Symbolic acts can heal wounds

By Amy McQuire, June 3, 2013,

Sydney Swans captain Adam Goodes
Sydney Swans captain Adam Goodes

NATIONAL: Once again Australia is talking about racism.

The topic comes up every couple of months, especially if it is connected to celebrity, as if it’s shocking that they too have the capacity to be victims (Goodes) or perpetrators (Goodrem) of racism.

The two instances I refer to are of course white singer/songwriter Delta Goodrem’s “apology” after she ignorantly re-tweeted a picture of a man in blackface, dubbing it “hilarious” and the other, the case of Sydney Swans superstar Adam Goodes, who took a stand against racist remarks hurled at him during a game in the AFL Indigenous Round.

Collingwood chief Eddie Maguire continued the slur by stating Goodes could play the role of King Kong in any adaption of the classic film.

Both instances, but especially the Goodes’ matter, inspired national soul searching.

Once again blackfellas were bombarded with commentary from white Australians who feel the need to either define racism or judge how offended we should be by it.

Fairfax columnist Sam de Brito, in an otherwise excellent piece on his blog, claimed that Aboriginal people “have no-one to articulate their suffering, save the odd sports hero or barely acknowledged activist”.

I don’t know where he’s been for the past two hundred years, where we’ve seen outspoken warriors against racism in the form of William Cooper, Vincent Lingiari, Eddie Mabo, Gary Foley and Sol Bellear (the list would take up the rest of this column if I were to name them).

We don’t need a white person to articulate Aboriginal suffering when we already have thousands of articulate blackfellas around the country doing precisely that, every day.

In a piece for Crikey.com.au, Helen Razer, acknowledged her whiteness makes her racism unavoidable through the sordid history of colonization she has benefited from as an Australian citizen, but then went on to claim we are focusing too much on the symbolic, and less on the material.

She’s right in one sense – Australia will become outraged over overt incidences of racism, but shy away from the legislated racism of the intervention.

But her mockery completely undermines the depth of feeling amongst Aboriginal people when they see one of their own take a stand against racism on a national platform.

It also divorces itself from the reality of Aboriginal Australia – where blackfellas work every day in areas like Indigenous health, education and land management, and yet are uplifted by acts like that of Goodes.

They are people who are actively campaigning to reverse the disadvantage of their communities, not just opine occasionally behind a computer screen.

Racism is never off the radar for Aboriginal Australia. It’s not a sound bite for us.

It has run like a poisonous river through our communities. It made us sick then, and it makes us sick now.

This racism flows through policies like the NT intervention, like the sky high rates in which this country locks up it’s first peoples, like the deaths in custodies, like the destruction of our culture and heritage and like the policies that stole children, land, remains and wages.

Aboriginal people suffer the effects of racism every day, whether it’s the legislated kind, or the paternalism in the stare of a shopkeeper who doesn’t want you in their store.

But symbolic acts help heal.

It may not have immediate practical outcomes. It may not stop the intervention.

But it lifts the spirit of our people.

It tells our youth, and yes we have some of the highest rates of suicide in the country, that we are a culture of survival. We are a culture of strength. We can not be beaten down. And we are proud of who we are.

It may be a small symbolic gesture on behalf of Adam Goodes, but it helps equip our young people with the strength of conviction, with the strength to say ‘no this is not right’, with the strength to take a stand and say “racism stops with me”.

*Amy McQuire is a Darumbal and South Sea Islander journalist, and editor of Tracker Magazine.

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