Will the Voice to Parliament make a difference if white people won’t listen? White voices occupy all the spaces. We are used to hearing white voices. White voices run government. White voices are on TV and radio. White voices are on your news feed. White voices confirm everything you think. White voices mean white people are always heard. Our perspectives inform the status quo. The white voice tells us what we like to hear; it tells us we are progressive, we’re not racist and that we are inclusive.
White stories and thoughts hang in our galleries. White voices are the storytellers in our cinemas. White voices read the news. A white voice pulls us over and asks us how much we’ve had to drink. A white voice is at every meeting we go to. It tells us how to board a plane and what the rules are. We listen to white voices because those voices belong to us. We believe a white voice is universal. And when I say ‘us’
I mean ‘white people’.
We talk about what Indigenous Australians need for autonomy and the changes needed to address systemic racism… but we never talk about what the non-Indigenous community need to do in response. Ironically, the future of the Voice to Parliament rests on white voice; either through a referendum where mainly white people will vote, or in parliament, where it’s the same. The antiquated referendum laws have been called ‘not fit for purpose’ and the call has been to modernise them before the Yes/No campaign starts. More white voice.
But as we talk about Voice to Parliament, maybe we have to focus on our inherent bias. How do we change? How do we make space for unheard voices? How do we shut up and learn to listen and sit with the uncomfortable? How do we hear what we have never heard before? How do we share the solution space?
Generally white Australia doesn’t listen. And by ‘listen’ I don’t mean the simple act of hearing, I mean deep listening. I mean actual understanding. I mean true transformational listening. The kind of listening that informs new ideas and builds pathways; that reminds us that, yes, perhaps we are beneficiaries of privilege built on a history of racism and theft.
But we don’t do it. In fact, I reckon we’re really shit at it.
I saw it the other day at a panel where a First Nations woman spoke. She was on a predominantly white panel and she spoke to a room full of white people. She spoke loudly. Articulately. She spoke with precision and passion. But she went unheard. It wasn’t anyone in particular. It was all of us. It’s what white people do. We don’t listen to Black voices. We don’t know how. How could we? We occupy all the speaking space. We think we are allies and we don’t ever see we are part of the problem. We don’t see that we are in the way and that the best way to help make change happen – to recognise Indigenous voice – is for us to shut up. Just shut up, and hear it.
And I am as guilty as anyone. I occupy so much space with my voice. To prepare for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament we need a process so that not just parliament recognises it, ordinary non-Indigenous people must too. So, on the 26 January next year, instead of me banging on about how this shouldn’t be Australia Day, and that we need to change the date, maybe it’s more meaningful if I hand over to a First Nations writer. Maybe it’s a day we all hand over. Let’s make it a ‘Quiet White Day’.
That’s just one day when all us white fellas shut the fuck up. When we step away from all the public spaces that we’ve colonised with our perspectives and allow Black voices to come forward. On Quiet White Day we shut up on radio, on social media, on TV. We make room for Black voices to occupy the space, and we listen. All day we listen. We don’t come up with solutions, or justifications, or apologies. We just be quiet. This is how our country can prepare for the Voice to Parliament.
So, on 26 January 2023, let’s open our ears, and our hearts. Quiet White Day – you in?