Crowds bearing placards gathered at Sydney Town Hall (ABC News: Jack Fisher)
I write these words as one who is deeply conscious of my own white privilege, a legacy of societal attitudes resulting from the infamous and now dismantled White Australia Policy.
The repercussions of the slaying of George Floyd were evident in the large rallies witnessed around Australia’s major cities last weekend, many in defiance of the COVID-19 restrictions. The victim’s final words—I can’t breathe—were exactly those uttered six years ago and twelve times by David Dungay, an Aboriginal man who died while five prison guards were restraining him.
The universal nature of the BLM movement connected deeply with Aboriginal communities’ awareness that, since the handing down of recommendations of the Australian government’s Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody some 30 years ago (many yet to be implemented), such deaths continue at an alarming rate.
The Australian community remains divided and largely defensive when confronted with the racism protested by Aboriginal communities and their supporters. Politicians of the incumbent government condemned the weekend’s rallies as “selfish and self-indulgent,” and as attempting to import the USA’s problems. Our Prime Minister said, “I mean, Australia is a fair country…Australia is not the United States.” He reflected many Australians’ shallow attitudes: “The past is the past and why can’t we all just get along?”
It is hard to just get along when Aboriginal people are jailed at ten times the rate of the general population. It is hard to just get along when large mining companies dynamite sacred heritage sites that are 40,000 years old. It is hard to let the past be the past when stolen generations are seeking to restore family connections and identity against overwhelming odds. It is hard to let the past be the past when Aboriginal life expectancy falls far short of, and infant mortality rates far higher than, those of the general population.
Such dismissal by the white population reveals the inherent superior stance of colonisation and the reluctance to surrender its resulting power and privilege.
For us white fellas, even us who are conscious of our participation in accepting the privileges of white dominance, it remains a bitter pill to hear the lament of our indigenous brothers and sisters. Last night’s episode of Q& A, an ABC panel show, ended with a powerful monologue from Aboriginal actor, Meyne Wyatt. (View it here.) His line, “You go to weddings, we go to funerals,” is an assertion of how little black lives matter in a white supremacist society.
As a Christ follower and bearer of the legacy of my own church’s adaptation from a stance of benevolent provision of mission, goods, and services for indigenous communities to mutual partnership in forming destiny, I strive to bring the basin and towel of service and the listening ear of dialogue to the fore. There are times I am confronted with the truth that I still bear the lingering sin of presumed superiority against a host culture that preceded mine by tens of thousands of years.
An Anglican colleague, Father Chris Bedding, addressing the presumed hierarchical approach of which our country has been guilty when relating to Aboriginal people, finished his Trinity Sunday homily with these words:
If we are to “worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance,” then we must make our lives an act of worship. With our bodies and our speech we must seek to wipe this heresy of white supremacy from the earth. Just as the Persons of God are co-equal, so too are those humans made in God’s image. To say “black lives matter” is to acknowledge the sovereignty of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—co-equal and co-eternal who rules with compassion and justice for all.
Would that this became so. Then we would truly be worthy of the historic label, “the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.”
See the White Supremacy and Racism section in our Archives 2017-19 and Archives 2020.
Dennis Ryle is a retired minister of Churches of Christ in Australia. He studied at the College of the Bible in Glen Iris, Victoria, under the auspices of the Melbourne College of Divinity (now University of Divinity), where his Master of Ministry remains uncompleted. He has two Graduate Diplomas in Ministry and a Graduate Diploma in Christian Education. He blogs at Wondering Pilgrim, tweets @dennisryle, and has written previously for Orthodoxy in Dialogue.