Australia Day – which white asshole do you want to be …

1.  The white asshole who celebrates Australia Day in complete ignorance of the historical significance of the date.

2.  The white asshole who is aware of the historical significance of the date but doesn’t give a shit and celebrates it anyway.

3.  The white asshole who is aware of the historical significance of the date but says ‘That might have been what it meant in the beginning, but that’s not what it’s about now.  Now it’s about celebrating what it means to be Australian today.  It’s about celebrating cultural diversity and how we are ALL Australian now,’ without any acknowledgement or understanding of Australia’s continuing fractured relationship with Aboriginal people , as well as the fact that Australia is one of the worst offenders in relation to human rights violations of Indigenous people and refugees.

4.  The white asshole who appropriates the Aboriginal cause as their own without having lived the experience and tells people that they are wrong to celebrate the day for any reason.

5.  The white asshole who does none of the above because whilst they understand that the celebration of Australia Day is problematic for historical reasons and empathises with the Aboriginal cause, they still want to be able to be proud of their national identity, whilst still acknowledging that Australia is by no means a perfect place, so in the end does nothing at all (including speaking out). (Sorry for that long and convoluted sentence.)

The simple fact is, none of us are winners on Australia Day – Indigenous, white, migrant, refugee and anyone born of a combination of these – none of us wins.

I am a white Australian – second generation on my dad’s side, whilst my mum’s family goes back to the First Fleet (or so we think).  I write this post today with my own share of white privilege and speaking from my own experience as a white Australian with some learning.  Whilst I empathise with the cause of Indigenous Australians, particularly in the area of human rights, I cannot truly identify, because I am not Indigenous.  It is not my place to speak for or on behalf of Indigenous Australians, and I do not presume to do so in this post.

Australia’s history in relation to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this country is fraught and bloody to say the least.  From the moment British settlers landed on the shores of this country in 1788, Aboriginal people were hunted like animals.  Women got the vote in 1902, but Indigenous Australians were not granted the same rights until 1967 (it’s slightly more complex than that, but that is the main thrust).

I believe that current government policy in relation to Aboriginal Australians (specifically, the Northern Territory intervention) is paternalistic and racist, and I am horrified that people think it is an advance on previous policies.  The political bullshit surrounding refugees enrages me.  Politics in general in this country right now makes me wonder if we’re all going to hell in a hand basket.

That said, I also believe that Australia is a great country.  I believe our democracy is one of, if not the strongest in the world.  We have economic strength, and our country is beautiful.  We also have amazing people from all different backgrounds doing amazing things everywhere. I think it is possible to believe you live in a great country but also advocate for it to become greater.

My view is that you can’t be a white Australian who celebrates Australia Day without being a bit of an asshole.  And I don’t mean that in a judgemental way, because I include myself in the mix.  At some point in my life, including right now, I have been every one of the assholes above.  Not because I wanted to be, or because I didn’t care, but because I wasn’t really aware of white privilege and how it affects the celebration of a day like Australia Day.  Like many white Australians, I wanted to celebrate coming from what I truly believe (despite its many imperfections) to be a great country.

The fact that Australia Day is celebrated on the day the First Fleet first sailed into Sydney Cove makes the holiday problematic for us all. Personally, I think the day should be marked not as a celebration ignorant of the historical significance of the day, but a day which reflects upon the early history of our nationhood as it stands today (whilst acknowledging that Indigenous Australians lived on this land for 40,000 years or more before other nations came to settle).  A day which both mourns and celebrates.  A day where we can truly begin to talk to each other, not across the table adversarially, but as equals, in mutual acknowledgement that there is pain in our history, but joy in our future.

I would also like a day, on a less politically charged date, which allows us to celebrate together the good things about our country.  Where we can say ‘You know what, we’re not perfect, but let’s celebrate our strengths’.  And by strengths I’m not just talking about cricket or swimming.  I’m talking about our genuine diversity and multiculturalism.  I’m talking about our beautiful beaches, brilliant bushland and stunning red centre.  I’m talking about our capital cities, regional centres and country towns.  I’m talking about Indigenous culture both past and present.  I’m talking about any and all things which make Australia the country that people genuinely want to celebrate.

Ultimately, the issue of the relationship between Indigenous Australians and those of us who are not is much more complex than what day we celebrate our national identity.  There are so many more steps to be taken to heal the breach that simply acknowledging that Australia Day is problematic will not be enough.

However, I think it is important that we DO acknowledge it, and acknowledge that because of our white privilege, we are all assholes when it comes to this day.  No matter what we do – from celebrating in ignorance to doing nothing – Indigenous Australians are hurt (and have the right to be hurt) by our actions.

Maybe it’s simplistic, and not much less problematic, but maybe this year we can acknowledge the difficulty of the choice of date AND, together, celebrate Australia in all its imperfect glory.


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