- Georgia Rodgers
Stop Pretending Your Racism Is Patriotism.
"It's important that a day called Australia Day includes all Australians, the fact of the matter is that it doesn't include us, it excludes us. It's a complicated issue but also very simple as well. Does it include everyone or doesn't it? No, it doesn't. Don't call it Australia Day." - Dan Sultan
The nationally recognised date of Australia Day has never been a date that brings all Australians together. January 26th marks the anniversary of British settlement in 1788, where Captain Arthur Phillip took formal possession of traditional Indigenous Gadigal land; later known as New South Wales.
For a majority of Indigenous Australians, January 26th is a reminder of the genocide and injustice caused upon them as a result of white settlement. For many, it is also a reminder of the disruption to their peaceful way of life that had been undisturbed for 50,000 years; disruption that would later result in a multitude of dispossession and abuse. For many Indigenous Australians, January 26th is a remembrance of a deep loss of sovereign rights, a loss of culture and the anniversary that marks over two centuries of systematic oppression, including being classified as 'flora and fauna'. Australia Day is often better associated by Indigenous Australians as 'Invasion Day' or 'Survival Day'; and considered a form of structural racism still implemented and practised within Australia today.
Structural racism is defined as: "a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms, work in various ways to perpetuate racial group inequity". Through this system, society clearly identifies elements within history and culture that have allowed to benefit and favour a particular race of people. Such benefits and privileges often include the advantages associated with 'whiteness' and the disadvantages involved with people of 'colour'.
Concepts of structural racism are not new to Australia. Australia is inherently built upon a structural racist foundation and system, where white Australian's have continued to exploit, benefit and suppress minority groups throughout history.
Australian history, time and time again, has produced policies that have been structured around discrimination and the forced limitations and exclusion of others. The White Australia Policy dictated Australian society for nearly seven decades and is a perfect example of a structurally racist policy. The policy was implemented to allow the racist ideologies of white 'elitism' to exclude and discriminate against those who were not considered to be in the same 'category' of superiority.
"It is very simple: Australia Day is the definition of structural racism. Indigenous Australians are kept out by hosting it on a day they can't attend. That is reason enough to change the date. No more discussion required. On a very basic level, if Australia Day is to bring us all together, it cannot be a day that so obviously drives us apart – no matter what the masses might say." - Kyran Wheatley
When reflecting on Australia's past, it's hard to deny the links between our historical foundations and current policies and practices of today. The very ideologies that stem from Australia's foundations continue to surface and be reflected in many of our current policies to date. Our ongoing position and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as our continual neglect and disrespect for our Indigenous population, are just two examples that reflect and maintain Australia's structurally racist historical past. And we continue to harbour such backward views and policies, through the continual celebration of Australia Day on January 26th.
In a 2013 article published by the Guardian, titled 'Why I Turned Down an Australia Day Award', Tasmanian Aboriginal lawyer and activist, Michael Mansell expressed his lack of support of the nationally recognised date. Mansell, states "Australia Day is a celebration of an invasion which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Aborigines". Throughout the article, Mansell reinforces the notion that Australia is the only country in the world that acknowledges the date of European settlement as their official national day.
The United States of America has been frequently used as an example of a nation that does not choose the arrival date of European Settlement as their national day. Although it is acknowledged that the highly contested Christopher Columbus Day, is still a national holiday, it's important to note that although this day is still celebrated, it does not represent the United States as their national day of celebration. The US instead, like many other countries around the world, mark their national day on the day of their independence. Australia should follow in the footsteps of our global community, and consider an alternative date such as January 1st, the anniversary of Australia's federation; so, the national holiday is inclusive of all Australians.
It's important to also note, that throughout history, Australia has not always celebrated Australia Day on January 26th. In 1915, the first official Australia Day was celebrated on July 30th, and was held to raise funds for World War I. Various other dates throughout Australia's history has also hosted Australia's national day. Thus, when considering the historical ties to this particular date, one cannot argue for traditional links with January 26th.
As a result, it's important to consider how much this day will actually affect those wanting to celebrate it if it's on another day. When considering this, the continual refusal, outrage and debate towards keeping the date, continues to represent and fuel racist and discriminatory values.
There is no legitimacy and value in the argument that people often raise in suggesting that these events happened a long time ago, and it's time for our society to move on and build bridges in our modern world. The fact of the matter is, how can we even begin to build bridges when we have never fully acknowledged the destruction and pain we have caused in the past. How can we sustain these bridges when the very thing we are doing by keeping this date, is continuing this destruction, suppression and disrespect.
