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  • Internal Code :
  • Subject Code : ABOR2244
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  • Subject Name : Arts and Humanities

Reconciling Australia's Colonial Past and Present

The article “Black like me” by Stan Grant, published a couple of weeks after the death of George Floyd in America, starts with a very touching introduction. The author, before delving into the article, warns us that this article is not about facts or statistics but rather a story of his own life (Grant, 2020). Following that, over the course of the entire article Grant highlights various inequalities that have been witnessed by him and around him his entire life, thus taking a stand against the malpractices that have been going on for generations not only in Australia but across the world.

Beginning with a reference to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died by the hands of a white police officer, the article successfully highlights certain key issues that are faced by black individuals in countries like Australia and America. The article refers to the practice of slavery that the black individuals were subjected to, and further highlights the issue of black deaths in judicial custody in Australia, an issue that was not recognized until very recently. Further, the article mentions the concept of “white gaze” and talks about Grant’s experience in school, where he was severely bullied and marginalized for not being white. This incident highlights yet another key issue that is currently faced in the society. The author further talks about a time when the “aboriginals” owned Australia and thus have an emotional and generational attachment with the land, and how these individuals slowly lost not only their land but also their rights and their respect.

On critically analyzing slavery in Australia, it can be found that modern forms of slavery still exist within the country to this day (GSI, 2018). When delving into the history of slavery in Australia, it can be found that via laws like the Aboriginals Ordinance 1918 that allowed the forced recruitment of Indigenous workers in the northern territory, the Australian laws thus sanctioned slavery back then (Anthony & Grey, 2020). Black individuals never had good relations with the government in the past, thus further causing their oppression in such states. Many Indigenous Australians were forced into various forms of slavery in the country, and human trafficking and illegitimate slavery offences were observed largely till about half a century back.

Deaths of Indigenous Australians in prison or police custody, too, has been a prominent problem in the country. Almost 450 aboriginal individuals have died either in custody or in prison in the last 20 years in Australia (Allam et. al., 2020). Statistics have also shown that Indigenous Australians are much less likely to receive medical attention in custody or prison. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has also revealed that Indigenous imprisonment rates were the highest in Western Australia out of all the states and territories (Allam et. al., 2020). Further analysis has shown that Indigenous individuals are disproportionately represented in all the levels of the Judicial system and that Indigenous adults are fifteen times more likely to be incarcerated compared to the other citizens (Evershed et. al., 2020). All these facts came to light in 2015 after the death of Indigenous inmate 26-year-old David Dungay Junior who was dragged to another cell and injected with a sedative when caught eating biscuits (Davidson, 2020). Aboriginal Australians makeup only 2% of the population in Australia and yet, make up for about 28% population inside prison facilities (AHRC, 2018). It has also been brought to light that Indigenous women are far more ill-treated in police facilities as compared to the men. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO has described the imprisonment rates of Indigenous women as a national disgrace (AHRC, 2018). It has been observed that 34% of women in Australian prisons have an aboriginal origin.

Further, research and analysis have revealed that racism is very deep-rooted in the Australian schools. It has been found that one in three students reports that they have faced racial discrimination from their peers (McGowan, 2019). Further, about 20 per cent students that belong from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders background have reported some form of racial discrimination that they faced from their teachers (McGowan, 2019). Many of these children face bullying and teasing regularly, even though tolerance for such incidents in decreasing over-time.

Thus, the issues of modern-day slavery and discrimination, ill-treatment in custody and prison premises and racism in schools are all issues that are faced by multiple black individuals regularly. Much like what Grant says, black individuals are seen differently in these countries; almost unequally.

Reconciliation is essentially about strengthening the relations that exist in between the Aboriginal individuals and the Torres Strait Islanders individuals and the non-Indigenous individuals for the benefit of not only all citizens but also the country as a whole (RA, 2020). However, there exist various barriers in the Australian society that obstruct the reconciliation of Australia’s past. The country is undoubtedly haunted by its racist history that was full of forced labour, different forms of slavery and assimilation of Indigenous people who had inhabited the continent for the past hundreds of decades (Paradies, 2016). One major barrier that continues to exist in the country is the persistence of racist attitudes well around the country. Most Australians have stereotyped the existence of the aboriginals and the Indigenous individuals as drunkards or inferior individuals. Studies have shown that about 10 per cent Australians claim that they would not hire an Indigenous Australian whereas 30 per cent Australians hold the opinion that the Indigenous crowd should behave more “normally” (Paradies, 2016). These attitudes form a major barrier against the reconciliation of Australia’s past.

