NEWS
08/06/2020 8:48 PM AEST | Updated 23/06/2020 1:36 AM AEST

Systemic Racism Isn’t Just an American Problem. Here’s How To Be A Better Ally To Australian First Nations People

Police brutality and systemic racism are not new to First Nations - by listening and confronting our own privilege we can become better allies to Black and Blak people here in Australia.

NurPhoto via Getty Images
A protester at the Sydney rally, organised to protest Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia as well as in solidarity with protests across the United States following the killing of an unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Izhar Khan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this article may contain the images and names of people who have passed away.

Like most Australians, I felt outrage and heartbreak watching Derek Chauvin, a White Minneapolis Police Officer, end George Floyd’s life. It reminded me that Australia too has had its knee on the neck of First Nations peoples for more than 230 years.

If we truly want to end police brutality against Black people we need to recognise and address the issues in our own backyard, especially as we sift through articles filled with the words that Australians usually sweep under the rug when it comes to First Nations (Systemic Racism, Discrimination, White Supremacy, Oppression, Police Brutality, Deaths in Custody).

When my father arrived in Australia in 1969 during The White Australia Policy he was taught to view First Nations as dole bludging alcoholics taking undue advantage of the various benefits provided to them - the complete opposite of himself as an upstanding, hard-working Indian. 

A government strategy to distract immigrants from Australia’s shameful treatment of First Nations. 

I have come to learn that as a South Asian Australian woman, much of my privilege has been gained at the expense of First Nations peoples.  First and second generation Australians have much to reflect on and unlearn when it comes to First Nations - that process starts with confronting our privilege as a ‘model minority’ and how it’s allowed us to prosper and achieve ‘a better life’ in ‘The Lucky County’.  It’s also down to listening to First Nations voices about how we can help at this time. 

I reached out to four First Nations friends and former colleagues from when I worked at the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to ask how to be a better ally.

Here’s what Amy McQuire (Darumbal and South Sea Islander Journalist), Boori Monty Pryor (Birri-gubba & Kunggandji Storyteller, Author & Elder), Blak Douglas (Dhungatti Artist) and Kate L Munro (Gamilaroi Journalist) had to say:

Confront Your Own Privilege And The Impact of Silence 

“Non-Indigenous people - whether People Of Colour or White - are benefiting from the theft of Aboriginal land and the violence perpetrated against us. It can be an uncomfortable thing to face but understanding that helps build the foundation for solidarity” - Amy McQuire

“Apathy by others over the years has allowed police brutality towards Black and First Nations people across the world to continue almost unabated. The lives of 432 First Nations people in this country have been taken at the hands of or in the custody of the police since the 1991 Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody and not one police officer has ever been charged for their crimes” - Kate L Munro

“You are comfortable in the position you are in while we are uncomfortable in the position we have been put. We need to get comfortable with having uncomfortable discussions and address the hard issues.  The White Australia Policy only allowed the whitest People Of Colour from other nations into the country and migrants have been conditioned to look down upon and fear us. Until you understand your privilege and the privilege of the people who tell stories about us you can’t get an accurate picture of what’s happening” - Boori Monty Pryor

Question Mainstream Media And Listen To First Nations Voices 

“Don’t justify what you say by listening to other people and the media. Do your own work to look, learn and listen before making assumptions about us. I have never been on the dole in my life and my parents worked for many years without ever getting paid. Learn more through the right avenues and don’t make your decision by listening to the likes of Andrew Bolt - it’s just rhetoric and vitriol. - Boori Monty Pryor 

White people writing about Black people is like me writing a book on pregnancy - I can never understand that experience. Similarly, you can’t know what it’s like to be chained and beaten up, have a gun stuck in your mouth, be spat and pissed on - let us tell our own stories”Boori Monty Pryor

“Avoid misinformation by accessing First Nations writing, art, film and music. Aboriginal artists often work to resist disparaging images, stereotypes and representations and we have so much talent. Look up Melissa Lucashenko and Alexis Wright, listen to Chelsea Bond and Angelina Hurley, see the art of Vernon Ah Kee and Richard Bell, read poetry by Evelyn Auraluen and Alison Whitaker” - Amy McQuire  

Educate Yourself On Australia’s True History  

“This place is stolen and the successive Governments (mainly Liberal/Conservative) are systematically plotting the demise of First Nations peoples. The Supreme Court is an elite white ‘Mens Club’ that thwarts ANY attempt of opposition at the end of the day. 

