The Australian Human Rights Enquiry into Racist Violence was held in 1991. I was one of the people who Commissioner Irene Moss heard give evidence. The evidence I provided related to a series of incidents directed to me and impacted on my young family.
As an anti-racist activist I was subjected to violence because of my advocacy of human rights. The evidence Commissioner Moss gathered, indicated that this was perpetrated by organised extremist groups. It took the form of bricks through the windows of the bedroom my children slept in, graffiti on the walls of my house, being followed and abused verbally in the street, my children’s kindergarten having graffiti painted on its fence, my phone being tapped. I was working for the SA Council of Churches running a series of anti-racism campaigns with church, school, community groups and unions. The campaign was clearly effective. My children grew up for a number of years not being able to answer the telephone, open the front door.
As a white, educated, english speaking person I got a tiny, tiny, taste of what many have to endure everyday. It was not pleasant.
Fast forward to 2022 and for the past 30 years nothing much has changed for me. I continue to call out racist behaviour, find ways of building bridges and community to educate and eradicate ignorance. I seem to have a knack of helping racists come out of the woodwork and find me.
This week I can point to two instances. The first one was at a community meeting of a local business association. The meeting began with an acknowledgement of meeting on Kaurna land. The person making the acknowledgement then muttered under his breath that he didn’t think they were grateful for all the good efforts of their association’s endeavours. I was shocked. I have noted his behaviour.
The second incident was online. A post of gratitude about care of country and connection to the economic, ecological and spiritual values of the land to First Nations, was met with an oblique enquiry that had nothing to do with the original post. The only connection to be drawn was a connection to First Nations. This, not quite subtle reference, was “jarring” as one correspondent remarked in the comments.
I have taken to making longer than usual opening acknowledgements at public events, since the Prime Minister’s visit to the Garma Festival. I am making the most of the opportunities I am getting when standing out the front. This week it included a crowded room of about 100 people in our capital city, celebrating the conclusion of a circular economy program for budding social enterpreneurs and a seniors club meeting with about 40 people in one of our southern suburbs. I include in my remarks that we are in a pre-referendum period, where citizens are getting prepped to consider whether to vote for a Voice to parliament to be enshrined in our Constitution. I am remind audiences that I want us to go further than the voters in 1967 did and exceed their 97% vote for Aboriginal people to get the right to vote. I want us to prove we have not gone backwards and we are not more racist than this previous generation. I am worried though that we might be! I am doing what I can to innoculate as well as educate.
It is so very easy for slips of the tongue and keyboard warriors to poison the airwaves. It urges me to be positive, signal and send a message tothe mini-publics I am addressing. We can all do this whereever we are – in our homes, classrooms, board rooms, at bus stops and sporting grounds. That is the work we need to do while the legislators get cracking on their bit.
I always find my way back to Martin Luther King Jr in these moments and draw on this quote:
“It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.”
– Martin Luther King, “The Other America,” 1967
The invisible racist, becomes visible when they make a snide remark or comment under their breath, or post a line in social media that hints of their values.
Be vigilant my friends as we head into these pre-referedum times. If my two little whiffs on the wind I experienced this week are anything to go by, our First Nations people are going to experience a lot worse during this time. We are going to be called on to make our solidarity visible.