5 minute reading time.
It is a part of my privilege to assume people of colour and Indigenous Australians have the same issues. Different minorities and voices have unique oppressions, injustices and needs. I am speaking here as an Irish Australian about the ignorance fellow white Australians have towards systematic racisms present in modern-day Australia and the ways we can reflect on our privilege.
At times like these the skill of listening, the art of hearing, and how to live and practise respect is fundamental. Systematic racism continues to fuel ongoing genocide, not only in the United States of America but in Australia and everywhere else. To grow as people, we have to be introspective, admit our ignorance, understand the gaps in our knowledge and educate ourselves. We must accept that we do not know everything and seek knowledge from those who are living and working in these fields. Racism stems from a place of entitlement and assumption of knowledge of others, so dive deep. Yes, it is upsetting, yes, it is overwhelming, and yes, it is uncomfortable to unpack your privilege and see how you benefit from a racist system. But it is time to show up. Reality is perceived as still, hard and immovable until a shift happens when people move together and change the course of history.
The current social media outrage seems to be the level of noise needed for the western world to see how deep the level of racial inequality is today; the illusion of racial progress is now in the spotlight. The fact we needed a predominantly White social pressure to garner a worldwide response reinforces the need for systematic change. The current conversation is creating a reflection in Australia, asking: How can I actively reduce racism here and now? How can I use my privilege to dismantle the structures that gave it to me? And to reflect on who we are, where we work and how we engage with others—acknowledging that by allowing stereotypes and discriminatory comments, we enable racial brutality. Arrernte and Kalkadoon woman and filmmaker Rachel Perkins in her The End of Silence 2019 ABC Boyer Lectures states “being a ‘quiet Australian’ is not enough if we want to enact enduring positive change”.
Being part of a movement to be anti-racist is not only spreading information and posting or re-posting to social media; it is calling for action and doing what is needed to enable a revolution. It is time to decide what steps you will take to make a continuous, grounded change. We need to unpack the privileges that the ruling parties Australia has allowed to be implemented over 232 years of colonisation over Indigenous people, and the way the rules and regulations have been written to shield and protect us. Look deeply, how can you understand what it’s like to be Black if you don’t know what it’s like to be White. Educating yourself is good and having essential and uncomfortable conversations is imperative. Here are some ways to show up against racism:
It is all of our responsibility to build an anti-racist consciousness. Ignorance comes in many forms and sometimes it slips by because it is not overtly violent in appearance. Racial comments made with assumed good intentions stem from systemic privilege and social advantage, spoken without empathy, shared experiences or understanding. Know your history, admit to the gaps in your knowledge and learn from it. Read publications by people of colour and Indigenous authors, follow organisations leading the way for racial equity, watch films, listen to podcasts, and read books. Use this as an opportunity to understand our collective history better.
Weaponise your privilege.
If you have privilege, recognize it, embrace it, and admit it. Then weaponise your privilege, be brave and use it as a tool for equity and justice. Make strategic contributions to people of colour and Indigenous campaigns, organisations, and movements and build relationships inside communities that are capable of collective action to support people of colour and Indigenous liberation struggles. Ask for accountability from friends, family and workplaces that demonstrate discriminatory behaviour and protocols. Write letters to government organisations, go to rallies and most importantly give space to people of colour and Indigenous voices. Put your privilege to use to help minorities and speak up when something is happening around you.
Time for intervention.
Your highest responsibility is to use your voice, to take action and prevent circumstances where people of colour and Indigenous are vulnerable and susceptible to harm. Kindness requires courage from outsiders and bystanders to stand up to people who make racist jokes, to speak out against injustice, to learn from the experiences of others, especially from situations that cause discomfort and shame. Be conscious of the ways race impacts your life and share your knowledge with those who haven’t educated themselves.
Elevate unheard voices.
Examine the ways that you are involved in systematic racism, colonial debates and unconscious bias but do not centre this narrative around yourself. While it is nice that you can relate and sympathise, now is not the time to insert your personal experiences into a story that isn’t about you. Doing this can be harmful to the cause and the people sharing their stories. Allow space for people of colour and Indigenous to share and have the platform to lead the way in these causes. Leave your ego behind.
