Every ‘Australia Day’ it all starts again… no, that’s not right. It doesn’t ‘start again’ because it never stopped. It never stops. Ever.
Not since the first acts of resistance, the Frontier Wars, the first Day of Mourning, the physical and political forms of resistance against invasion and ongoing colonisation. Against racism and injustice. Against the ignorance, the apathy, and the animosity. Against the ideologies of those who want to ‘smooth the dying pillow’, those who want to erase us with a smile “we should all just be Australians!”, those who want to erase us by force, and those who want us to erase ourselves “just get over the past!”
It never stops.
But in the lead up to days like the 26th of January every year it amplifies. It magnifies. All of it. Every call for justice. Every plea to be better than we are. Every racist belief and every counterpoint explaining the inanity of each and every point. They all clamour to be heard, to be felt.
The writers and speakers amongst us all go to work looking for those perfect words that can help our thoughts and our feelings take shape. Words that will make people take action. Words that can heal ourselves and our nation. I am not entirely sure those words exist.
This year there have been some amazing pieces that I highly recommend people look at. Celeste Liddle and Stan Grant, to name just two, have had their works heavily discussed across the internet in recent days. And that’s awesome for the most part.
Stan Grant’s words were actually spoken a few months ago but only got noticed recent days, and in the midst of the discussion and celebration of these words a stark truth was revealed for those who wanted to see it.
It came in the form of a question, “Was Stan’s Grants speech Australia’s Martin Luther King Jr moment?”
Some of you may have observed, quite astutely, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was actually a person and not simply a ‘moment’. So what moment are they referring to? The ‘I have a dream’ speech seems the most likely answer. That sounds pretty awesome at face value too. Australia having our own ‘Martin Luther King moment’. A moment that can be reflected on that appeals to our better nature. However, looking at recent commentary about how the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is constantly used against people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, it may not be such a cause for celebration.
Such a ‘moment’ is not about a moment of change, a moment of clarity that leads to a better society for Indigenous people and in turn for everyone else as well. It is not about justice for Indigenous people. It is about, as Teju Cole so succinctly tweeted a couple of years ago, ‘having a big emotional experience that validates privilege’… This is how the White Saviour Industrial Complex works.
It maintains its moral authority without ever questioning its validity, or the result of it. It doesn’t see any connection between itself and the situations it wants to ‘save’ us from. Teju Cole also tweeted in this series that ‘The white saviour supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening’.
Having a ‘Martin Luther King moment’ is for them. It is not for Stan Grant, and it certainly isn’t for Indigenous peoples. It is for White Saviours to feel better about themselves by having an emotional experience that validates their privilege.
The ‘apology’ was a moment. The bridge walk was another moment. There a million ‘moments’. Tony Abbott wanted to visit a remote Aboriginal community every year because he knew the power of these ‘moments’ and the accolades that are thrown at the white saviours who have them.
If we ever do change the date of Australia Day, it will most likely just become another such ‘moment’.
What words can I write that will have an impact on this? What ‘moment’ can I create for people that will make you realise that ‘moments’ are not just worthless, they can actually be dangerous? What can I say to make people want to give up the benefits of white privilege, and the good feeling that comes from being a good white saviour? How can I help make people see that the reason I write is not for them to have a moment, but in the hopes that it will help bring about change?
I don’t know that those words exist, or if I am capable of writing them. I know full well that better people than me have tried countless times before.
But at the same time I know that something must be said. Silence does not seem acceptable in the face of such injustice. In the midst of such ignorance. Before I became whatever it is that I am now I was a teacher, and it pains me to see such ignorance celebrated. It frustrates me to know that there are many people who up until hearing Stan Grant’s speech didn’t have any idea that there were Aboriginal people who had an issue with ‘Australia Day. I am glad that he helped to open their eyes, and I am grateful for everyone else who has done the same. I am humbled by those who say that I have created such moments for them. And at the same time I am angry at myself for creating such moments for people, and they all too often grow angry at me when the conversation turns away from their own feelings and moves towards anything more challenging.
Celeste Liddle wrote an article this year demonstrating what people can actually do to engage with Indigenous people and move beyond these moments. It was an awesome article too, but I think that about everything that Celeste writes so perhaps I am biased in that regard.
But how deep down the rabbit hole are people willing to go? All those people who signed the pledge or who tweet the slogan ‘Racism it stops with me’, how willing are they to make that slogan a reality? What happens when they are told that doesn’t just mean standing up to other people but might also mean taking a look inside themselves? This is what we will need to happen to bring truth the idea that ‘it stops with me’. Because at the moment, from where I am sitting, it never stops.
I don’t know what to tell you to do. Donate to a cause (just make sure it’s actually Indigenous owned and run). Donate to IndigenousX if you want, I certainly won’t say no to that. Read a book. Attend an Survival Day event or an Invasion Day event. Have a conversation with your kids or your parents about why many people don’t celebrate ‘Australia Day’. Stand up to your racist friends, family, coworkers, or government actions. To mistake your own feelings for the cause itself. You should do those things, but I don’t know if that will be enough..
I don’t know what words I can say that will make racism stop with me, or with you, or with anyone else. That will make people realise it’s not about having an emotional experience to validate privilege. Or what to say to even make myself believe that we can move beyond this. But I will keep saying stuff anyway, and try to work out the words that will make people move beyond their own feels and actually do something that matters.
“Have a happy Australia Moment tomorrow everyone”.
Luke Pearson is a Gamilaroi man, and is the founder and CEO of IndigenousX.