It was four years ago this week that The Australian published a cartoon by the late and great Bill Leak, who was reminding us of the sad state far too many Aboriginal children are in. It was also four years ago today that some sectors of the public erupted in look-at-me ‘outrage’ over what they insisted was a “racist depiction” of Aboriginal people. They were never able to explain just why it was racist, leaving observers of the rational kind to conclude that any depiction of Aborigines by the wrong sort of person — a realist in Bill’s case — is by definition an exercise in stereotyping and intolerance and all the other venomous tags they toss about on Twitter. But even a casual follower of current events would know that Bill’s cartoon reflected reality then, as it still does today: The grim and simple truth: Aboriginal kids are vastly more likely to suffer neglect and abuse than non-Aboriginal children.
Other than saying that any accusation of Bill being racist is ridiculous, I won’t make this article about Bill, as he would not want us to do that. I know this for a fact because Bill and I spent much time talking about the injustices facing Aboriginal people, and he was deeply concerned for their plight.
Nobody is suggesting that all Aboriginal children are neglected or abused. Nor is anyone suggesting that it is only Aboriginal children who suffer. I need to say this, because past experience has shown that whenever the topic of neglect and abuse of Aboriginal children is raised, blacktivists and social justice warriors shout “But it’s in every community, so stop singling us out.”
My reply is that diabetes is in every community too, but nobody would deny that it affects Aboriginal people more than the general population. Interestingly, I’ve never encounted a critic who gets defensive when they are reminded that Aboriginal people are more likely to have diabetes than non-Aboriginal people. When Bill’s cartoon was published, the twitterverse was full of images of Aboriginal fathers with captions of “I’m Aboriginal, and I care for my kids.” I’ve never see images with captions of “I’m Aboriginal, and I don‘t have diabetes.”
Fast forward four years and we see the rent-a-crowds, BLM groupies, and keyboard warriors are still uncomfortable, not to mention profoundly reluctant, to discuss child neglect and abuse in Aboriginal communities. As the evidence cultural dysfunction becomes ever more indisputable, their reaction has been scream “racist” at an even greater volume while any other ad hom abuse that comes readily to mind. Meanwhile,Aboriginal children suffer needlessly.
At the height of the BLM protests a story went viral when an Aboriginal youth was knocked to the ground after threatening a police officer. The copper knocked the youth’s feet out from under him, resulting in a swift fall to the ground. Arguably the copper could have been more subtle, yet the outrage brigade wasted no time making exaggerated claims, “The policeman smashed his face into the ground” being just one of the charges stitched together from whole cloth and broadcast to the world.
Compare that incident to a more recent story from North Queensland involving the abuse of a young Aboriginal boy at the hands of a group of Aboriginal youth. The details are so shocking that I won’t detail them here, other that note that they involved an horrific rape. That story was published in a few different outlets, so it was not hidden from the public. Yet there has been no mass outrage, no protests, only silence. Like my friend Dave Price (husband of Bess and father of Jacinta) said, “A black life lost matters only when there is a white perpetrator”. Dave has told me that in Central Australia when an Aboriginal person is murdered, often you only hear about it if you are related to the victim or if the perpetrator is white. Yes, it seems that only some lives matter. Isn’t such a selective response itself a form of racism?
Bill, I wish I could say that since your cartoon, we’ve made huge strides in eradicating the problem you were so deeply concerned about—the wellbeing of Aboriginal people, especially the children. But I can’t tell you that, not even in my prayers, because very little has changed. Protesters have certainly been more visible, but it’s not the many black lives that are hurt by black hands that they decry.
All in all, it has me baffled. How can it be that in Australia, with almost limitless reservoirs of decency and goodwill characterising the general public, we continue to fail at looking after our most vulnerable children? The answer is simple: the code of political correctness, which means avoiding doing or saying what you think is correct for fear of someone taking offence. Unpalatable truths must be kicked into the corner, swept efficiently under the rug.
PC is the reason non-Aboriginal people are reluctant to speak out—they fear being labelled as racists. PC is the reason why Aboriginal people are reluctant to speak out—they fear being labelled a sellout. This shared reluctance has allowed the problems that have been facing Aboriginal children for decades to fester. But these children are Australian children, therefore all of us, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, are entitled to an opinion. Aboriginal affairs is everyone’s business. All Australians are entitled to say “these are our children, and it is our moral duty to save them”. Viewing Aboriginal people as a group separate from other Australians, as we have been tirelessly encouraged to do, has only ever failed. It may generate incomes, status, university careers and guest spots for the gatekeepers on ABC talk shows, but it is quite literally killing those who most need help.
It’s time to act on the fundamental truth that the commonalities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people far outweigh the differences. A dead kid, black or white, is a dead kid – a person first, an Aborigine second. Until we embrace this truth the hypocrisy will continue, the suffering also.
Anthony Dillon identifies as a part-Aboriginal Australian who is proud of both his Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestries. Originally from Queensland, he now lives in Sydney and is a researcher at the Australian Catholic University. For more, visit www.anthonydillon.com.au