It should not have taken an act of brutality broadcasted on social media or the virality of a situation for you to show your support suddenly. Show your ongoing support by reading people of colour and Indigenous media, endorsing and sharing initiatives, supporting charitable organisations and continuing your self-work. The hardest part will be maintaining the outrage when the attention has died down and continuing your support.
See our list of resources for taking action in solidarity and learning more about the resistance of First Nations communities.
If you are unsure how best to be an ally, take the time to listen now to the people of colour and Indigenous voices before going forward in your support. We need to set pride aside, it can be uncomfortable, but it will allow liberation from ignorance. It is our responsibility to learn and take action, if you fail, identify where you went wrong learn from it and repeat. Commitment to fighting ignorance wherever you find it, including within yourself as it is the only way to battle systematic racism.
Stop justifying yourself as a quiet Australian, hiding behind an identity that is not political and thinking a day at the poll voting station is enough. We must disrupt the system as we know it, beginning with the establishment of an Indigenous voice enshrined in the Constitution. While deaths in the US have allowed white Australians to see the racism violence overseas, it becomes evident the unawareness is still prevalent in our backyard and is ingrained in our political and social systems. The narratives of white ignorance and of how politicians and powerful elites divide and conquer ancient societies are not new or distant.
In an essay written by Teela Reid, a proud Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, lawyer and activist for the Griffith Review: The year of reckoning, not reconciliation’ calls for Australia to reckon with its past this year – 250 years after the invasion of Indigenous lands she writes “There is no time for complacency or compromise when we have already sacrificed so much of our land, our liberty and our lives in a system that still refuses to hear us,” (Reid, 2020). We need to take responsibility to understand the truth of our countries colonial and barbaric history and create the structural change necessary to elevate the voices of Indigenous people.
We need to test our ability to question our privilege and begin to understand how the visibility of Indigenous oppression is systemically suppressed. Thankfully the consciousness of most young white Australians is shifting, despite a lack of national leadership when confronting the truth about the Indigenous in our national narrative. But the next step is action going beyond what you read online and listening to real stories of pain and then actively helping communities. It is something a non-Indigenous person can never truly grasp, Teela Reid continues in her essay with: “… searching for a sense of belonging in a system that routinely denied both my true identity and the history of my people was a constant battle of two worlds colliding. It is a perplexing experience to feel lost in your own country,” (Reid, 2020).
Start helping Indigenous communities, first by learning and listening, then speaking up. Ask yourself how I can help the Indigenous community I am living in today? Yes, you are already living in on as sovereignty was never ceded. The current global attention on racism and police brutality can come as a shock to some as we have not listened to the Indigenous plight in Australian society, and have not been empathetic to the struggles that they continue to face. Stated by the Referendum Council in 2017, The Uluru Statement from the Heart “with substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s national hood”.
When something horrific happens, we feel fear which breeds hate and violence. While fear is always going to be a natural part of the human emotional response, it’s how we choose to mobilise and direct our discomfort towards positive change. If we want to end racism against people of colour and Indigenous communities, we have to admit to our ignorance and weaponise our privilege. We need to show up, by learning, acting, questioning, giving and loving more. The conditions in our lives may all be very different, but we can take responsibility to unite and create radical change.
Artwork by Aretha Brown https://www.instagram.com/_enterthedragon_/
Indigenous filmmaker Rachel Perkins call for an “end to silence” in ABC Boyer Lectures (2019). Available at: https://about.abc.net.au/press-releases/indigenous-filmmaker-rachel-perkins-call-for-an-end-to-silence-in-abc-boyer-lectures/
Reid, T., 2020. 2020: The year of reckoning, not reconciliation. Griffith Review. Available at: https://www.griffithreview.com/articles/2020-year-of-reckoning
The Referendum Council, 2017. ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART. Available at https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/sites/default/files/2017-05/Uluru_Statement_From_The_Heart_0.PDF