We’ve all heard of the US movement ‘Black Lives Matter.’ But do all black lives really matter to the BLM crowd? I don’t think so, and I will explain why shortly. Preventable deaths of Aboriginal people involving non-Aboriginal people through homicide or neglect is an emotionally charged topic which has to be discussed. In writing this article, there are several high profile cases I could mention, but won’t, as that would only attract slanderous attacks. And those opponents are members of the victim brigade and the Australian incarnation of the BLM mob.
The Australian chapter of the BLM movement is very similar to the American chapter: it seems the only time black lives matter is when the white man can be implicated in their death or injury. Is that not a racist attitude? Aboriginal deaths in custody is the classic example. When an Aboriginal person dies in jail, protesters go into a frenzy. Of course it’s convenient for them to forget that Aboriginal people in custody are less likely to die than non-Aboriginal people in custody. More generally when an Aboriginal person dies and a non-Aboriginal person can be implicated, either through negligence or mishandling, there are shouts of racism. For some deaths, I don’t doubt that there may be an element of racism, but to automatically assume that racism is the motivation is, once again, a racist attitude. The other similarity between us and America is that there is little interest when blacks die at the hands of other blacks. The BLM movement in Australia is just another opportunity for the victim brigade to shout racism — and a perfect distraction for avoiding problems like violence, child abuse, homelessness, and suicide in Aboriginal communities.
Motives of the BLM Movement
If the Australian BLM movement members were sincere in their claims to care for Aboriginal people, they would be concerned for all Aboriginal people who die from homicide or neglect, not just those where white men is involved. Most of those jumping on the BLM bandwagon are currently more concerned about statues of Captain Cook or Australia Day than about the lives of Aboriginal people.
Deaths of Aboriginal people where the white man can be implicated provide the opportunity for BLMers to address their unquenchable thirst to see racism everywhere. This then gives the opportunity to play moral crusader and oppose all of the alleged “racism”. They don’t seem to understand that there can be other causes for harm or death besides racism. They don’t realise that service providers make mistakes or can be less diligent in their duties than they should, for reasons other than racism – non-Aboriginal people also die preventable deaths. In the past week, since writing this article, there have been news stories of two boys on separate occasions who died after medical authorities failed to see the seriousness of each boy’s illness. It is very unlikely that racism played a part, but had each of the boys have been Aboriginal, I’m sure the protesters would be out in full force.
What is the Appropriate Level of Care for Aboriginal People?
Whenever there is the death of an Aboriginal person it sends the BLM crowd into outrage mode, with calls for better care and treatment for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal Australians accessing a health service or being detained in police custody are entitled to receive the same level of care as other Australians, and most times they do. But while the victim brigade and BLM members might take pleasure in cherry-picking cases to support their agenda and contention that racism is rampant, perhaps they should consider their own back yards first? Consider that the rate of both victimisation and offending by Indigenous people has been reported as being approximately five times higher than that of non-Indigenous people. Or if any other evidence is needed to show that Aboriginal people are far too often the victims of other Aboriginal people, then consider the images highlighted in a video from Western Australia in August 2017. Why does this not manifest the same level of outrage generated when an Aboriginal person dies in a White institution? Could the claims of racism be a convenient distraction from the appalling acts of black-on-black violence?
Stories about Aboriginal people who die in so-called “white institutions” raise questions about what level of care should be provided to Aborigines. Is expecting government and associated services to care more for Aboriginal people than they care for each other a reasonable point of view? Yes, it is reasonable, and service providers should asure a high level of care to Aboriginal people even if they do not provide it to themselves. However, sometimes, some service providers do not provide the high level of care they should, and sometimes it proves fatal. Why is this and what should be done to ensure that service providers do provide a high level of care?
My sole purpose for writing this article is the hope that it might save lives. Consider a case when an Aboriginal person has either ended up in hospital due to compromised health, or in police custody due to some law infraction. Fortunately, most pass through the system without incident. But just like non-Aboriginal people, a minority do not fare too well – and this minority are usually well reported in the popular media and on social media sites dedicated to Aboriginal affairs (often they are just fronts for bashing white Australians). Perhaps they were very sick, perhaps police or health staff compromised their standard of care, or both. It is on these occasions that the BLM movement and victim brigade will swing into action and cry racism, or the even vague but infinitely more emotional expression of ‘institutional racism.’
If black lives really matter, then doesn’t it make more sense to help Aboriginal people avoid getting in trouble with the law or from entering the health system in the first place? Where are the protesters with their signs of ‘take better care of yourselves’ and ‘don’t do crime’ or ‘take care of each other’? Contributing factors to poorer health and criminal activity include violence, drugs and alcohol, unemployment, low self-worth, and boredom. Address employment, and most of the other problems will largely disappear. But these are problems which the people themselves must play a part in addressing. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made this clear more than 25 years ago: “There is no other way. Only the Aboriginal people can, in the final analysis, assure their own future.” However, blaming whitey is far easier than taking some responsibility.
