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Now More Than Ever: Please WA have those hard conversations again

Jun 25, 2024

National Reconciliation Week has concluded for another year. Thousands of First Nations people and allies marked the occasion, reflecting on the poignant theme of Now More Than Ever.

For so many of us, this was a bright point in what has been an incredibly difficult time for First Nations people.

Colonial Australian history is deeply rooted in racist views, acts and violence. This is not news.

Over the years, we have taken steps – some big, some small – towards equality and reconciliation.

For the briefest of moments last year, we hoped we might be able to take a giant step forward.

We did not.

We know what happened at the referendum, and some of us were prepared for that outcome.

What none of us were prepared for was the sudden and very palpable shift in the behaviour of a certain section of society, who took that referendum result as license to speak and act in the most vile manner imaginable towards the First Nations community.

Racism in the open

Since the referendum, the racism has been open and public and utterly brazen. We are targets more than ever before.

We had to come up with an explanation for our grandson who watched on as a security guard at a grocery stored stopped us (and no one else) and demanded to search our bags. Even though we had come from work and were wearing a three-piece suit.

We had to comfort our 11-year-old son and 7-year-old nephew who had been taunted by white men while riding their bikes in the street. We couldn’t bring ourselves to explain what their vicious slurs actually meant.

We watched in disbelief as a cashier at a petrol station refused to let our son use the bathroom.

These are people who feel completely safe in treating us and our children with disregard and contempt.

They don’t fear repercussions when they yell racial slurs at our kids in the street or stop us using a toilet. They don’t believe it will cost them their social standing or their business.

Because it doesn’t.

They steal our dignity, and our safety, and nothing happens to them.

We need our allies, now more than ever

Leading up to the referendum, there was a lot of vocal support for First Nations people. Nice white people wore Yes badges and t-shirts and put signs in their windows and on their gates.

They gathered at rallies, worked in call centres and walked the streets handing out flyers. They worked to try and give us the Voice we asked for.

Where did they go?

Without the focus of the referendum, so many of our allies faded back into their normal routines, disappointed but ultimately unaffected.

Yet we are still here, wading through the vileness, as we have done decade after decade after decade.

It is exhausting and heartbreaking, but we don’t get to opt out of this.

To those allies who joined us last week, we thank you.

To those organisations who are still taking genuine steps toward reconciliation, we thank you.

We thank you, and we ask that more of you join us, to wade through these dark days and to stay with us through whatever comes next.

We still believe in reconciliation, truth-telling and the national healing that it could bring, for all of us.

We do not believe that the referendum was a definitive answer on how Australians feel about First Nations people – while those who voted Yes were united in a singular goal, those who voted No did so for a variety of reasons.

Some did not believe in reconciliation, others did not believe the Voice was enough and wanted more, others were misinformed or entirely ignorant on the subject.

We truly believe that among those who voted no are a significant number of people who will one day be won over. Who will one day understand what it means to us to have a Voice.

Until then, we need more of our old allies who are not First Nations people to put the disappointment of the referendum aside and to be vocal and visible again, and revoke that ill-gotten license to be publicly racist.

Call out the racism again, have those hard and awkward conversations again, check in on us again, put your badges on again. Raise your voices again and again and again.

If you don’t, we are scared that this vileness will swamp us and our precious children.

National Reconciliation Week is over, but the path to reconciliation is one that needs to be walked every day. Now, more than ever, we need you to walk it with us.

Stephen Morrison is Goldfields Hope Community Services’ Aboriginal cultural practice and capability manager; Rodney Carpio is manager of headspace Kalgoorlie; Cindy Sambo is Hope Community Services’ Indigenous health project officer. 

This article first appeared on WA Today on Sunday 9 June.

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