The murder of a Noongar teenager by an assailant said to have been uttering racial abuse as he attacked is horrifically and sadly part of a broader issue of racism in Western Australia that needs addressing on every level until it stops. This is an overt example of hate and its consequences, but for many Aboriginal people, and a significant number of non-white Western Australians, the spectre of racism is evident in many said and unsaid ways.
My entire life has been witness to racism perpetrated by smug, self-satisfied bigots who declare they are not racist when they are, and particularly when I was in my youth, by overt racists. For many years my associates and I spent our time removing racist posters and protesting against organisations such as the ANM white supremacists which had such a foothold in Perth and WA in general.
But it was really the school ground where I first saw racism towards Aboriginal kids first-hand. A lot of it was driven by ignorance and regurgitation of parental attitudes, for sure, but there was also a gross materialism underpinning much of it — a fear that these kids might actually have a connection to land beyond their own connection. There was an anxiety and doubt that led to abuse and put-downs.
Another tragic thing about such ‘certainty’ of colonial ‘belonging’ centred around migrant kids who had just arrived, who also copped bigotry because they ‘didn’t belong’. So there were those who weren’t allowed to belong, and those whose belonging stretched back tens of thousands of years were considered to belong too much.
The root causes of these issues are varied, but one in particular is the core narrative of colonialism itself. Colonialism isn’t migration. Colonialism is a system of violent occupation, theft and exclusion, and systematising of this occupation through generations and into any imagined future. Colonialism is what we live under in Australian still — the ‘state’ itself, but also private companies that replicate exploitative ‘trickle/flow up’ models of wealth.
How can Aboriginal people in Western Australia feel safe and secure in love of their land, in their deep connections, with mining companies and government agencies over-riding their belonging? It’s their country. Hate projected by ‘whites’ (or those who proudly identify as such — why anyone would, other than to own up to a sad truth, is beyond me) is very much tied up with control of property, goods and ‘ownership’. Even those ‘whites’ who are impoverished still function within a discourse that places their colonial ‘rights’ above all others. It’s a false idea of ‘first’ and ‘entitlement’ that often brings disturbing anger and resentment. The system makes racists. The colonial subtext is violence. This is not to exonerate individuals, but to say there is a broader responsibility in this.
I can scarcely begin to comprehend the pain that the family and community affected by such an act of brutality can be experiencing. I can only extend my condolences and love and support and best wishes, and hope that speaking out by many can bring change. This is a racist place and the racism/hate needs to stop. It can be stopped by ALL implicated in colonial society standing up and being held accountable. I honour the memory of the deceased and extend my hand to all those who suffer racism in any form.
NB. This article originally appeared on Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist, a blog that John Kinsella shares with the poet Tracy Ryan.