Be a better ally by LISTENING and becoming better informed. First Nations peoples from this continent are living within a continuum of cultural genocide. It’s as easy as Googling nowadays... try- ′the history of Aboriginal protests in Australia.’” - Blak Douglas

“You live and breathe on this land so take the time to understand the true history of First Australians. Watch First Australians on SBS (note the first ep title They Have Come To Stay) then put yourself in our shoes and consider the immense flow-on effects of trauma and dispossession on our families and peoples.  Learn the real history of the land you live on - it contains anenergy that, once understood, has the power to heal attitudes, perceptions and minds and create a connection amongst one another that ultimately benefits us all” - Kate L Munro 

SBS
A still from episode 5, season one of The First Australians on SBS On Demand. An important resource to learn more about the Stolen Generations.

“Learn about First Nations by reading books written by Blak people and watching films like Wrong Kind of Black, and Ten Canoes. Visit your Local Aboriginal Land Council to learn more about the history and people from your local area - even Roger Federer knew to do that when he came here! ScoMo said what’s happened to First Nations is just a blemish on our national record. Is shoving sticks up women’s private parts, cutting men’s nuts off and using their scrotums as pouches, burying babies in the dirt up to their necks and then kicking their heads off really just a blemish? Make the effort to find out for yourself.” - Boori Monty Pryor

Stand Beside First Nations In Solidarity 

“Let the horrific death of George Floyd be the catalyst the world over to support and join the struggle for systematic and societal change. Start by educating yourself, then show up and stand beside us in solidarity. We are the oldest living continuous culture on earth that will, in future, inform societies’ actions as a collective and improve race relations for all” - Kate L Munro 

“There is a history to this resistance - although there is a sudden groundswell of interest in Aboriginal protest, this protest has been intergenerational. That means centring Aboriginal concerns, tactics, strategies and pushing Aboriginal people to the front.   We don’t need people to speak for us, we need them to stand beside us. Recognise that solidarity takes work which involves building relationships and maintaining them” - Amy McQuire 

Fairfax Media via Getty Images
First Nations people gather at the Australian Hall to hold the first civil rights protest in Australia at Day of Mourning. The 'Day of Mourning' was held on Australia Day 1938, the sesquicentenary of white settlement in Australia. Picture taken outside Australia Hall on 26 January 1938. (Photo by The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Be Empathetic And Recognise First Nations Peoples’ Cultural Strength And Diversity

“If you don’t understand our people our stories are just words. Considering the importance of native food, land, animals etc to your own culture will help you empathise with ours. 

Think about your own culture being suppressed by conquerors and attacked by the British and what it’s like to have them impose their culture, food and language on your land and its people - how confusing that is. Then learn about First Nations and immerse yourself in that. Understand the separation of cultures within a country and the importance of acknowledging and respecting that diversity.” - Boori Monty Pryor

“The strength of our culture is central to all of our fights. We have a spiritual connection to this country but we also have responsibilities to it. We are also a diverse peoples with many different opinions and viewpoints. We have conflicts between us but that doesn’t mean we are divided” - Amy McQuire 

Understand Why The Racism Faced By First Nations People Is Unique

“The racism that affects Indigenous people is very specific. A settler colonial nation is set up to eliminate Indigenous people from this country while also seeking to possess Aboriginal people and claim ownership of us for their national identity (think of the displays of Aboriginal culture at events like the Commonwealth games while at the same time locking up mob and watering down Land Rights).” - Amy McQuire 

There is a reason why Aboriginal people are the highest incarcerated group in Australia - our presence is a threat to the prosperity of this countryAmy Mcquire

“The racism we face is different due to a deep history of brutal treatment by the colonisers/invaders toward our people from first contact over 200 years ago and continues to this day. There is a particular problem of systemic racism within the police force regarding racial profiling of First Nations people and targeting us over our non-Indigenous counterparts for the same ‘crime,’ or for no crime at all.” 

There needs to be continuous training for the police to unlearn this racial profiling and toxic racist programming that’s existed for years.” - Kate L Munro 

Corbis via Getty Images
Police arrest a First Nations woman during a demonstration for Aboriginal land rights at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. (Photo by Penny Tweedie/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

“All First Nations peoples live with a degree of intergenerational trauma that stems from racial discrimination - the grossest epidemic since the inception of the human species. Most First Nations peoples remain ‘active’ and vehemently deny subscription to the ‘Commonwealth of Australia’. Only 232 years ago, ALL sovereign rights of each language group (“tribes”) was stripped upon contact. In the words of Kevin Gilbert - ‘when you took your foot off the neck of the Black man, did you expect him to look up and smile at you?’ ” - Blak Douglas

Ep 4 in Wrong Kind of Black where the coppers hang a noose around my brother’s neck and make him stand on his tiptoes for hours is all true. They made him pay for talking back to them - first with his body, then with his spirit. When your spirit’s gone, your body is an empty shell. He took his own life one week later. 