Another common argument that is often used during this debate is this notion that 'I didn't do anything, so why should I be sorry?' This is perfect example of an ignorant and privileged response. 'If it doesn't affect me, why should I care', the lack of empathy that can often come with privilege, is both astounding and terrifying; but it also explains perfectly why the world is in the current state that it is in, with many suffering as a result.
Our first step should be listening to our Indigenous community and to finally give them a seat at the table they have been excluded from for over two centuries. Self-determination is the first step in healing, and we, as a collective, must understand and acknowledge this. Even if we, indivually, didn't contribute to the past, we are still part of the majority. With that privilege, we have a responsibility to uplift and support others to reach the same privileges and equalities that we so freely have and enjoy.
Mansell strongly suggests that it is "unprincipled to participate in Australia Day celebrations while they remain race-based", and if he were to celebrate on this date "it would be seen as abandoning the struggle" of his people.
By continuing to acknowledge a national day of celebrations that does not include all Australian's, Australia is continuing to neglect Indigenous Australians through structural racism and discrimination. Through a lack of respect and acknowledgement of past and current sufferings, Australians are continuing to widen the gap of inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people; and continuing to disregard past injustices inflicted upon our First Nation people.
"We want a day when everyone can proudly be themselves when we reflect upon this amazing land and the enormous span of its full human history when we are glad to be here and share that gladness. A fun day certainly, but not a day that each year releases poison into our body politic." - Martin Flanagan
During this holiday period in Australia, I often sit back and reflect on this debate and become baffled by the outrage and frustration that is exhausted each and every year around keeping the date. I will never begin to understand people who continue to suppress those from the same privileges we so liberally enjoy; the oppurtunity to participate in a day of national celebrations which should encapsulate unity and inclusion. We are a country that prides ourselves on a 'fair go' but suppress the very people that have lived and respected this land centuries before us.
It's important to highlight that we should not only be challenging those that are strongly opposed to changing the date, but also people who simply continue to subtly celebrate this day. Whether that be with their friends, or people supporting public events run on this national holiday. People who continue to quietly celebrate this date, are still contributing to a day that suppresses a group of marginalised people. Such participation could even be considered an extension of colonial conquest, ideology and attitudes. Through the support and contribution towards this date, people are engaging in the continual harbouring and development of white supremacy. Ironically, it's quite a fitting attitude to have for this date, after all, it symbolises the start of white colonial Australia. Absurdly, it's embarrassing that our attitudes haven't shifted since 1788.
Simply put, people are choosing to celebrate a day that causes great pain to a population of people. Whether you agree with that statement or not, a fact is a fact, and that's the basis of this debate. In doing so, people are outwardly putting their desires and privileges before others, thus sending a message to the wider community that their position within society is more important. By disregarding a population of people who have suffered two centuries of dispossession and abuse, we are telling this marginalised group of people that our needs are more important; thus, continuing the oppression of these people.
Whether it's an extreme public disagreement, or your friends gathering for a few drinks, it's important we begin to recognise both as problematic and just as inherently racist as one another.
I understand that this conversation will not alter everyone's perspective, and not everyone will ever fully agree with the arguments behind changing the date of Australia's national day. However, if you do disagree, I urge you to consider why. I urge you to understand your impact and the potential harm you are perpetuating on to others.
We, as a collective, and more urgently, those with privilege and a dominant position within society, must begin to consider how powerful our place within society really is, and the effect it can have on other people. Those, in particular, being individuals that do not obtain the same privileges as us, those who face ongoing division and inequality. Through this consideration and recognition, those in favour of keeping the date must begin to evaluate how much this date really means to them. And whether it is worth continuing the suffering of a population of people who have already been through a multitude of dispossession and abuse.
In addition to this, through such considerations, it's important to be aware of alternative ways we can support Indigenous Australian's during this difficult period and become allies in solidarity. These five tips have been inspired by @blakbusiness over on Instagram:
Educate yourself on Indigenous Australian history and the origins behind January 26th
Listen to Indigenous people and their stories
Attend an Invasion Day rally in your local area
Challenge and educate others who continue to celebrate January 26th
Support an Indigenous business
The debates surrounding Australia Day are a perfect example of privilege and ignorance, mixed with a toxic, backwards and racist attitude that still exists within our society today.
Each year the awareness gets stronger, and the rallies get bigger. Each year we learn more and more of who are the bigots and who is still ignorant and racist. There is no pride in genocide and everything that this day stands for. Change the date so everyone can celebrate; it's as simple as that.
Privilege can be an ugly thing, and on January 26th, we can see it on those who continue to celebrate.
Stop pretending your racism is patriotism.