It is starkly apparent that Aboriginal people suffer disproportionately from serious issues, such as high rates of unemployment, suicide and violence. The 2017 Closing the Gap report and other sources tell us that these are issues that result in genuine suffering for Aboriginal people and require immediate attention. However, there exist some individuals and groups that delight in promoting a sense of victimhood among those Aboriginal people for whom there really is no basis for grievance. Though it is expressed in many forms, the primary and presumed cause of such suffering is white Australians. In terms of history there can be no denying Aborigines were subjected to episodes of cruel and unjust treatment. But this is no longer the case, nor has it been for many years.
While many Aboriginal people embrace our multi-cultural society, promoters of victimhood are keen to portray non-Aboriginal people as a distinct ‘other’ — the perpetual oppressor to be treated with contempt, publicly disparaged at very opportunity. This goes well beyond fault-finding, grumbling or rational criticism; rather, it is a the expression of a hatred that diminishes those who fling such charges even as it demeans their targets.
But briefly, they are obsessed with a notion called ‘white privilege’, a problem for which they see ‘decolonisation’ as the solution. Finger-pointing at ‘the whitefella’ and ‘his’ government, campaigning for changes to the Flag, changing the date of Australia Day, and demanding constitutional recognition or treaties are de rigueur amongst this group. Either directly or indirectly these passionate attacks arise from the view that non-Aboriginal Australians are the enemy, always have been the enemy and always will be. This entrenched hatred towards their non-Indigenous countrymen by a minority of Aboriginal activists has a negative impact on all Aboriginal people, and it does immense damage to race relations.
First, it spurs the dangerous notion that an Aboriginal person who succeeds in the mainstream has betrayed his or her culture. Activists promote the mainstream as ‘whitefella’ territory which, therefore, must be avoided. This is despite the fact that the Aboriginal middle class is growing. While this is something to be celebrated, activists often re-brand Aboriginal positive role models as traitors, simply because they have prospered in mainstream society. And why shouldn’t they prosper? After all, mainstream society is their society too – they are not outsiders looking in, they are Australians. An example of the criticism of ‘traitor’ was when Ken Wyatt became the first Indigenous minister. Within days, the derogatory terms ‘coconut’ and ‘sell out’ were peppering social media.
Jacinta Price is a fine example of an Aboriginal woman who is doing exceedingly well in the mainstream — and who also swims against the tide of extreme views. Recently, when Price expressed her support for celebrating Australia Day on the traditional date and urged her audience to focus on issues that are, quite frankly, far more pressing, the activists’ response was immediate and intense. Even though her life was threatened during that ‘backlash’ against her candid honesty, it did not stop this brave woman writing another piece “Section 18C: a bad law that finds racism where there is none.” This article and others like it have the same effect as garlic on a vampire. They intimidate the firebrandswho thrive by promoting anger among Aboriginal people, those who building their careers and public prominence by doing their utmost to make things worse.
For as long as the ‘white man’ is cast as the enemy and the Aborigine as his victim, Australia will remain divided. Still, I remain optimistic, as there are signs of change — slow change, admittedly, but change all the same. Consider Stan Grant‘s recent lament about how tedious he finds the monocular view of Aborigines as victims, rather than survivors who can attain the same levels of accomplishment as anyone else. Further, as journalist, Nick Cater has noted, there is a tragic irony in that, by playing the victim and projecting guilt to non-Indigenous Australians, they are posturing within the hermetically sealed world of their self-proclaimed victimhood.
Another encouraging sign: writing recently in the Townsville Bulletin, Julian Tomlinson didn’t mince words in bemoaning the divisiveness of activists’ “toxic rhetoric”. “It seems that just when some headway in race relations is made, an activist will remind everyone of Australia’s racist past and how discrimination and racism are still a part of black people’s everyday lives,” he wrote.
Protestors divide us by engaging in acts like burning the Australian Flag, as do the politicaly correct hacks who write articles blithely accepting the nostrum that all problems are rooted in colonisation and racism. In the January 25 edition of the Koori Mail, an article titled ‘Let’s Change the Date 2′ by Woolombi Waters, is typical in its attempt to provoke guilt in those who celebrate Australia Day by aligning the national celebration with “the erasing of tens of thousands of years of prior occupation.” Waters would do well to take the advice of Quadrant contributor Kerryn Pholi, who has said, “It can’t be emphasised enough that middle class guilt, ‘white privilege’ guilt, and postcolonial ‘settler shame’ are pointless, selfish and a waste of everybody’s time.”
Contrast Waters’ views with those of Dr Anthony Dillon on ABC News. He expressed the need to focus on bigger issues than changing the date of Australia Day. “We don’t see anywhere near the number of people protesting child abuse, violence, unclean, unsafe communities,” he said.
The ABC reporter appeared unused to Dillon’s reluctance to blame racism, non-Aboriginal Australians and colonisation as the major culprits. When he differed with Warren Mundine’s stance to change the date of Australia Day, she was flabbergasted. Perhaps this was because she believes the minority of extremist Aboriginals are more common than they really are. After all, the view that all Aboriginal people are ‘victims’ of racism often features in the mainstream media, which is why Noel Pearson went so far as to brand the ABC and SBS racist for promoting the soft bigotry of low expectations. The climate on social media is even worse, with bilious views against the ‘white man’ feverishly spouted with such vehemence that the outpourings can only be regarded as hate speech.
Accept the truth which the ABC interviewer found so hard to grasp — that people like Price and Dillon better represent and embody Aboriginal opinion and aspiration — and the activists’ melodramatic hissing at favoured villains can be seen exactly for what it is: a determined campaign to worsen race relations, not better them.
Tanya Rosecky is the founder of Get Real Australia, a not for profit organisation which campaigns through social media on indigenous issues