Over the past week there has been a huge amount of discussion in the femiblogosphere about dropping the defensive, domineering blustering and starting to listen to people of colour. Listening has got to be step one if there is to be any sort of understanding, any sort of reconciliation.
It seems the last thing blusterers want to say is to start listening and say “Sorry”.
Today, Australia’s conservative government has offered a stellar example of white people putting their fingers in their ears and shouting “LA LA LA NOT LISTENING” at indigenous people.
The former chairwoman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) has attacked the Federal Government for a lack of effort on the Stolen Generation in the last decade.
Lowitja O’Donohue, a member of the Stolen Generation, has addressed a gathering at Parliament House in Canberra to mark 10 years since the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report. Ms O’Donohue says of the 54 recommendations made in the report, 35 have been ignored.
“That is two thirds. The Prime Minister either doesn’t get it or he doesn’t care and I’m not sure which is worse,” she said. “There has been a failure of moral authority and ethical leadership in Australia over the last 10 years.
But the Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough says the Government has committed an extra $2 million a year to help people reconnect with their families.
“What Lowitja has just said on some aspects I clearly would disagree, but in many aspects I want to state that I believe that the work that is being undertaken today is the beginning of what must continue for many years to come,” he said.
That’s ten years since the Bringing Them Home report. Ten years. And most of the recommendations ignored.
Mr Brough does not believe the issue of an apology for the Stolen Generation is of major concern.
All 53 recommendations are important to Ms O’Donohue, including an apology.
“We can forgive but we can’t forget,” she said.
“But it’s important that we move on. And for some, until they hear the word ‘sorry’ they won’t move on.”
If you’re not familiar with the “Sorry” movement in Australia, there is a bit of background here. Note that the government has unilaterally decided that there will be no such thing as “Sorry Day”; they have dubbed it a “National Day of Healing for all Australians”. Well, we as white colonists don’t get to tell injured people that they need to hurry up and heal already, when the injuries are still there, and are still ongoing. “Sorry” doesn’t even have to be an admission of personal fault and wrongdoing, a concession of blame; it can mean “I’m sorry this has happened to you.” “I’m sorry this was done in my name, this was done by my people”. “That experience really sucks.” “You are hurt.” But no.
What the fuck will it take for this government to shut up and LISTEN? Indigenous people have been saying that “Sorry” matters for years and years and years. Yet our elected leaders continue to stamp and pout and tantrum about this, like preschoolers. They think that if they just say “It doesn’t matter!” often enough, they will get through to indigenous people. That if they shout long enough and loud enough, their steadfast belief in their own intrinsic rightness will overpower and erase indigenous people’s emotions, realities, and hurts.
The government is making the same arguments about “divisiveness” that have been brought up again and again as a last stand by some white bloggers to avoid having to work at listening to women of colour in this week’s blogospherostorm. The underlying thrust seems to be this: If people are making arguments that you can’t combat any other way, shout them down for making the arguments in the first place. What some people seem to be saying is: “How dare those other people not… just agree to agree with the self-defined mainstream that is me and my friends; that’s “divisive”. There’s got to be one way of looking at the world, and that’s got to be our way. How DARE they. They’re the ones damaging this movement by arguing with ME. I’m making a rational point, they’re ‘sniping’. I’m correct, and they’re ‘jealous’. The only way we will ever agree is for them to agree with me. They should drop their identity and assume mine. They need to assimilate.”
Prime Minister John Howard plays the same game.
“I have a different attitude to the Labor Party in relation to a formal apology,” he said. “My view has not changed in relation to that and it will not change, I don’t expect the Labor Party’s to change. I have always held the view that the best way to help the Indigenous people of this nation is to give them the greatest possible access to the bounty and good fortune of this nation and that cannot happen unless they are absorbed into our mainstream.”
Assimilation. Yup. Think about it.