This nation is stained with blood, soaked with white supremacy, and shameless with its boastful brand of discrimination. Aboriginal leaders and refugees light the path to justice and healing, we just need the courage to follow them, writes Liam McLoughlin.
The Australian flag is red.
Red for the blood of Indigenous people, decimated from a population of 750,000 across 500 different nations in 1788 to 31,000 by 1911. Red for those killed in the Tasmanian genocide and red for those slaughtered in 500 massacres around the country.
Red for the one in three Indigenous children taken from their families between 1910 and 1970, for the genocidal act that was the Stolen Generations.
Red for the 99 Indigenous deaths in custody investigated by the Royal Commission and red for the over 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have died in custody since the Commission released its 339 recommendations in 1991.
Red for the Indigenous victims of police brutality, like the 14-year-old Aboriginal boy tasered and capsicum sprayed who cried out “I can’t see. I’m going to die… I want to be with my Mum”, a mother who had died when he was just 7-years-old. Red for the families of TJ Hickey, Ms Dhu, Evelyn Greenup, Colleen Craig Walker and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, who have never seen justice, and red for the families of the boys who were chased by police and died in Perth’s Swan River last week, who likely never will.
Red for the 12 asylum seekers and refugees who have died in Australia’s offshore prison camps. Red for the high rates of self-harm, suicide attempts, and violent and sexual assaults on Manus and Nauru.
The Australian flag is white.
White for the long lineage of white supremacist leaders, ranging from Governor Phillip with his 1790 orders to kill 10 ‘natives’ and capture two more, to NSW Solicitor-General Alfred Stephen’s late 1830s solution to the “Aboriginal problem”, which was to “boldly and broadly exterminate”, to Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton’s belief that “These races are, in comparison with white races… unequal and inferior”; from Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia AO Neville’s early 20th century mission of “breeding out the color”, to the assimilationist policy of the Menzies government and their failure to recognise Aboriginal people as part of the Australian population; from Howard’s abolition of ATSIC, the Northern Territory Intervention and comments that “British settlement was undeniably very good for Australia”, to Abbott’s 2014 slashing of $534 million from Indigenous programs and remarks that this country was “nothing but bush” in 1788; from Turnbull’s dismissal of the Uluru Statement, to Scott Morrison’s appointment of Tony Abbott as Indigenous envoy.
White for the White Australia Policy of 1901, which sought to preserve a white, British national character. The Bulletin magazine’s banner, “Australia for the White Man” became a national slogan; the object of the White Australia Board Game was to “get the coloured men out and the white men in”, not to mention White Australia plays, pins, badges, songs and even cans of White Australia sliced pineapples.
White for John Howard, who took up this mantle in the 1980s with his One Australia policy calling for an end to multiculturalism, and with his case for slowing Asian immigration. White for Howard’s biological daughter, Pauline Hanson, who in 1996 backed her father’s sentiments about abolishing multiculturalism and warned Australia was “in danger of being swamped by Asians”. White for Hanson’s Senate speech 20 years later when she economised on sentence structure by saying Australia was “in danger of being swamped by Muslims” and called for a Muslim immigration ban. White for Fraser Anning’s efforts to make NSW solicitor-general Alfred Stephen, Edmund Barton, John Howard and Pauline Hanson proud with his calls for a “final solution to the immigration problem”.
White for Australia’s bleached news media landscape. White for the blinding racism of breakfast TV presenters talking to white guests about the need for another Stolen Generation, white for shock jocks who repeat racial slurs, white for cartoonists who demean black and brown people for fun and white for the cynical, money-hungry newspaper editors and owners who defend them. White for the hateful hypocrisy of free speech campaigners who support the rights of neo-Nazis to intimidate and humiliate minorities but deny the right of a 9-year old girl to use her brain.
‘We briefly interrupt our free speech campaign for racist cartoonists to demand harsh punishment for insufficiently patriotic children.’ https://t.co/U0rhpTNuiX
— Jeff Sparrow (@Jeff_Sparrow) September 12, 2018
White for the cringeworthy nationalistic online polls carried out by our national broadcaster. White for the whitewashing of our history, education system, and entertainment industry. White for the rejection of the “black armband” view of history in favour of the “white blindfold”. White for the 2015 changes to the National Curriculum which boasted a “greater emphasis” on “our Christian heritage”, cutting many Indigenous issues. In Year 6 students learn about Australia Day but no longer about Harmony Week, Reconciliation Week or NAIDOC week. They are taught about the ANZACs but not about Pemulwuy or Jandamarra. White for the 82% of main characters in TV dramas who are Anglo-Celtic despite them making up only 67% of the population.
