Here in Australia, we have a problem with firsts. First people, that is. I don’t pretend to be some kind of enlightened white guy messiah who understands the plight of Australian Aboriginals – that ain’t me. What I do know is that I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to be murdered, enslaved, subjugated, institutionalized, kidnapped, and then told to get over it. I haven’t had some pitiful amount of money thrown at my face and told that it’s time to engage with a cold, machine-like, alien society.
This is unfortunately a scene that has been repeated across the world in nations where a foreign majority have imposed their will upon a broken native people – instances decrying the mantra of ‘might is right’. The history of conquest of native people goes back thousands of years. Homo Sapiens displaced the Neanderthals, the Persians and Greeks waged brutal wars of conquest on each other for hundreds of years, the Romans did so until they held hegemony over all of Europe, and recently, nations like Britain and Spain took to the high seas to discover and destroy all that they saw for the almighty dollar and to prove whose dick really was the biggest.
I had always thought that I was a pretty apologetic guy when it came to Australia’s sordid history of Aboriginal subjugation. I was 15 when Kevin Rudd made his Apology to the Stolen Generations and I knew it was a good thing, but I did not understand the significance. I impassively watched as victims cried in the gallery of Parliament House. I knew something big had gone down, but I was pretty oblivious. Like a lot of kids who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s, my main education on the Stolen Generations was watching Rabbit Proof Fence. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an excellent, accurate, emotional portrayal of a heinous crime, but it’s not an education.
The teaching of our cruel history was not overlooked because it played on the minds of the powers that be and they were ashamed of it; it was overlooked because it simply wasn’t deemed important enough. Black history would never be as important as white history. You only have to recall Tony Abbott referring to Australia as ‘nothing but scrubland’ and ‘empty, uh, I mean sparsely populated’ in the past year to see that Australia’s dominant historical discourse actively seeks to deny our black history.
The inconvenient truth is this: An unrelenting hangover from the West’s long history of subjugation and enslavement of colonised natives is that in the mainstream media, black lives are still seen as less important than white lives. Don’t shoot me, just hear me out. Have a look at the international reactions to two recent terrible crimes: the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris, and the recent massacre committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Twelve innocent French citizens; journalists, cartoonists and police officers were slain by misguided religious zealots. The wrongdoing here is not hard to spot. At the same time, Boko Haram was carrying out the systematic liquidation of the town of Baga in north-eastern Nigeria, also in the name of rampant ideology.
~2,000 dead. Let that sink in.
That’s what like, half of the entire 2015 UWA fresher cohort?
Officials can’t confirm how many are dead exactly because they can’t get near the town. Boko Haram now controls towns bordering it and the surrounding countryside. Western media did of course cover the killings, but not with the same psychological outrage that characterised the Charlie Hebdo murders. It seems that so often, black deaths and indeed, any non-white, non-western deaths in general are treated much more impassively. Closer to home, consider the Aboriginal communities that are living in extreme poverty out in the red centre. The media reports it as the ‘noble savage’ needing to be ‘rescued’ by the ‘civilised’ white man. If they were white, would the reporting really occur in the same way?
The problem in Australia is a firmly psychological one. Successive governments have thrown money at it and inevitably failed. It requires a shift in the way that white Australia perceives its indigenous population. The best way – the only way – to do this is through education. The new Australian Curriculum has several ‘cross-curriculum priorities’ that are intended to be embedded in every subject taught, from story time in Pre-primary to Year 12 Calculus. One of these priorities is ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture’. As a Bachelor of Education student last year, I was sceptical as to how it would be possible to include that in my lessons, but I found that it was much easier than I expected, and there are many resources available. If the adults of tomorrow are not only exposed to but actively engaged in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures from an early age, then we stand a chance of removing the stigma and the ‘othering’ complex that begins so early and is so rarely shaken.
Show a little love, everybody.
Words by Brad Griffin