The killing of yet another African American by police in the United States has rightfully sparked outrage and protests on American soil and around the globe.
The anger is righteous, for the killing of George Floyd was the latest unprovoked death by excessive police force to stain the history of American ‘democracy.’ What was once able to be silenced and withheld from the public, the silent scourge of American society, has been brought to the world’s attention via smartphone videos and social media.
Centuries on from a civil war between Christians fighting over the doctrine of slavery, sixty years on from the civil rights movement to end segregation and discrimination, American is still a country at war with itself about the basics of a fair and just society.
And it is a war. On one side are citizens who desire equality and a decent standard of living, and on the other police departments armed with ex-Iraq and Afghan war military equipment and an unhealthy dose of self-righteous authority.
Suffering with the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 virus on African American communities (what has been described as a ‘pandemic within a pandemic’) and an avowed racist in the White House nearing an election, Black America is tired of asking to be treated with dignity and understanding.
I see the November election as the tipping point. Not to discount the damage already inflicted by Trump, his actions in the next five months could break America. If he continues to campaign on the politics of division, threaten force to quell protests, then win the election, his second term has only one outcome – more disunity and racially motivated violence.
If Trump’s egregious behaviour motivates people to enrol to vote and he is defeated at the election, America may be on a long path to a version of reconciliation. The path of course is long, lined with centuries of entrenched racism and white society threatened by the loss of power.
History shows systemic change is glacial at best, and actively resisted at worst. Like the USA, Australia is guilty of whitewashing its genocidal and racist past thus hindering movement towards racial equality.
The massacre of indigenous Australians by white colonialists is scarcely mentioned in our classrooms. One of the first acts of the new federal parliament of Australia was to pass The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 – which became known as the White Australia policy and stopped all non-European immigration to create a white monoculture.
The 1965 Freedom Ride in NSW drew attention to racial segregation and the poor living standards of Indigenous Australians, mirroring similar types of protests in America. Whilst the 1967 referendum to change the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal people in the Census was overwhelmingly endorsed, oppression and disadvantage persisted.
Indigenous Australians are vastly over-represented in the prison population, and 432 black deaths in custody have occurred since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. To date there have been few charges laid as a result, and no convictions.
The Howard Government implemented the Northern Territory National Emergency Response made up of compulsory health checks, discriminatory welfare changes, increased policing, and compulsory acquisition of indigenous townships. Yet the Closing the Gap Report has demonstrated that there has been little impact on improving the lives for Aboriginal or Torres Strait people in any of the ways that matter.
This obvious cycle of oppression and paternalistic interference has done nothing for the wellbeing of the indigenous communities. The Stolen Generation of indigenous children was apologised for by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, but recognition is little comfort for the harm caused.
When Aboriginal and Torres Strait leaders came together in 2017 and compiled the Uluru Statement from the Heart, that statement which called for a first nations treaty and a voice to parliament – measures that would help with reconciliation – the statement was rejected by the Turnbull Government on the grounds that it did not have “any realistic prospect of being supported by a majority of Australians in a majority of states”.
Given the recent protest marches and social media outcry about deaths in custody, allied with the pushback against police brutality in the USA, the public mood has changed.
From a white skinned outsiders’ perspective, what I see is oppressed people – people whose lives are made more difficult for no reason other than the colour of their skin – who should no longer accept any piecemeal or incremental progress offered by government. For the sake of current and future generations, a wholesale end to racial discrimination is required. By street protest and the ballot box, people need to come together in solidity across the board to demand change. Not assimilation, not integration, just equality and reconciliation.
By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.