Last week, a 23-year-old non-Indigenous man in Darwin walked free after a hit and run that killed a 8-year-old Aboriginal boy – Jack Sultan Page.
Michael Alexander, who was also charged and fined for possession of methamphetamine, faced a 10-year maximum jail sentence. Instead he was given six months home detention and an 18-month suspended jail sentence.
During the trial, Jack’s family saw the accused’s family for the first time in the court house and were understandably upset. According to the ABC, there was a “slanging match”.
It ended with the Magistrate Greg Cavanagh warning Jack’s mother, “You’ll be arrested if you don’t shut up. This is a court of law. Not a pub where people can yell at each other.”
The fact that a Magistrate would consider it appropriate to say such a thing to a grieving mother says a lot about the way Aboriginal people are treated differently in this country.
The fact that a man walks away with such a light sentence over the death of an Aboriginal child, and Australia stays largely silent about it, says a lot about the different laws in this country – one for black, and one for white.
If this was a white kid in a different city, you can bet it would be on the front pages of newspapers around the country.
And the fact that this week, we again as a nation would rather debate the latest Adam Goodes controversy, says even more about our unwillingness to confront the real problem in this country – the insidious institutionalised racism that privileges non-Indigenous Australia over the First Peoples of this country.
Over the weekend, Goodes was booed mercilessly yet again during a Sydney Swans game against the West Coast Eagles at their home ground in Perth.
The AFL superstar and former Australian of the Year has been the subject of continual taunts on the footy field, the last of which prompted him to perform an Indigenous war dance, complete with an imaginary spear thrown in the direction of the opposing fan base.
Australia collectively imploded, as if the sight of a proud Aboriginal man performing his culture on a national stage was more offensive than the 200-plus years of colonialism intent on wiping out a 70,000-year-old history.
On Sunday, as Goodes again played amidst an amphitheatre of booing, his Aboriginal teammate Lewis Jetta celebrated his own goal, by repeating the war dance in solidarity.
The debate around Goodes was instantly re-ignited, as Australia chose to argue about whether the booing was racist, rather than stage a mature discussion about the state of race relations in this country.
Jetta did not receive the same scorn as Goodes – and it is unlikely he will. The reason Goodes remains such an offensive figure to white Australia is because he steps outside of the narrow confines of what is expected of him as an Aboriginal athlete.
That is, to keep his advocacy restricted to his team’s chances at winning a Premiership, and not use his impressive public platform to stick up for his people.
As soon as he confronts Australia with any sound of an uncomfortable truth, Goodes is pilloried.
It’s no point going over this again, because it was analysed to death in May, when Goodes first performed the war dance.
But the fact another imaginary spear could cause such uproar, says a lot about where we are as a country. It says even more about what controversies we choose to talk about.
As New Matilda editor Chris Graham stated in a piece last night “Unlike Australian racism – which is entrenched, and unlikely to go away any time soon – the racism directed at Goodes can be stamped out pretty quickly, and surprisingly simply.”
This is what is so shameful about the whole situation. If Australia can’t even come to terms with its casual racism, if it can’t even own up to the fact that it exists, how will it ever start de-constructing the institutionalised racism that pervades every aspect of society?
We can’t even have a mature debate about an imaginary spear on a football field. How can we start talking about reversing the horrendous black jailing rates, the deaths in custody that are tied to it, the thousands of Aboriginal children who are removed under ‘child protection’, the devastating suicide rates, the overcrowding crisis, the entrenched health problems… the list goes on and on and on.
How is an imaginary spear so confronting to white Australia, but the tragic case of Jack Sultan Page isn’t?
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