Monday, November 9, 2015


Make no mistake - racism is alive and well worldwide, sadly. And yes, it seems that there certainly are barriers.

I feel incredibly proud to be connected with quite a few of our amazing Aboriginal people – they are all lovely and they are absolutely and justifiably passionate about their heritage and culture. When I was asked to write this article, I turned to some of them to gain their perspectives of the above problems. And their responses have stunned me. They shouldn’t have – I should have had some idea of how bad racism is in Australia – but I didn’t. And what they have told me is literally only scratching the surface.

Looking at medicine, for example – it seems that the number of Aboriginal doctors is rising but trying to gain access to resources that they need to achieve their ambitions, apparently is causing huge problems. There are countless barriers that need to be removed for these people to get ahead. Simply because of who they are, it’s not happening – or if it is, it’s much harder for them than for anyone else. Racism is rife in every sector.

Too many white Australians still believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are just lazy and are no good – at the same time, these are the people who want to challenge the narrative that Muslims are all terrorists. In my opinion, this is not true. None of it. However, if you want to think about it – seriously, just remember that remaining silent in the discrimination of others really makes you just as racist - not that that is going to make a bar of difference to many. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – you know, the First Peoples to inhabit our nation - have faced systematic oppression for centuries and have always lived in a situation where they are shunned and belittled by migrants and colonisers alike

One of my friends asked me which aspect I was actually interested in – education, housing, health, employment, economic development, sport, media, land rights – whoa! The list continues. Then she asked whether I was asking about systematic racism, institutionalised, online – or ‘just’ to your face? She added that there are just so many barriers occurring across the board, due to racism that it’s really only those that are unable to access due to racism that are acutely aware of it. It seems that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people no longer even try to access any resources that do not show any sign of Aboriginal cultural understanding. How tragic.

They have problems trying to access private rentals, as do other immigrants to Australia, from what I understand. All racism. Access to varying services. Access to information. Barriers abound everywhere.

I was given a lot of examples by my different connections, all of whom I consider to be friends, but really far too many to even think about covering here. One lady recalled an incident that her son experienced. It involved the boy being falsely labelled a thief – there is a considerable story to this, too much to recount here, but suffice to say that the mother said she had to teach her son to just deal with it. She felt it was useless for them to fight the accusation because no-one really cares anyway. They would be told that they had ‘misinterpreted the actions’, 'pulled the race card', 'acted irrationally', 'had other problems' - or they were just not needed as a customer. Given that the entire thing was not the fault of the son, I find this amazing – I would not have thought any business at any time could afford to lose customers.  It’s a store I wouldn’t be going near again. Barriers.

During the times of the Black Civil Rights movement in the 60s and 70s, the Aboriginal Elders and supporters met to create the very foundation of basic services for their people who live in the capital cities on the eastern coast of Australia. In doing this, they fought for things that  should have been taken for granted – legal and health services, access to education and public housing etc. These are basic services, for goodness sake – services that all mankind should have access to. They are not luxuries but even now they are only in the city centres. For Aboriginal people living in remote communities – these services do not exist, pure and simple. They should exist – but they don’t.

Treatment of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is unacceptable. One of my friends tells me that she has the ‘gift of the gab’ which has helped her talk her way past the inbuilt racism that they see whenever they try to step in to the ‘white world’- a term many detest using. It seems that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living in two worlds: at home, they can be themselves and be black, but when they go to work (if they are lucky enough to have a job) they try to act white. She adds that those who cannot step out of their ‘black world’ are the ones who fail. So sad. This is a result of past experience and treatment of their Elders – it seems their people who do not live in such a way are seen as too radical if they have different views to the majority.

So, yes, there is racism everywhere and many, many barriers exist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Another friend also mentions that the worst kind of racism she has found is the role that mainstream media portrays of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or Indigenous (which she explains is actually the lazy term the media prefers to use the keep the word count down) people. She adds that it is very fortunate that we have the ABC and SBS who do go out and find positive stories, but sadly the negative stories aired by the commercial channels are the ones that create the vacuum seal of the worst things happening in our communities. She adds there is never a thought about the struggles the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people live with on a daily basis.

