This is Part 5 of a 5-part series
Matt Pedler – Flinders University Counsellor and Clinical Psychologist
Welcome to the final article! This is the part where we get to sort through the mixed feelings and dissonant thoughts and form some sensible, ethical, reality-based beliefs about; ourselves, being white, Aboriginal people, and racism.
The 1st article outlined some roadblocks to relational repair between white and Aboriginal people, the 2nd article explored how history has delivered these roadblocks to us today, the 3rd article explored what keeps the roadblocks in place and of the painful nature of beginning to confront them in the present day. The 4th article described the ways to not respond to this pain by trying to escape it. And this article explains how to put it all together and strive to live out healthier versions of ourselves, being white, and anti-racist. Then, with integrity and authenticity, we can find ourselves a seat at the reconciliation table, roll up our sleeves, and together with Aboriginal people we can build a meaningful relationship which truly aims to promote everyone’s wellbeing.
People in this stage respond to dissonance by reflecting on themselves; they tease apart inherited racism from how they want to be as an individual and a white person and start to unravel their racial privilege. People tend to take this life-long tact of self-reflexivity rather than attempting to change others and begin to take some action and hold increasing confidence in doing so.
Below are the previous continuums of ‘all or nothing’ thoughts which tend to accompany attempts to escape the dissonance of noticing or seeing racism. However, in blue, I have included some examples of more balanced and reality-based thinking. People can find their own balanced thinking if they ‘stay with’ the dissonance for long enough. This thinking takes more time and work to get to – hence the 4 articles before we got here!
People in this stage may experience anger at themselves, their culture, institutions, and nation for the racism that they are becoming increasingly adept at noticing in; popular culture, advertising, sport, their workplace, media, and social and familial circles. White people in this stage will also have to endure significant guilt as they wrestle with the realisation that, not only have they been misled by their own institutions and versions of history and knowledge, but they have also been complicit in our silence whilst the inequality has rolled on.
Some modern examples of this healthy reflective response to dissonance are possibly evidenced in: a recent example of cooperation regarding colonial statues being altered, The return of Mungo Man supported by the scientist who originally removed his bones, the 1967 Referendum, certain local governments’ refusal to celebrate Australia Day on the 26th of January, the refusal to forget the gift to democracy provided by The Statement From The Heart, the work of Reconciliation Australia, and the annual re-enactment of James Cook’s first landing in Australia held in the QLD community of Cooktown. This latter story is told by Mark McKenna who describes how the community have interwoven both Aboriginal and white narratives and participation into the annual re-enactment/memorial, which is itself a process of ongoing healing and reconciliation.
Costs and benefits:
One cost of this self-reflection is that reflective white people may be marginalised and discouraged by other white people who themselves can experience escapism in response to such progress. This unhelpful reaction can occur with white friends and family which can create self-doubt and relational friction and it is therefore crucial to seek out white mentors and supporters – an Ally for an Ally if you will.
The benefits for white people in this stage are that they are liberated from the confines of their previously learnt discriminatory and supremacist beliefs. We could then achieve some slight overlap in our racial identities in a way which is adaptive for this place, time, and context, mitigating the pressure on just Aboriginal Australians to be culturally bi-lingual. Manifestations of this identity overlap could include a deeper and more symbiotic attachment to place and each other, and an integration of knowledge and worldviews. In a circular way we might be able to regain some lost connectedness to our natural world, which was previously sacrificed for our own survival in our European past.
Personally, I remember that after starting to work with Aboriginal groups professionally, I became more curious and started to seek out more information from Aboriginal perspectives. I formed better relationships with Aboriginal colleagues and made some Aboriginal friends and this all led to a snowball of ‘seeing’ more instances of inequality, which I had previously overlooked. Friendships with Aboriginal people in particular have given me glimpses of racism that I have found hard to integrate into my worldview (such as Aboriginal friends being; questioned by police for driving nice cars, often served second in shops, not introduced in groups, minimised in workplace meetings, or refused entry to various establishments). These experiences have been relatively lonely although I have managed to find some white mentors who have been an invaluable support. I generally feel more comfortable with my whiteness and relationships with Aboriginal and other minority racial groups seem easier to form.
