Sunday, March 9, 2014

I'd love to have a beer with Duncan, provided bloody Duncan doesn't exclude me...

Social media can be alternately a wondrous invention of the 21st century whilst also being a curse. It's wonderful because with the click of a mouse button, you are able to connect with an infinite amount of people instantly and find out what's going on. A particularly useful tool to have when communicating with the Indigenous community. However, when what's going on is not particularly pleasant stuff, the gift of social media fast turns into a curse.

Such it was last week when news spread rapidly that a publican in Coolgardie had banned Indigenous people from drinking in her pub because her phone was allegedly stolen. A sign, that was quickly photographed and circulated on social media attested to this racist ban. The story of an Aboriginal miner who was refused service and is now seeking legal advice was told. The pub's page on Facebook was trolled with reviews being written about the regular KKK meetings and the archaic attitudes and decor. In short, some well-oiled internet activism sprung into action and let people know that this was not acceptable.

The publican apologised soon after the sign had gone viral, but by then the damage had been done. People had witnessed the modern day exclusion of a group of people based on race via the information superhighway. For a moment we felt yet again like things hadn't progressed since the time Freedom Riders were spat on and arrested at the Moree Pool for trying to gain access so the local black kids could have a swim.

The problem is, this is not an isolated incident. This happens more regularly than people in this country either hear about or acknowledge. In this instance, thanks to social media, information was quickly and widely dispersed, but this was not the case in Bairnsdale in 2011 when Police issued a blanket ban on the sale of alcohol to Aboriginal people in an attempt to curve street violence. In 2008, a Taree bottle shop put a ban on “mixed or otherwise” Aboriginal people and instructed staff to tell these people to leave. Of course, in 2007 the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended and blanket alcohol and pornography bans were enacted in remote Northern Territory communities but it has been mainly activist groups who have questioned these government policies. The general public have been mainly silent. They probably believe, what with the government rhetoric and the media reporting, that these bans were completely warranted despite the original Lateline report that led to a declaration of a “state of emergency” was found to be seriously lacking in credibility.

Of course, exclusion does not always centre around alcohol. Last year the cast of The Shadow King were repeatedly refused taxi service in Melbourne and were later racially abused by a tram commuter. Also last year, well-known community character and Elder statesman of the theatre Jack Charles went public on an incident of racism he had experienced again from a taxi driver. Famous Yolgnu singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was refused a taxi the previous year in St. Kilda, despite him being blind and therefore needing reliable assisted transportation. These are the incidents involving public Indigenous figures so you can just imagine how often it happens to everyday Aboriginal people.

We see the continual videos taken on public transport of racist attacks including one on a presumed Aboriginal person (though later this was found to not be the case) only a couple of weeks ago. We hear the offensive opinions some Australian revellers on Australia Day have of Aboriginal people in John Pilger's documentary Utopia. These are all incidences of what we call “blatant racism” but while this stuff raises its ugly head occasionally, events like Australia Day, statements such as “black armband view of history” and frequent tales of how acknowledging difference is apparently racist also exclude Aboriginal people. They tell us that we don't have a right to our truth, our history and present, and our right to define ourselves how we choose. They exclude through denial and assimilation. If people don't feel that this is every bit as damaging as being excluded through blatant acts such as bans and denials of service, they are very wrong. 
Racism is a part of every day life in Australia. It is heartening to see people band together on social media and state that these sorts of acts against an entire group of people are not acceptable. It gives me hope that through these channels and contact over networks that did not exist in previous generations, people are connecting with others they may not have in the past and are therefore being challenged and gaining different perspectives. They can also pressure people who exhibit attitudes that exclude entire races of people and enact change. There is still so very far to go though...


  1. Unfortunately this topic is evergreen; thanks for presenting it so cogently with incontrovertible evidence. And as you say this is the tip of the everyday-racism iceberg. And then of course there's all the other forms of racism - institutional, systemic, indirect, inferred, unspoken, unwritten etc etc

  2. Very difficult 2 comprehend. Quite ashamed 2 be living here as a white Irish Ausralian where injustice 2 Aboriginal peoples is still rampant.

  3. It is not that difficult to comprehend, in truth.
    It's quite simple really: white people do not want to move forward. It means admitting just how appalling and deplorable a race they are, historically, and taking responsibility for the legacy of hatred and discrimination that they have left everywhere across the world.
    It is much, much easier to simply blanket ban and call it a day, than own the role they have played in conquering and dividing this entire planet.

  4. Folks, not posting any more "Anonymous" comments. I shouldn't have allowed the first one! Please use a handle as requested on my sidebar, or if using "Anonymous", sign off your message with a handle. I don't care what that handle is, I just don't want anon comments everywhere. They bug me.