She also recalls an argument she had with one of her relations in the 1980s. It seemed he, like so many white Australians, was complaining that Aboriginal people get everything for free. This is a complaint that I can verify as I hear it regularly too. But it’s not fair. Not at all. And this is a very typical example of one of those barriers. My friend explained that earlier that week, her niece (step-daughter of the above-mentioned relation) unsuccessfully applied for Austudy. The reason for the failure? She is related to a white man who earns too much money and because he is married to her mother, a black woman, the lass is not eligible for Austudy. Seems to be to be a very clear barrier.

Another friend, an artist, tells of some very blatant racism that he has endured. He mentions that sometimes it is the covert body language of Non-Indigenous persons that convey their inner racism. When this talented artist has attended workshops, he could ‘feel’ Non-Indigenous people looking at him in a critical way. How absolutely shameful. It seemed he was the only Aboriginal person in the room at one stage and when the workshop ended and it was time for mingling, he was left standing alone despite his own efforts at trying to approach people. They just turned away. Attending other art award evenings he has simply been ignored.

Many people claim they are not racist at all – but they are. And there are times when my blood boils when listening to conversations around me. People making racist jokes, at the same time claiming that they are not racist. And I have heard non-Indigenous people claiming that certain things should not be accessible to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people. Why not? I have asked, only to be ignored. So, effectively, they are encouraging those barriers.

My artist friend continues by adding that Aboriginal people have an inner radar for the ‘vibes’ that other individuals give off. It’s all about energy and believe me, they feel it.  Even through his amazing artwork (which I have had the huge fortune to see and write about) he is connecting to country – his style of painting is a blend of landscape and also some ancestral dreaming work from his inner visions. It can also be dictated by distinct areas of Aboriginal culture. Looking at his work and having grown to know this man (and his wife) through emails etc even I am starting a feel a little of the power that he talks about. But then, I am not racist.

When this artist recently applied for an arts grant (still pending approval), he was rather – interested – when approaching people to write letters of support for him. As he explains, some were helpful, others not interested. Some were outright rude. When I was approached, I felt so privileged that I wrote one which I can only hope will help him achieve the success he so deserves.

This amazing man and his wife have gone on to tell me some amazing stories of pure and blatant racism which has been displayed to them. They have not been included here as this article is calling more for barriers – and anyway, my blood is now boiling.

What I cannot understand and continues to annoy me so much – why are there barriers in place for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when some of their skills, as in the works of the above artist, could do so much for Australia, for all our homeland?

But racism and those associated barriers are not confined to our Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people. Australia, like most nations, is blessed with an enormous multi-cultural population – but so many of these people, whether legal immigrants or not, share that feeling of racism. A German friend of mine tells about some of her experiences and those of her family, when they first came here in 1964. As Germans – you know, normal people - they were subjected to some awful treatment, being called everything under the sun. Horrible. As my friend says, she still feels bad about the shame she was made to feel simply because of where she was born. While she has not mentioned any particular barriers, I have absolutely no doubt they were well and truly present. Just because they were German. She does add that sometimes she feels the price paid for trying to be a ‘true blue Aussie’ – is way too high. Agreed.

A final word from one of my Aboriginal friends. As she says, sadly the above is the image that most people who aren’t Aboriginal have of the First Peoples of this country – and of some immigrants. In her own words: ‘Sadly this is the image that most people who aren’t Aboriginal have of the First Peoples of this country. We live in one of the richest countries in the world, but Aboriginal people are living in third world conditions. We don’t choose to have poor health, poor education, poor living standards or work in jobs that pay way less than what we can possibly earn. This is life for most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.
So, yes – there continue to be barriers everywhere, right across the board.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Lannah for your outstanding commentrary on this very real phenomenon. Let's not be complicent in keeping it hidden. Someone needs to be a champion and add to the voices of the rich of individuals who have lent us their stories here. Thank you for being that champion author.