Further, the health system is also seen to discriminate in between the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous individuals, where the lacks have failed to tackle the root cause of poor health that is witnessed in the Indigenous families (Castan, 2016). In current times too, it is seen that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have a shorter life expectancy. This has further caused a rift between the two groups.

It also has to be acknowledged that when a group of individuals has been discriminated against and marginalized for a while, they develop certain reservations against the group of individuals that marginalised them. In all probability, the Indigenous Australians must have certain grievances and reservations against all the non-Indigenous groups, which further acts as a barrier against the reconciliation of Australia’s past. The Indigenous group of individuals have faced various forms of racism and human rights violations for more than a decade and thus have lost faith in the Australian judicial system.

Till date, the issues in between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Australia remain unresolved, thus making reconciliation important for the country. Various measures have already been taken to improve the current situations. There also exists a council of the Australian Reconciliation that was founded 25 years back and continues to fight for the Australian reconciliation. Over the years, the council has faced several challenges and disappointments and yet, it continues to try and fix the rift in between the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous crowds. However, it should be noted that “despite all the backlashes, put-downs, trivialisation and wedge politics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have come back stronger, more articulate, more practical, more resilient and surer of their capacity to contribute” (Castan, 2016).

Racism and discrimination cannot be fought in a day. However, it can and should be fought one step at a time. Every citizen of Australia has to perform the simple task of not performing any forms of racism or discrimination themselves and additionally having a zero-tolerance towards any forms of racism or discrimination that they might witness in their daily lives. This is a simple method of eradicating the deep-rooted racism one day at a time. None of the Australians should be comfortable witnessing any kind of injustice and should immediately take a stand against it. Additionally, educating the masses is very important. The citizens of Australia need to be educated about the rich history of Australia and at the same time, the Indigenous individuals need to be inspired to take more pride in their origins. Slowly and steadily, the entire country can take a stand against any injustice that the society might do, thus reducing the rift in between the marginalized and the non-marginalized.

References for Black Like Me: Stan Grant

AHRC. (2018). Imprisonment rates of Indigenous women a national shame. Retrieved from https://humanrights.gov.au/about/news/imprisonment-rates-indigenous-women-national-shame

Allam, L. (2020). Aboriginal deaths in custody: 434 have died since 1991, new data shows. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/06/aboriginal-deaths-in-custody-434-have-died-since-1991-new-data-shows

Anthony, T., & Grey, S. (2020). Was there slavery in Australia? Yes. It shouldn’t even be up for debate. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/was-there-slavery-in-australia-yes-it-shouldnt-even-be-up-for-debate-140544

Castan, M. (2016). Indigenous reconciliation in Australia: still a bridge too far? Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/indigenous-reconciliation-in-australia-still-a-bridge-too-far-54336

Davidson, H. (2020). The story of David Dungay and an Indigenous death in custody. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/11/the-story-of-david-dungay-and-an-indigenous-death-in-custody

Evershed, N. (2020). Aboriginal deaths in custody: Black Lives Matter protests referred to our count of 432 deaths. It’s now 437. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/09/black-lives-matter-protesters-referred-to-our-count-of-432-aboriginal-deaths-in-custody-its-now-437

Grant, S. (2020). Black like me. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-13/stan-grant-black-lives-matter-four-corners/12429206?nw=0

GSI. (2018). Australia Global Slavery Index. Retrieved from https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/country-studies/australia/

McGowan, M. (2019). Racism study finds one in three school students are victims of discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/aug/27/racism-study-finds-one-in-three-school-students-are-victims-of-discrimination

Paradies, Y. (2016). Attitudinal Barriers to Reconciliation in Australia. The Limits of Settler Colonial Reconciliation, 103–118. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-2654-6_7

(2020). What is Reconciliation? Retrieved from https://www.reconciliation.org.au/what-is-reconciliation/

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