Racism is deployed to attack, demean, and violate the comfort and safety of a particular individual or group. It is a core means of maintaining white privilege. But the root cause for so many, it seems, isn’t malice – it is laziness. Laziness that is killing Indigenous people.
When Adam Goodes was racially vilified by a young woman at the football in 2013, he was quick to point out that it wasn’t this young woman’s fault. She was a product of a system that relies on racism.
“We’ve just got to help educate society better so it doesn’t happen again” Goodes said at the time.
The racism in the system is so ingrained in the very fabric of Australian society that it is difficult to overcome especially for a 13-year-old child. The very nature of Australian nationhood is precariously balanced on the foundations of colonisation.
The successful colonisation of Australia relies in many ways on the oppression of Indigenous peoples. To justify the dispossession and genocide of hundreds of sovereign nations, colonists need to sow well the seeds of oppression. This is largely achieved through the very education system in which we need to base this change.
Maintaining the celebration of Australian nationhood despite the systematic exclusion of Indigenous peoples relies on the repetition of racist rhetoric. It justifies Indigenous peoples’ exclusion on a daily basis. It wards off challenges to Australian national identity, and it helps to disenfranchise those who call it into question.
If the majority of Australians repeatedly hear that Indigenous people are violent, uncivilised criminals as a result of some unchangeable genetic predisposition, laziness wins. Nothing can be done, so why try?
Not everyone shouting racist tropes on the streets and across social media is doing it because they are inherently nasty. Many I’m sure are doing it because they are lazy. Laziness lies beneath the surface of many well-worn white supremacist tropes.
It is easier to stick to what you have been taught than to listen to Indigenous people. But as Cheryl Axleby and Nerita Waight point out Indigenous people “are not tired of telling the truth, we are tired of people not listening”.
And shirking the responsibility to engage, to learn, and to challenge these dangerous tropes has serious consequences for Indigenous people.
“All lives matter” is fast becoming a hackneyed retort to the Black Lives Matter movement gaining renewed momentum over recent months. Of course all lives matter! But crying “All lives matter” in the face of the BLM movement only serves to highlight a lazy lack of engagement with the real issue.
If you read the statistics, if you listen to Indigenous voices, if you bothered to step out of those worn out old sneakers and walk a mile in the shoes of those who have lost loved ones at the hands of police and correctional services you will see that black lives need to matter more than they apparently do.
Australian education has always taken the side of the coloniser. In schools we learned that modern Australia was discovered great by white men. We learned that Indigenous culture was primitive, ancient and a thing of the past. As Merinda Dutton and Teela Reid point out: “for too long, the truth of our history and our stories have been denied and whitewashed”.
Learning the other side of the story means taking the initiative to build strong connections to Indigenous communities and Elders. One must walk and talk with Indigenous people in the community. One must listen to Indigenous people.
Listening takes time and commitment. It takes a certain amount of brain power to engage in critical reflection and ask questions of the rhetoric repeated in schools, the media, and workplaces. There is no room for laziness in this pursuit.
Black Lives Matter protesters and the associated calls to dismantle monuments that celebrate a one-sided version of history isn’t about forgetting the stories of European arrival – as if we could. The calls are asking people to think critically about the effect of the denial of Indigenous voices.
The lies that have been told about Indigenous people over the past 250 years in classrooms, on statues and monuments, and in the media make it easier to dismiss Aboriginal Deaths in Custody as something that we should just get over. But this blindfold serves only to justify the continued dispossession and genocide of Indigenous people and to put at ease the minds of the lazy few who refuse to do their homework.
- Dr Tristan Kennedy is a Noongar Australian and lecturer at the Department of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney.