Wake me when Reconciliation Week is over

1 Jun 2019

You can’t tame the white supremacist power structure with cheese!


You can’t tame the white supremacist power structure with cheese!

Reconciliation Week is almost over for another year, and for me it couldn’t have come sooner.

Reconciliation isn’t really a word in my vocabulary for most of the year. I’m not out there asking people to reconcile, or trying to be reconciled with anyone, yet every Reconciliation Week many of us are asked to go above and beyond the norm to do extra work in the spirit of Reconciliation.

A quick look at Indigenous Twitter or Facebook this week will show you tales of workplaces expecting Indigenous staff to organise morning teas, bring in Elders or guest speakers (often unpaid), or share a personal story for the enlightenment/entertainment of their peers.

It will show you tales of awkward and uncomfortable conversations and interactions with belligerently well-meaning white people asserting their awesomeness while being completely tone-deaf to the reality of their words and attitudes.

For me, as someone who usually has opinions on various things, I sorta shrug when I’m on the radio (which is not great in an audial medium) and someone asks why I oppose reconciliation. I shrug because I don’t oppose it, I just don’t support it. More specifically, I don’t care about it. I don’t care about the idea of white Australia and Indigenous Australia being friends, or walking across bridges together. I don’t care about a week of morning teas or other events I don’t go to as I no longer live in a capital city. Again, it’s just not a word that is in my vocabulary for 51 weeks out of the year. So one that one week a year where I’m asked what I think about it, I don’t have much of an answer because the truth is, I don’t think about it.

I think about racism, and anti-racism, I think about Indigenous rights and the lack of them, I think about how much energy in put into keeping Indigenous resistance and energies into respectable and acceptable outlets like Reconciliation, Closing the Gap, or other words that usually end up feeling a bit too assimilationist when you start hearing the rhetoric of those who champion these causes.

“At its heart, reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples, for the benefit of all Australians.”

That’s what it says on the Reconciliation Australia website anyway, and at face value there’s nothing wrong with that. I would probably suggest that most people as more about ‘white Australia’ than non-Indigenous Australia, but I’ll give that one a pass because since white people don’t like being classed by race and colour, we have to use generic non-descript terms like ‘non-Indigenous’. This is a problem though because this means it is not always clear when someone means white people and someone means everyone who isn’t Indigenous. I guess it’d just confuse too many white people if they learnt that one of the posters of a white hand shaking a black hand was an Aboriginal person who was fair shaking hands with an African Australian… but I digress.

White Australia is unquestionably  the single largest impediment to Indigenous advancement, so in that sense reconciliation makes a compelling argument that if we’re all bestest buddies than white Australia might not revel quite so enthusiastically at our continued oppression. Judging how many white people are still racist af but deny any responsibility for their views, words or actions because they have that one magical Indigenous friend whom they believe absolves them of the very possibility that they could possibly be racist. As since Reconciliation Week usually involves Indigenous people doing extra work, usually unpaid, to appease white people and give them an emotional experience that they can use to alleviate any sense of collective responsibility for improving society while still patting themselves on the back, maybe we can do without it.

Maybe instead of Reconciliation Week next year we can have Anti-Racism Week, which would be especially relevant since we also don’t recognise the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Australia either (we call it Harmony Day), and we sure as hell aren’t doing the work to eliminate racial discrimination either.

Maybe instead of working out how we can all get along by pretending that we already do all get along, we can focus on systemic changes that might facilitate such relationships in future being built on equal power dynamics. And no, I don’t mean RAPs.

I mean Treaties, and Sovereignty, and an Indigenous economy, and Land and Water Rights, and political power, and representation, and accountability for people in positions of authority who abuse or mistreat Indigenous peoples be they police or politicians or anyone in between.

No amount of fancy cheeses and cupcakes is gonna achieve those things, and while people are too busy googling who the hell it is who makes those little flag sugar cookies you stick on top of said cupcakes in the first place, they probably aren’t gonna have time to think about what they can do to address the fact that their work thinks it is appropriate for Indigenous people to do extra physical and emotional labour, regardless of how compromising it might be, in order for their organisation to appear woke and meet one of the key deliverables from their Reconciliation Action Plan.

The Boondocks Huey Freeman Quote GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Anyway, bring on Mabo Day already. At least that is a day that represents the fight for Indigenous rights; the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty, and the defeat of the myth of Terra Nullius.

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