I also feel a much deeper interest in Aboriginal knowledges and relationship with place/country and nation and find myself often moved when explaining what I have learnt to my 3 young children. I want to gift them with a much deeper understanding of and interest in; our own culture, our shared history with Aboriginal people, the land with whom we are interdependent, and the Aboriginal wisdoms right in front of us.
Overall, I hope these articles offer a useful guide for how to begin to address the racial privilege and inequality that white Australian’s have been born into so that we can then be effective contributors to reconciliation. If we don’t do some of this work before attempting reconciliation we risk re-injuring Aboriginal people and the relationship between us. Remember, this is difficult work, but you don’t have to do it alone, and its okay to get support along the way. Can you remember the information in the 1st article regarding repairing relationship fractures (I used the example of a fight between my wife and I)? We can now do these steps in the proper order; step 1, then step 2, and then begin step 3.
- Get space from each other to cool down. Sooth. Seek counsel from people who support you as a couple. Reconnect with your goals and values. Consider what you felt and also what you did which violated your own values.
- Gently approach the other person and express accountability for how you violated your values, explain your own legitimate feelings when you became upset. Show some genuine concern and curiosity for how the other party may feel and listen to their version of events without interruption.
- Gradually try to restore the injury caused to the other person in ongoing negotiation with them and move forwards with new understanding of yourself and each other.
Hopefully this guide has helped you to get closer to steps 2 and 3, which looks like decent starting points for joining the reconciliation movement. If so, it may be time to knock at the door of the reconciliation room, enter with permission, find a seat, and finally get to know each other. All the best with this final, challenging, and profound step.
A previous conversation with my 6 and 8yo daughters when I was teaching them about the stolen generation history; their eyes were teary and they looked somewhat distraught as I talked with them about these atrocities in the best kid language I could muster. “Daddy why were the white people so mean?” How do you answer such a complex question from someone so young? I hesitated and fumbled an inadequate response. Nowadays, having tried to listen and think more deeply, I teach them “because they were taught to be mean, like I was, and they didn’t listen to their hearts, like I want you to do”.
- As you start to learn more about Australian history and your own beliefs about race, record the evidence you are coming across for and against the beliefs below and write your own ‘balanced thought’ in the middle.
- List two people who you can talk to about these ideas and arrange to meet with them regularly. Consider both a peer and someone who you think knows more than yourself about these things. Take the initiative to offer support to those who are beginning this journey.
- It feels good to act in ways which are consistent with your values. How can you be proud of yourself, being white, and Australian? What do you need to do?
- Engaging more with Aboriginal people and culture can help to further refine our beliefs about race based on reality rather than stereotypes.
- Invest in relationship with Aboriginal people and groups – Attend, listen to, and participate in;
- Survival Day/Australia Day,
- National Apology Day
- Reconciliation Week (https://www.reconciliation.org.au/),
- NAIDOC week (https://www.naidoc.org.au/),
- Adelaide History week events (https://historyfestival.sa.gov.au/),
- The campaign to raise the age of criminal culpability
- The Statement from the Heart and Pay the Rent
- Re-learning history initiatives
- Invest in a relationship with local place (versus our tendency to see ourselves as separate to the natural world):
- Learning Aboriginal place names, local histories and tours, and presence in the landscape – e.g. I drive past a few scarred trees on the way to work each day as I cross over from Peramangk to Kaurna land.
- AIATSIS Map.
- Aboriginal heritage trails.
- Dadirri – ‘deep listening’.
- Nature-based mindfulness exercises; A sensory walk youtube guide, Forest bathing mindfulness exercise, or check our Gareth’s blog on the benefits and ways to connect with nature for mental health.
- Readings and further education:
- A large reading list is provided on Reconciliation Australia’s website
- A worthwhile video on moving through racism towards antiracism is The Colour of Fear.
- Learn Aboriginal languages/vocab. The Mobile Language Team have information about South Australian language resources. The Adelaide School of Languages teaches Pitjantjatjara.
- Antiracism guides: the Australian Human Rights Commission.