Sorry Matters, and Assimilation

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.

ABC News reports:

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.

Categories: culture wars, indigenous, Politics, social justice

Tags: , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Thank you for writing this. I was wrestling with some thoughts on the upcoming 40th anniversary of the referendum that gave indigenous Australians citizenship of their own country but I think this pretty much covers most of that ground.
    I missed the program, but this transcript from last night’s 7:30 report covers the issues well [link]

    Aborigines were all but invisible in 60s Australia. Most of them fringe dwellers, forbidden to travel, denied entry to pubs, paid in meat and salt instead of dollars. Under the rule of State welfare boards they weren’t even counted in the national census

    On the matter of failing to listen and blustering in the blogosphere, there was a really great post from Mandolin on Alas, A Blog, as well: Q: Since When Is Being Criticized Like Having Your Limbs Blown Off by a Landmine? A: Since That Criticism Came from Someone with Less Privilege Than You
    N.B. Alas, A Blog Disclaimer: The domain on which Alas is hosted was sold to pornographers in mid 2006. (Details here.) There is no porn at the blog itself, but your hits may or may not indirectly support misogynistic, racist, lesbian-exploitation, and teen porn. The link above is to a googlecached page, from which you can access the blog directly if you wish to comment there.

  2. There’s an additional example of the “centring problem” in the comments section at Hugo’s place. Amanda Marcotte wrote:

    I think it’s not just the one-or-the-other issue, so much as it’s the way that race can really put a wrench in feminist narratives. For instance, the idea that birth control is liberatory makes a lot of sense to white women, who are generally encouraged to breed frequently. But it makes less sense to women of color, who have to contend with a long and ongoing history of being punished for having children and having birth control forced on them against their will. Ideally, we would push for a comprehensive view of reproductive rights, but in practice, it doesn’t often work that way.

    Now, I’m _sure_ I do this from time to time. Possibly a lot. Pull me up on it when I do, eh? There are the (sometimes) competing imperatives to situate oneself in the social and discourse web, but at the same time to not assume you’re the default centre.

  3. Sorry, what exactly do you mean by the centreing problem?

  4. Sorry, assuming too much. In the blogospheric racism-in-feminism discussions there has been some elucidation about how even the well-meaning discourse of “inclusivity” assumes that white women ARE the centre of feminism. There’s a bit about it here at bfp’s post.
    The way I am seeing it right now, casting the issue as “inclusivity” assumes that white (wealthy, American) feminism is the default; it then expands outward to “include” WOC, less wealthy women, and so on. This viewpoint doesn’t see WOC as activists in their own right, it’s treating them as – junior partners, for want of a better term.
    With white feminism still at the centre, “My personal feminist narrative” becomes “The feminist movement”.
    I’m still getting a handle on this, so I apologise if I’ve explained it badly, which I feel like I have (I’m a bit fuzzy today). Maybe some other readers can comment?
    Edited to add: I can’t get the page to load right now (grumble), but from my archives, Donna made this comment on Feministe:

    One of the reason there is a problem with the book is that there is a conversational style, Jessica is having a conversations with or at least to the reader. But when it gets to the chapte that discusses racism, that style changes, she doesn’t talk with or to WOC, she is talking about them with white readers. She also does it in a way that is about pityin them. In the other chapters she is telling the girls/women what other girls/women are doing in feminism to make their lives better. They aren’t to be pitied, they have power to change their lives. The WOC don’t.

    That’s something that stuck with me. I’ve been contemplating it for a couple of days. I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on the issue of audience and this sort of break in voice. Is it something you notice in your own writing, in the writing of others?

  5. I see what you mean. I’d got some of the perceived problems with the word “inclusive” (which, horrors, I think I have in the comments guidelines at the moment) but I hadn’t turned that around to a “centreing problem”.
    I guess diverse is a better word, but it still has a feeling of diverging from a standard. What’s a better term? Multi-something?

  6. I’m not sure. Integration springs to mind, but in some ways recalls assimilation.

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