They got off with a warning and that was the end of it.Boori Monty Pry

The 1991 Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody looked into my brother’s death. They said the officer’s conduct fell well below what was expected. They got off with a warning and that was the end of it. 

Prime Ministers from early 1900s said ‘we must rid the land of the darkies,’ ‘they must be bred out’ so what we’re dealing with now are the after effects of that racist mentality. Yes, non-Indigenous people also cop racism in Australia but very rarely, and certainly not in a systemic or systematic way, does it result in jailing or death” - Boori Monty Pryor 

ABC
A scene in Wrong Kind of Black after Boori Monty Pryor's brother was brutalised by police.

Donate Wisely

“Donate directly to families. The one thing a lot of families need is money, especially when they have court cases or inquests that require them to travel and stay in other cities for weeks. Giving to GoFundMe pages for the families of the likes of David Dungay Jnr and Joyce Clarke are a practical way to help” - Amy McQuire 

“Organisations that directly benefit jarjums (children) or youth are the ones I aim for. Educational or preventative health programs are of a high priority, of course. Also support independent documentary and filmmakers who are projecting grassroots awareness” - Blak Douglas  

“If possible, go and speak to someone at the organisation you plan to donate to in person or at least contact them to ensure it’s legitimate and led by First Nations with funds flowing directly to First Nations. I am an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (below), which I know works” - Boori Monty Pryor 

Show Up, Listen With An Open Heart And Speak Up Within Your Own Community

“Listen to Aboriginal people and turn up to protests and events if you can. If you can’t - bombard your local politician with your concerns. Talk to your friends and educate your own community” - Amy McQuire 

“Attend protests or at least subscribe to channels that promote activism and advancement of First Nations plight. However, in doing so, be reminded that what you may hear is often not for the faint hearted” - Blak Douglas

Listen to Aboriginal people and turn up to protests and events if you can.Amy McQuire

“Speak up and educate those within your own circles - you can get more said than an Indigenous person can since the people in your community and your family will listen more to you than to us. Just do something! Don’t sit around and pontificate and make assumptions. Make the effort to find out for yourself and be humble enough to learn from your mistakes along the way” - Boori Monty Pryor

James D. Morgan via Getty Images
Tens of thousands of protestors marched in solidarity with "Black Lives Matter" in most major cities across Australia at the weekend. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

What The South Asian Community Needs To Know At this Time 

South Asians communities have much to reflect on and unlearn when it comes to First Nations - that process starts with confronting our privilege as a ‘model minority’ and how it’s allowed us to prosper and achieve ‘a better life’ in ‘The Lucky County’.  

To paraphrase Senator Briggs, “[Our] Luck is [their] dispossession. [Our] Luck is [their] Death. [Our] Luck is [their] Trauma. [Our] Luck is [their] Grief”. 

As I mentioned earlier, when my father arrived in Australia in 1969 during The White Australia Policy. He was only allowed to enter Australia because of the Official Passport his father carried that was issued to Diplomatic Personnel and was one of just five Indian families in Sydney at the time.  

Today, as graduates, homeowners, business owners and recipients of universal health care, ALL of our privilege in Australia as South Asians has been gained at the expense of First Nations peoples.

In order to heal and move forward, we need to listen to First Nations voices, seek out information without unnecessarily burdening First Nations people and develop genuine and direct relationships with them. 

We will never understand what it’s like to account for just 3.3% of the population but 28.6% to 36% of the prison population. We will never feel their grief as they continue to be incarcerated at 13 times the rate of the rest of us and suffer at least 15 cases like George Floyd per year... 

First Nations peoples simply don’t have the numbers to change things without our support. That is why we need to keep showing up, listening and offering our skill sets for their benefit and to amplify their voices. 

The marches around Australia on Saturday were a great start but now it’s on us to be consistent allies that continue to stand in solidarity with First Nations peoples.  

100% of the fee for this article was donated to the families of David Dungay Jnr and Joyce Clarke.  

Boori Monty Pryor
A poem by Boori Monty Pryor, note the initial of each letter spells out W-E-L-C-O-M-E.