The discussion surrounding 26 January has reached new highs and new lows depending on which side of the colonisation coin you prefer.
We’ve had tennis legend Pat Cash speak out on why he won’t celebrate the day, saying that it’s not a celebration for him and that it is an “Invasion Day”. He also talked of the disadvantage in Aboriginal communities and ongoing injustices of Aboriginal people.
Probably the lowest moment for the #ChangeTheDate side however, was vocal Indigenous Councillor Jacinta Price joining forces with right-wing commentator Mark Latham to release an advertisement about ‘Saving Australia Day’. Price has since appeared on television condemning the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community who speaking out against Australia Day, labelling them as choosing to be offended.
Our nation’s identity is fragile and until we address the very overweight elephant in the room, it will remain so.
We should be able to celebrate the beaches, the reef, the multicultural beauty of our people, cuisine and culture, the self-deprecating sense of humour and – for the most part – the laid back manner of being. But we cannot do so by lying to ourselves. Whilst Australia is all these things and more, it is also immature, defensive, often racist, often bigoted and most often apathetic to the plight of those who are not fortunate in this country. None more so than Indigenous people who continue to be relegated to the fringes of society and trashed in the media as a minority group who want, want, want.
A much larger problem than one historic event
It is not about 26 January. It is not a day.
The day is a symbol of a much larger problem that pervades Australian society, and the debate surrounding this day is a microcosm of the much larger discussion about the injustices facing Indigenous people.
Indigenous issues are debated by the majority, decided by the majority and policies are drafted and implemented by the majority. There is little weight afforded to the views of Indigenous people with expertise in relevant areas, even in circumstances where Indigenous empowerment is considered to be an issue.
Think - who is given the platform to speak on behalf of Indigenous people in the mainstream media?
If it is not a panel of white journalists and television personalities with no background in Indigenous affairs convincing us that a designer boomerang is not appropriation but rather a gap in the market, it is conservative Indigenous governmental advisers that push the singular policy of economic participation or minimising the racist comments of politicians.
When Indigenous Australians sought a voice to parliament, there was an instant disparaging rebuttal where we were told it is not – and never was – on the table, which translated pretty clearly as Indigenous people are simply not going to be afforded a voice on issues that directly affect their communities.
We have mass injustices faced daily in the criminal justice system which rarely makes it to the mainstream media and only when there is no further avoidance of the issue possible, is there a royal commission or investigation announced which leads to recommendations that get filed but never implemented.
We have communities being betrayed by governmental actions which undermine them by allowing ecologically destructive mining practices to take place with the promise that they can remain on country which then gets eroded and de-funded by the government who then uses rhetoric belittling culture and country to a lifestyle choice.
We have policy of intervention which predicates the lie that Indigenous people cannot look after their children and Indigenous families and cannot manage their money, so we must maintain the status quo of oppression through slave labour where they work for welfare below minimum wage. We then quarantine their income so that they are forced to spend it in stores with 300 percent mark-up on basic household groceries, force educational curriculum of indoctrination with no regard to culture, language and country all while removing children, disenfranchising families and reinforcing the poverty status for communities.
Indigenous voices are strong and plentiful, but very few media outlets are brave enough to provide the platform for them to be heard. The discussion surrounding Australia Day is deliberate and malevolent – it is geared to create a sense of guilt and consequential defensiveness from the Australian people who listen to the rhetoric of the likes of Latham, Price and cohorts. The inevitable consequence of Australian people feeling this guilt that is that the most vulnerable group in Australia continues to be vilified.
Because how dare they ruin my barbecue with the truth.
By large, Indigenous people do not want to celebrate 'Australia Day'
26 January and the debate surrounding it is emblematic of the political divisiveness that occurs in this country every time Indigenous people are the topic of discussion.
Price's profile manipulates non-Indigenous Australia into thinking that the majority of Indigenous Australians support ‘Australia Day’ and it is dangerous.
Whilst we expect overtly conservative theatrics from the likes of right-wing commentators Mark Latham, Price's profile manipulates non-Indigenous Australia into thinking that the majority of Indigenous Australians support ‘Australia Day’ and it is dangerous. This relationship seemingly plays into the age-old ‘I know a [insert minority] and they don’t have a problem with X” as a means to excuse this bigotry, and this week, we are seeing more Indigenous representation become the mouthpiece of the right. The group who seek to maintain the current status quo of colonial condescension whereby Indigenous people are the ‘problem’ and that ‘problem’ can only be solved by the charitable efforts of the right.
This is not to suggest that conversative Indigenous thinkers hold no agency of their own, but that their voices are easier to amplify when they are validating the rhetoric of the conservative mainstream.
Whilst we continue to simplify complex issues in order to maintain the status quo of oppression – there is no possibility, as Price suggests, to “forgive”.
By large, Indigenous people do not want to celebrate ‘Australia Day’, despite Price’s assertions to the contrary. Particularly done on a day that is greatly symbolic of all that followed and the pain that is present on this national day of mourning for Indigenous people. Changing the date should only occur once this nation is mature enough to understand why this needs to take place and addresses the institutionalised inequity that remains 230 years after the date we mourn.
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