At 7:30pm on Sunday, 24 October 2010, Australia’s TV channels broadcast a young Aboriginal girl’s plea to end, within the next 20 years, the inequality between our Indigenous people and the rest of us. I won’t go in to what she said (you can read the GenerationOne media statement here) but I do want to talk about is the ignorant reaction of some, ah… ‘unenlightened’ people to her message.
Many people in Australia seem to think that because Aboriginal people seem to get ‘more government handouts and benefits than white Australians’ or because ‘they get preferential treatment in many areas of society … over other Australians because supposedly they are a minority’, there is no inequality.
Those arguments are simplistic, absurd and inexcusably ignorant of Australian history.
Yes, some Aboriginals do get benefits – health care concessions, lower interest rates on home loans, and so on – that most of us don’t, but so what? Most Aboriginals are in a very different situation to the rest of us, particularly us white Australians. We don’t tend to be discriminated against when seeking employment. We generally live longer and healthier lives. We don’t have a history of being oppressed.
Frankly, Aboriginal Australians are among the most disadvantaged indigenous people in the world. I defy anyone to prove otherwise. While it’s true that they live in a civilised, technologically advanced, democratic country, for much of their history since colonisation they haven’t been treated like Australian citizens (they’re still not recognised in the Constitution) and have been left to live in third world conditions.
There’s a line in a Blue King Brown song that says something like, “White man holds the key to black man’s identity”. I used to disagree with this, thinking that Aboriginals needed to stop allowing themselves to be victims. I was wrong. It’s white Australia that is treating them like victims, like children, thinking that we know best and they should do what we tell them to; that they should assimilate and be white like us (if only in lifestyle).
There are no simple solutions, and assimilation or segregation is not the answer. Continuing to throw money at the problems, many of which white Australians have created, will not repair 200-plus years of damage.
But we can start with trying to understand their culture; to understand why they may be reluctant to sever a traditional connection with their land in order to find employment in our larger towns or cities; to understand the challenges they face every day, even the ones who do move away or have long since lived in our cities; to understand the underlying causes behind the violence and the drinking; and to accept that we have a responsibility to help them so that one day they don’t need special programs or benefits to enable them to simply live.
So to the haters out there: No, Madeleine didn’t have a political agenda and she wasn’t after more money for Aboriginals. She was after better understanding of what her people face every day. She was asking for all of us to help her people stand up and overcome Aboriginal disadvantage, to take some responsibility for helping Indigenous Australians where successive governments have failed.
She was asking us to be the Australians we like to think we are, but too often are not.