’ groups, business groups or hobby groups – that when the issues of Black Lives Matter or racism were raised they were met with racist rants denying all existence of racism and asserting that they were somehow a victim of black people’s search for fair treatment. Should I talk about how admins in these groups often dealt with the issue by deleting the anti-racism posts rather than asking those that were uncomfortable with the conversation to refrain from making racist comments? Even posts from fair-skinned mums checking in to see if Aboriginal mums were ok or asking what they can do to help or how they could educate their children about racism were deleted. Should I talk about how this made several of these groups an unsafe space for black mums and mums of black children? Should I talk about the lost opportunity to educate on this issue and to support any mum who wants to talk to their child about racism? Who is going to educate kids if mums are not supported to do so?
Do I talk about the racism that I have experienced as an Aboriginal business? Should I talk about how people assume we get huge government handouts (we don't)? Or that our resources should be free because government has already paid for them? Should I describe:
Each and every one of these things that I want to talk about is relevant and will resonate with people differently. But they all share one thing in common and that is change.
Each of us can help to change the conversation. We need to stop debating about whether there is racism in Australia because the simple fact is that there is. Findings from an Australian National University study released last week found that three in four Australians held an unconscious racial bias against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. (You can read more about that here https://www.sbs.com.au/news/three-in-four-australians-hold-racial-bias-against-indigenous-people-study-finds)
So why are we still debating it? Why are people still denying it and trying to shut down attempts by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to be heard and to bring about change? And perhaps most importantly what are we doing to make sure the next generation has a better understanding of racism?
One thing is very clear – as a nation, our understanding of racism needs work. We think of racism being a deliberate act to discriminate against someone based on race. We rarely think about the unconscious bias that is also racism. We need to see it, we need to acknowledge it, we need to actively ensure we don’t do it and we need to make sure our kids are supported to understand it so that they don’t fall into the same patterns.
Tomorrows leaders are sitting in classrooms today – let’s help them do better and give them the information they need to create a less racially biased world.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.