So, You’re Not a Racist?

1 Jun

“Covid 1770 – What Happened When Cook Sneezed” – acrylic on canvas, 2020, Glenn Loughrey

Today is the end of National Reconciliation Week. Perhaps it is pertinent at this time to ask the question, what is reconciliation and why do we need it?

On more than one occasion I have heard people answer that question along the lines of: ‘To solve the Aboriginal problem’ or “To close the gap between non-indigenous and indigenous people’ or “To have a better relationship with First Nation’s people.” Much of which passes for reconciliation is little more than an attempt to make us more like you and close the gap up – we have to achieve the standards you enjoy without you giving up any of your privilege.

Is that enough?

Noticed an article entitled: Australians agree we’re a nation of discrimination. Let’s look at the numbers”[1] written by Annabel Crabb this week which suggested the following:

  • almost 80% of Australians said Australia was racist,
  • 60% had heard workmates tell racist jokes,
  • 68% feel we should do more to address past and current injustices against Indigenous people
  • but only 46% said they thought white supremacy was ingrained in society.

Perhaps I need to read that last bit again – ‘only 46% said they thought white supremacy was ingrained in society’. I would be interested to understand what they think the source of the racism they speak about is.

This is what reconciliation is about – closing the gap between what people believe to be the level of racism in this country and their self-awareness of complicity in continuing to ignore the voices of Aboriginal people. Despite the copious amounts of information available in the community for people to educate themselves of the issues it seems it is something, you read about happening out there and doesn’t result in a self-reflection that recognises that you and I may be part of the problem.

When talking to groups, well-meaning, well-intentioned groups who are seeking to understand the “Aboriginal problem” I turn the ask round, suggesting that until they understand their involvement in the history of this country and reconcile that for themselves individually, as families and as communities they are in no position to attempt to engage with Aboriginal people and the issues culminating from colonialism

Simple maths suggests that at least 50% of those who said Australia is racist may possibly be racist. Racist, remember is not about the act of saying or thinking racist words or thought.

It is what you are when you use or enjoy your privilege as a beneficiary of the benefits of colonialism and are unprepared to give them up so others may have what is theirs.

To close this gap and become a more inclusive nation requires all who are non-indigenous to engage in deep reflection about how they think, what they think and why they think like that. It will require us all to engage in the hard work of honest self-awareness about how we got to where we are and what we individually and together are to do about it.

Reconciliation isn’t about more Aboriginal people with jobs, degrees, houses, wealth. It isn’t about recruiting us into your world because it’s not our world. Our land was stolen along with language and culture. You and those who came before you stole it. Whatever part f your dream we may achieve we still are exiles in our own land. There is something ironic about an Aboriginal person having to buy a house and land on country which has never been ceded to the invader!

Love your neighbour as yourself.

Now, these are tough words but nowhere as tough as the words Jesus speaks in the Gospel[2] and that are redacted by the one who asked him the question: ‘Which commandment is the first of all? Jesus replies with the standard answer and adds a second, to love your neighbour as yourself. The questioner breaks these down into the sovereignty of God, the primacy of God in one’s life and the equality of neighbours to God and self.

We utter these statements often without a deep understanding of their power and more importantly, without deep reflection on how we stack up in all three departments. All three elements require much more time than I have. It is the last I will touch on briefly.

The love your neighbour as yourself statement is a doozy. Two elements: love yourself and then love your neighbour. How do you love yourself? How do you approach the diversity and dissonance in yourself? How well do you know yourself and why you think and do what you do? Are you aware of the disconnect between your image of yourself and how you act? Are you aware of the role you play in maintaining the gap between the haves and have nots, of participating in the systemic misuse of power and racism?

To love yourself requires a consistent commitment to reflecting not only by yourself but with others on who you are and how you are doing – being brave enough to open Pandora’s box, confront the dissonance and complicity and transform yourself.

Only then can you honestly and respectfully love others – love your neighbour. Only then do we have the humility to engage as equals without any sense of superiority or privilege. Loving others isn’t the hardest thing to do. Loving yourself is the primary task of reconciliation.

Once we do this, we no longer need to make others like us so we can maintain our place in the world, we no longer need to make others like us to justify our inability to admit the injustices we participate in. Once we face this in ourselves, we come to the other without our need to be safe and allow them to be themselves in this relationship.

Then and only then can the two come together.

That is the work of reconciliation.


[2] Mark 12:28-34


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