Debunking: ‘invasion was the best thing to ever happen to Indigenous people’

28 Jan 2019

I’m going to start with a popular lie from racists – the idea that Indigenous people should be thankful white people came and gave us access to the ‘best that Western civilisation has to offer’.

I got this one a LOT during Invasion Day week – the idea that Indigenous people should be thankful white people came and gave us access to the ‘best that Western civilisation has to offer’.

In this version of history, white people apparently turned up in Australia and said ‘Here you go, indigenous people. Here’s all the awesome stuff we have to give you, it’s yours. Enjoy!” and yet despite this wonderful act of generosity, it’s just a taste of the good life for free which, presumably, is why we all want handouts for doing nothing.

In reality though, no such deal was ever made. There was never a negotiation or trade deal or treaty that said, “You give us sovereignty over your lands and we will give you access to technology.”

It is just assumed that what white people was ‘better’ than what Indigenous people already had, and that the deal is so obviously in our best interests that it required no such agreement. Civilising the ungrateful savage through brute force is just part of the ‘White man’s Burden’.

Social Darwinism is still the prevailing attitude of our time.

This myth persists despite all historical evidence that shows time and time again that Indigenous people were consistently denied the ‘best of Western civilisation’. At various times and in various places we were banned from being in towns after dark, working alongside white people as equals for equal wages, raising our own children, having voting rights, testifying in courts, marrying who we chose, living where we chose, receiving land grants, going to schools, swimming in swimming pools… the list goes on and on for some 200 years.

And where these rights have been granted, they have not occurred as a result of white benevolence, but have come about through tireless activism, often at great personal risk in the face of brutal reprisals for speaking out.

And even once access was granted for limited participation within the colony, any and every excuse has been used to deny service or provide inadequate and unequal treatment within it. Indigenous people know this occurs all too well, often learning it firsthand while they are in schools, or in public spaces at the shops, walking down the street, through their interactions with white individuals and institutions alike.

Of course, there are notable exceptions to this (just adding this bit stop you #notallwhitepeople white people from exploding – you’re welcome).

Since the days of the earliest interactions, there have been those white people who have spoken out, who have recognised and documented Indigenous humanity and genius, who documented our agricultural, scientific, social and cultural achievements.

Indeed, much of the recent Indigenous science work for teachers I contributed to, was informed by early recordings of white people. Yet, their efforts did not halt the flow of discrimination and dehumanisation that took place.

This is why people often talk ‘prevailing attitudes of the time’, just as there are those of who believe in human rights, Indigenous rights, refugee rights, the right to free press, or climate change, these are the not the prevailing attitudes of our time. Our policies and practices make it clear that they are not yet ‘prevailing’ in Australia.

And even though many of the above are well established, they are still not prevailing.

Similarly, we often refer to Social Darwinism as being the ‘prevailing attitude of the time’ in reference to a century ago, but we see through these arguments, entirely premised on the idea of white superiority and Indigenous inferiority, that Social Darwinism is actually still the prevailing attitude of our time.

They simply can’t imagine that Indigenous people did not want to trade our sovereignty and freedom for massacre, oppression and exploitation.

The idea that the only way to introduce Indigenous people to the wonders of Western civilisation, in our best interests of course, was by force,  through great cruelty, and with huge profits for white people, is to suggest that Indigenous people are as petulant children, incapable of making our own decisions of what is in our best interests, and with no rights to say ‘no’ to it. This way of thinking suggests that it takes several centuries to ‘civilise the savage’, and this is the reason for any and all forms of existing Indigenous disadvantage today. It is not because of historic and ongoing discrimination, or a refusal to quietly assimilate and disappear as a recognisable group of people. It is simply because we were so backwards. Again, this belief persists despite all evidence being to the contrary.

And it is with zero hyperbole that I write the above. This is literally the thinking behind it.

One of the best examples of this that I am aware of comes from Philip Ruddock, many of you would have heard me share this story before, but tough shit. I’m sharing it again.

In 2000, the then Reconciliation Minister, Philip Ruddock was asked by French newspaper, Le Monde, about why Aboriginal Australians are so disadvantaged compared with other indigenous peoples around the world. Ruddock explained that Aboriginal people didn’t come into contact with ‘developed civilisations’ until much later than many other Indigenous groups, and as such were simply taking that much longer to catch up. “We’re dealing with an Indigenous population that had little contact with the rest of the world. We’re dealing with people who were essentially hunter-gatherers. They didn’t have chariots. I don’t think they invented the wheel.”

In defence of his comments, Ruddock further explained: “The only point I was making is that contact between Indigenous people in Australia and others really only developed in the last two centuries. And if you were looking at, for instance, North America, contact was over a period of something like four centuries. I’m not offering it as an excuse. It’s merely a factual matter.”

‘Merely a factual matter’. And as we all know, facts don’t care about your feelings. Unless of course those facts upset the white fragility applecart, and then those facts are just a ‘refusal to get over the past’ and an attempt to make white people feel bad because… reasons.

Those people who put this argument forward simply can’t imagine that Indigenous people did not want to trade our sovereignty and freedom for massacre, oppression and exploitation. They do not accept that we ever even had those things in the first place. In their white supremacist world view, Indigenous people were just sitting around for 65,000+ years hoping that it would be white people who attempted invaded and attempted genocide against us ‘instead of the Spanish or the Chinese’ (which deserves a debunking post all of its own… leave it with me).

They also cannot imagine a version of history where treaties, trade or cohabitation could have possibly without white people asserting their moral superiority and demanding obedience through subjugation.

They cannot imagine that nations that survived 65,000+ years could have continued quite happily for another 200 years without them. Or that they could have been introduced to the rest of the world through any means other than invasion. It cannot imagine a scenario where we deserved to be treated with respect.

This failure to imagine such scenarios similarly prevents such people from imagining a future built on anything but the acceptance of white superiority and Indigenous inferiority. Not only do they demand this dynamic, but they demand gratitude for it, even if that gratitude is to be exacted rather than freely given.

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