  5. brendan lewis @myxer99March 12, 2014 at 12:15 AM

    Nice one Celeste and spot on. I lived in the NT for many years and saw everything you wrote of and a lot more besides. As a member of the colonising race in Australia I think its part of the plan to blame the Aboriginal for the sickness in our own souls. The knowledge that we have massacred, tortured and raped our way into our privileged position is sublimated and that evil transferred onto the victims. Torturers, paedophiles, killers and colonisers all do it and its no mystery. The solution apart from generations of proper support is that we open our hearts to these fine people and their beautiful country ... and leave the colony. Become as Aboriginal peoplle are - not owning the land but owned by it - that's if it will have us of course ;) easy
    Brendan lewis @myxer99

  6. great read! it's a perspective that's too often overlooked. I think that the appreciation of indigenous culture comparative to that of the west has greatly improved but it is obviously nowhere near where it should be. Crayon Yellows comment of 'admitting how appalling and deplorable a race they are' in regards to white people also shows ignorance at its best. White people are not a race, they are people who have less melanin in their skin than darker people for an evolutionary reason (to have more vitamin d in colder areas). If you specified a specific race or culture e.g Imperialists Anglo-Saxon might have made more sense, wouldn't have been necessarily right though.

  7. It's ignorance to think that race is just one thing. And while you are right, in a way, white people went on to use the anatomical definition of race to divide people.

    I'm from South Africa and believe me when I say, racism is defined as "you black, we white" and nothing more or less. And quite frankly, white people made it that way when they decided to oppress entire populations (done numerous times, all over the world) based on criteria like how different people look, how differently they speak and sound and how differently they live. The only problem is, it wasn't because Zulu, or Indonesian or Peruvian. It was because darker skin colour.

    I see what you're trying to do and if it makes you feel better by stating that white people are not a race, then by all means, go ahead. But the reality that you have to face, at some point, is that white people -made- themselves a race, and a superior one at that. White people made it about "you look different from us so you have to be inferior". That's where racial slurs like monkeys and so on come from. And that's just historically.

    Because, in this day and age, race is about colour because all black are simply assumed to be from Africa, all Asian folk are either Indian or Chinese and really, how does that even work? Where is your culture then?

    1. It would be ignorance to think race is one thing, it's much more complex than that. In my opinion, the most devastating phase of human history involved and still involves the imperialism of several European nations, the worst being Anglo-Saxon England (before that the conquering of Islam following Muhammad's death). Anglo-saxons do have white skin and projected a superior attitude to their coloured colonies because of this, however, the biggest victims of this imperialism are Celtics (irsh, Scottish, welsh) who are also white and never invaded, conquered or persecuted.

      With your statement 'white people made themselves a race, and a superior one at that.' this is quite right....historically and even at times today 'whiteness' is still considered superior, especially in Asian countries where those of lighter pigment generally hold more privilege, so it could be argued some wished to establish it as a 'race'.

      This does not make it right, it's a myth that's been discredited time and time again. So why perpetuate that myth? the term 'race' is heavily debated but the general consensus is it's much more than 'You black, we white', if people believe it's that simple on either side of the fence, they too have a false sense of what 'race' is.

      If people assume that ' blacks are all from Africa, all Asian folk are Indian or Chinese' or even imply all white people are the same and should 'admit how appalling and deplorable a race they are' are plain ignorant, call an Iranian an Arab instead of a Persian, or an Irish person Anglo-Saxon instead of Celtic and see how offended they are as you've just generalised their culture and history because of their skin colour or appearance.

  8. There is no such thing as race, we are all the one, the human race. But on behalf of the lighter pigmented members of the human race, I am deeply sorry for what is still being done to my darker pigmented brothers and sisters. Sadly, if we all became the same colour tomorrow, some people would find another excuse to be violently hateful towards others anyway.

  9. It is always interesting to see how much of that racism is socialised, and then effectively licensed. I was in a bottle-shop in Broome a few years ago, having had 2 or 3 wines over dinner, buying another bottle. The young (about 20 is my guess) assistant who was serving questioned the old man in the queue behind me about how much he had drunk. The old man, Aboriginal as it happened, protested that he had not been drinking at all, and wanted to buy some beer. At that point I interrupted and asked why I, non-Aboriginal and carrying an AMEX card as it happened, was not questioned about how much I had drunk, when probably clearly I was the least sober in the bottle-shop.

    It was the brusque manner, the self-assuredness of the young shop-assistant that most stunned me on that occasion. I had lived in Alice Springs for 10 years by then, and was well used to people being refused service. But in this instance in Broome, I was watching a well dressed old man being challenged by a young man The young man was secure in the knowledge that his actions were being supported by codes of behaviour well enshrined within his culture, his tribe. That security came through his extensive socialisation. He had been told and shown time and again, that was what was expected of him, that was how he could and should behave. That was his licence. Of course, what he wasn't expecting was that the other member of his mob, of his colour, of his non-Aboriginality, would end up not supporting him, but rather, supporting that very person he was deriding.

    It is not until all of our laws, all of our actions, and all of our beliefs treat all as equals, that blogs such as Celeste's become redundant.

    Good on you Celeste. That is a damned fine name you have there.