White people have a lot to be sorry for. Our pale-skinned privilege is the passport I and many others use to glide through life. We see this as our birthright. Every day our pages are stamped with unquestioned approval. We may pass through. Career doors open easily, people smile on the bus when we sit next to them, landlords happily hand us the key to their homes, banks approve our mortgages, police don’t do a car search when they pull us over for a random breath test, shop assistants don’t follow us when we’re browsing, and when we’re gathered in a park with our family having a few beers, no one slinks past in fear. It’s just a barbecue with some Aussie larrikins, not a mob of ‘drunk abbos’.
I have two black sisters – beautiful, strong women who haven’t had the easy passage through life that I have. They’ve experienced racism, whether overt or institutionalised, their whole lives. When I was a little girl I once refused to walk to school with Shirley because I got teased for having a black sister. I crossed the road. My grandmother found out and I got the back end of a wooden spoon. I love her for it. I still feel ashamed that I crossed the road.
White people cross the road every day – we take no responsibility. That’s our shame. It’s a white-washed world. White people, predominantly white men, control the narrative around culture and identity. They decide when it’s Australia Day. They decide that celebrating nationhood, on the day of white invasion shouldn’t offend. After all, isn’t everyone ‘Australian’ now? They also define what ‘Australian’ is. They decide when it’s Sorry Day. They decide what to say sorry for.
It’s 2019 and Ken Wyatt is the first Indigenous Australian to hold the position as Minister for Indigenous Australians. White men congratulate themselves for that – but why has it taken so long? Previous title holders have been people like Mal Brough and Philip Ruddock – just a couple of names in the long list of privileged white men (and women) entrusted with representing the interests of Australia’s First Nations people.
In Queensland, until the mid 1980’s it was still an offence to be in the company of Aboriginals for what was deemed an unnecessary length of time. Indigenous imprisonment rates are almost twice those of the non-Indigenous community. Indigenous life-expectancy is more than a decade less than non-Indigenous. The story of the trauma of the stolen generations was, in turn, stolen by politicians like Kevin Rudd who nabbed himself a Martin Luther moment with the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous people. His hero status eclipsed the content. White men congratulating themselves for having the courage and compassion to say ‘sorry’.
So how many have embraced the content of that apology? By the crowds gathered to climb Uluru last Friday, on the last day the rock could still be legally climbed – I’d say not many. It’s clear Pauline Hanson’s statement ‘Our country is not based on Aboriginals’ is both offensive and true. The Anangu were given Uluru back, 34 years ago, and that’s how long it has taken for them to enact ‘no climbing’ as a law for all at this culturally significant site. The hordes of (non-indigenous) people who turned up on the last day showed what absolute disregard many have for the cultures and heritage of Indigenous Australia. Pity we can’t be immunised against White Entitlement. We’re morally repugnant. A global embarrassment. I suggest we start a movement, in an attempt to repatriate all the harm and hurt we’ve caused. It would be like Black Pride, but we could call it White Shame. Billboards around the country could show Pauline, stuck between the rock and her hard face. We could also appoint an Indigenous person as Minister for White-Fella Affairs. Just one portfolio mind you. White Shame Day could be every day, but I have the perfect date – 26 January!