The Black Lives Matter protest planned for today in Sydney, was ruled as illegal by the Supreme Court due to the COVID19 Social Distancing laws. At the time of writing, my understanding is that the organizers decided to proceed anyway and that one of the key organizers was arrested before the protest even began.
While I am verging on paranoid about catching COVID19 and think the social distancing laws are essential and sensible… I do feel bad for the protesters.
This morning, by coincidence, I listened to Stan Grant interviewed on Conversations with Richard Fidler. Listening to the story of his childhood and the kind of life his father lead, just trying to keep food on the table for his family, the whole notion of privilege reared its face to mine again.
In the early ’60s Indigenous People still weren’t even counted as humans in Australia. Legally, they were equivalent to flora and fauna. Grant’s father (who had to work incredibly hard in hugely dangerous and physical jobs just to feed his family) taught Stan to fight because it was normal for Aboriginal men and kids to be picked on by the police and therefore by anybody who took it into their heads.
What that amounts to is a sense of lawlessness, isn’t it? If you are not protected by or included in the letter of the law, you are on your own. You are completely at the mercy of people’s kindness (or lack of).
In the early 2000s I had a friend who had immigrated from Poland. She moved here because, she said, inflation was so bad in Poland that by the time she saved up to buy a vacuum cleaner, the vacuum cleaner had doubled in price (or, in other words, the value of her money had halved). So here she was living in a major Australian city with a decent job. But she wasn’t happy in the job. She felt undervalued and like her boss didn’t respect her. Now at this point I have to own that I’ve never been very patient with listening to people gripe about their workplaces. As is my wont, I said to my friend “If you don’t like it, you should leave and find another job.” She snorted. “It’s easy for you to say that. If you leave your job and run out of money you can borrow from your parents or move in with your parents. Your parents will help you. I have nobody in Australia who can help me. I have to make all my decisions carefully.” I thought a lot about what she said and could see the difference in our situations.
To me that is a microcosmic example of the problem with privilege. I was the privileged one. Privileged because my family is comfortably off and supportive and because I live in the same country as them. To me, that’s as normal as breathing. It’s the only life I’ve known. But meeting my Polish friend, I realized that lots of people don’t have that basic security net behind them. Lots of people feel absolutely alone and unaided.
The Aboriginal people had a totally new way of life thrust violently upon them and, on top of that, they were not respected by the colonizers or included in decision-making or even in the laws. They were (as Stan Grant said) flung to the fringes of society and just had to figure out how to survive there. Unlike my analogy with my Polish friend, ALL they had was family. Beyond family, the world may as well have been totally hostile. Friendliness could not be assumed or counted upon. If they were wronged, there was no system of justice to complain to or expect help from.
That all started changing in 1967 (from what I understand). But changing attitudes, as feminists or gay people or any other minority group will tell you, is slower than glacial. The interview I heard with Stan Grant was recorded in 2013. Up until 2013, Stan’s father still didn’t like to eat at restaurants because he still expected to be served last and treated like scum.
I have never known what my role is as a privileged white female. So I don’t really know how to end this blog. But the two events colliding (the BLM protest and me listening to Stan Grant) seemed an opportune time for me to address some of the wrongs done and clarify my own understanding. I can’t make a public apology like Kevin Rudd did.
But I am sorry.
And I am so aware of the awful truth that we can never give back what we have taken and probably continue to take. And how do we find the balance that at least allows modern Australian Aboriginal people to have a happy and fulfilled life?