Matt was a counsellor here at Flinders. He did (and continues to do) excellent work in reconciliation. In this post, he explored healing from recent incidents of racism.
This blog post is not about minimising racism or its real and cumulative effects on Aboriginal Australians. It is equally not about demonising and distancing ourselves from those who act in racist ways. It’s about encouragement to notice and respond to the racism that sits within many of us. It’s about non-Aboriginal people supporting each other to wrestle with it – to then transform it.
The recent incident of Taylor Walker’s racist comment about Robbie Young is disappointing, upsetting, and harmful. Adding insult to injury was a filmed apology from Taylor who, in an all to frequent act of role reversal, sought out support from the man he injured. Aboriginal voices have spoken endlessly about the burden of this unfair responsibility. On the other hand, it has also been promising to see the marked difference in response from the AFL official who reported the incident, the Media, the AFL, and the public when compared with the harassment and abuse that Adam Goodes received in response to his racial mistreatment. In Adam’s case he was himself relentlessly blamed and devalued. Whereas Taylor’s behaviour has attained universal and swift condemnation.
So where does racism exist? Just within Taylor? And whose responsibility is it to resolve, Taylor’s or Robbie’s? Taylor is evidently not the root of all evil. He, like all of us, is a complicated mixture of biology, beliefs, experience, and history. We all sit in a similarly complicated milieu. I think Taylor probably said what many have said, what many have thought, what many have heard and not challenged, what lurks in our histories and seemingly invisibly in our present.
How do we better respond to racism wherever it sits? We can blame the victim – like we did with Adam Goodes. We can demonize the offender and feel good about being right – like some have with Taylor Walker. Or we can make the offender accountable and use their example to wrestle with the same racism that we have also inherited (without asking Aboriginal people to do this for us). Perhaps if we try this latter option, we can make a much bigger positive difference.
Sound difficult? The Star of Taroom offers a great recent example of such redemption and mutual healing. It is the story of John Danalis and his Father Jim Danalis. John tells of his Father’s theft of many Aboriginal artifacts in QLD in the 1970s and of his Father’s initial blindness to this racism. John describes his Father’s eventual reckoning with this racism and return of artifacts to their owners. However, Jim lost his battle with cancer before he could repatriate all of the artifacts, and the story then follows John’s emotional quest to return The Star of Taroom (a significant rock artifact) to the Iman people.
What began in an enactment of inherited and unchecked racism in the 1970s was transformed into mutual healing and betterment by Jim, John, the Iman community and the non-Aboriginal community.
I heard someone say that “pain that is not transformed is transmitted”. This rings true not just for the recipients of racism but also those who enact it. In the case of The Star of Taroom article, after returning the rock to the Iman people, John indicated his own transformation; “for the first time in my life, I feel proud”.
And from Iman elder Heather Tobane; “It’s healing a lot of our people and a lot of the people who live around us, and that’s what it’s meant to be,” she says, fighting back tears.
Notably, throughout this transformation John did not distance himself from his Father despite his Father’s racism, instead he said “I just love my dad so much … he was a bit of a hero to me,”
There is some progress with Taylor Walker being held accountable for his racist comment. But where do we go from here? Should we distance ourselves from him and absolve ourselves of any part in the racial inequality around us? Or should we emulate John Danalis and instead join Taylor in a much more noble journey of transformation ourselves?
For those who are willing to take the latter course, let’s not ask the question Am I Racist? But instead begin with more useful questions; If racism sits within me, why is it there, and what does it look like? These questions bring up pain but transforming this pain is the goal, so as to not transmit it to Aboriginal people anymore.
Good luck and please get in touch if you want support with this. If you want some guidance on what follows from this useful questioning, consider this blog series on preparing for reconciliation or the Racism. It stops with me campaign.