White for the never-ending bipartisan consensus that othering, demonising, imprisoning, and torturing refugees and asylum seekers is a legitimate way to govern the country.
There's a greater outcry from the media about a young girl not standing for our crappy National Anthem than there is for a young girl we are leaving to die on Nauru.
Some days I just hate this fucking place.
— Mrs & Mr Wilma Slurrie (@WilmaSlurrie) September 12, 2018
The Australian flag is blue.
Blue for the sadness of Aboriginal communities and their allies at the aggressive denial of our history and belligerent pride in our present.
Blue for the fact that Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated on the planet.
Blue for the 10-year-old Aboriginal girl who killed herself in far north Western Australia in 2016, blue for the 11-year-old Geraldton boy took his own life in 2014, and blue for all Indigenous children who are nearly nine times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous children. Blue for the much higher rates of infant mortality, malnutrition, hospitalisation for chronic diseases, disability, self-harm, unemployment, and overcrowding for Indigenous Australians, and blue for their much lower rates of education, income, and life expectancy.
Blue for another stolen generation. Aboriginal kids represent 5.5% of Australian children aged 0-17 but 35% of those in out of home care, a total of 17, 664 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids, compared to about 9,000 when Kevin Rudd said sorry.
Blue for the boys and girls we keep in island concentration camps who suffer from ‘resignation syndrome’ and are ‘begging to die’. Blue for the severely depressed 14-year old boy with severe muscle wastage after not leaving his bed for four months, and blue for the girl who tried to self-immolate. As Australia clocks up new crimes to compound our bloody past, it’s often said we are better than this.
Better than the genocide and the stolen generations.
Better than the police brutality and the deaths in custody.
Better than the white supremacy and the final solutions.
Better than the concentration camps and the torture.
I’m not sure we’ve ever been better than this. These crimes are woven into the fabric of our flag. But we could be.
In fact, this country has many virtues, it’s just that the ugly white nationalism, born of our colonial history, nurtured by our political leaders, and symbolised by our flag and anthem, is not one of them.
If we’re serious about being better than this, we must follow the lead of those most affected by our crimes.
Despite surviving centuries of massacres, genocide, dispossession, child theft, incarceration, humiliation and disrespect, with unimaginable strength, dignity, patience, and grace, Aboriginal people came together in May 2017 to issue the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This was just the latest in a long line of attempts to make peace with their oppressors.
They sought “constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country”. They sought “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”. They sought “a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”.
Their oppressors told them to get stuffed. Again.
Despite over five years of imprisonment and torture on Manus Island, engulfed at times by riots, deaths, murders, self-harm, violent and sexual assaults and shootings by PNG soldiers, Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani used WhatsApp and text messages to write a bestselling book about his experience called No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. He calls on Australia to undergo a moral revolution.
The current Australian flag has no place in this political and moral revolution. Take down the red, white and racist flag and hoist up a new one representing the best of modern Australia.
Raise a flag not as a cape of imperialism stitched together by violence, but one which 9-year old girls can be proud to stand for and young artists like Australian Poetry Slam winner Solli Raphael can be proud to rhyme for.
Raise a flag not as a white male appendage but one which truly embraces Australia’s gender, sexual, and racial diversity, one which celebrates activists like Shukufa Tahiri, a refugee advocate named amongst Australia’s 100 most influential women.
Raise a flag not as a smoke signal of nationalist capitalist patriarchy, but a kite which gives flight to a new, inclusive sense of nationhood based on social and environmental justice.
Raise a flag not as a conditioned stimulus for refugee trauma, but as a conditioned response of empathy and kindness.
Raise a flag not as a small-pox laden blanket for a 60,000+ year-old people, but a beacon of a new relationship based on healing and justice.
After all, the 230-year Indigenous resistance struggle can teach us all we could possibly need to know about activism and courage in the fact of white supremacy.
For over two centuries we have decimated, denigrated, and desecrated the world’s oldest surviving culture.
For over two decades we have tortured and tormented some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Close the camps.
Bring them here.
Last year, Aboriginal people gave white Australians a gift we did not deserve. With the Uluru Statement they lit a candle in the underground cave of our nation.
For the sake of an ancient culture in need of justice and a new culture in need of redemption, we must walk together towards that light.
Australians all let us rejoice for our land is home to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, whose true colours are actually worth standing for.
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