Members of BLM movement believe that a change in service providers’s attitudes would save more lives. However, this would likely only yield a modest reduction in deaths, because it would seem that only a very small minority of clients fare badly when passing through the system. I believe service providers are more likely to change their attitudes towards Aboriginal people when they change their own behaviour. I can hear the chorus of social justice warriors whining, “You’re blaming the victim.” No I am not. I’m trying to save lives. It’s sad but true, but the bad behaviour by a few spoil it for the majority. Call this stereotyping if you like but it is human nature.
Stop spitting and cursing, stop feigning illness, stop the endemic levels of violence experienced in some communities, and stop the unfounded accusations of rampant racism would be a good start. For the activists, the next time you wish to protest telling White Australians are racist because they celebrate Australia Day, ask yourself what ramifications this might have. Many service providers will only tolerate so much before they begin to compromise the level of care they are expected to provide. Combine this with the poorer health status that Aboriginal people often have when coming into contact with a mainstream service, and sometimes this combination can prove lethal. Until we fill police and hospital staff positions with perfect people, having Aboriginal people change their behaviour might be the best way to go. Are any of the BLM members ready to fill these service provider positions? Perhaps the ‘talk’ regarding how to treat troublesome offenders or gravely ill patients is far easier than the ‘walk’?
Where racism clearly plays a part in the harm or death of an Aboriginal person then let’s expose it, but also let’s provide some context. Let’s provide statistics that show the number of ‘racism-free’ encounters Aboriginal people have with the White system so we can determine if racist incidents are common or rare. Cherry-picking cases to support an agenda is not helpful. Consider the call to train Indigenous people to film interactions between Indigenous people and police. If they are seriously interested in saving black lives, then they should put the camera on each other.
For the next person who wants to write a ‘news’ story or rant on a blogsite portraying Australia as racist, I hope that their hand trembles — such accusations can be lethal for two reasons. First, when Aboriginal people are taught that racism is widespread and the cause of their problems, they are more likely to abandon personal accountability and to resist and despise good non-Aboriginal service providers. Second, as alluded earlier, is it not conceivable that, tired of being labelled as racist, some non-Aboriginal service providers may sometimes be inclined to compromise on the level of care for Aboriginal people they are prepared to provide? Fortunately, most service providers are more caring towards Aboriginal clients than what many are towards themselves. If you need a reminder, watch the video below.
Q&A with Gerry Georgatos
In the interests of encouraging discussion, I have invited Gerry Georgatos to ask me three questions about this article. Gerry, a researcher on suicide prevention and wellbeing, has written much on Aboriginal and social justice issues. Our Q&A exchange is reproduced below.
Q: Can you disaggregate custodial deaths? It is my contention that nearly all police watch house deaths are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. Do you agree? If nationally the majority of police watch house deaths are ‘Black’ then why hasn’t every state and territory followed NSW’s lead with the Custody Notification Service, which has been preventing unnatural deaths and also has lowered the sentencing rate?
A: I will gladly assume that you are correct in saying the majority of police watchhouse deaths are of Aboriginal persons. Do you agree that Aboriginal people in custody are less likely to die than non-Aboriginal people in custody? I have no idea why other jurisdictions have not followed NSW’s lead with the Custody Notification Service. I would support action to do so. And do you still stand by your claim that 90% plus of police are good?
Q: If Australia cares about black lives, why has it allowed for many of the black communities I visit to fail their children? In all these communities the schools are run by white principals and teachers. One community I visited recently, not a single student has graduated from secondary school in seven years! A particular region comprising three communities has only ever had three secondary school graduates. Another community had its first two black female secondary school graduates in 2013. Education is a greater contributing factor to happiness and positive behaviour than is employment. Why has Australia failed these children?
A: It’s a bit vague (and evasive) to state “If Australia cares about Black lives …” Let’s re-frame it: “If Aboriginal people care about black lives …” Do you have a problem with white principals and teachers? Is that a racist comment from the person who states: “I see the racism in all its forms, institutional, structural and overt. Racism has haunted me from day dot. My predominant academic work, including doctoral research has been in understanding racism and the ways forward” and elsewhere he writes: “This is why I am a prolific writer about systemic issues, about the oppressor, about the racism.” I would suggest that it is not ‘Australia’ who is failing them. Tough decisions need to be made about the communities you refer to. Are these communities sustainable?
Q: In reference to black-on-black violence, I work first-hand with affected families to prevent this and to improve their lot, their life circumstances. Some 12% of Australians live below the poverty line. It will increase. But nearly 40% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live below the poverty line. The 40% of the black population living below the poverty line constitutes less 1.3% of the Australian population. So if all black lives matter to Australia, the world’s twelth-biggest economy, what’s Australia’s excuse for this abominable disparity in poverty?
A: Failing to see that Aboriginal people are people first and Aboriginal second is a significant contributor to the poverty, as it sets up different rules for different groups. There are many thousands of successful Aboriginal Australians who are living well above the poverty line, so clearly this is not an Aboriginal issue. Jobs and education remain the keys that unshackle the chains of poverty. And we know that location is a key a factor. The words of Stan Grant are relevant here.
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