It’s the 29th of January. Australia Day has been and gone and I’m finally settling down after reading racist vitriol and ignorant diatribes aimed at my culture and my people. It’s in the media, it’s all over my social media and its visible in every Australian flag flying around my city. My inbox is full of people apologising or asking if I’ve read (insert article here).
Or, I was. I was finally settling down after intense reflection. However, thanks to Kerri-Ann Kennerly, a woman I used to respect, the “discussion” has been re-ignited. In a big way.
“Has any single one of those 5,000 people waving the flags saying how inappropriate the day is, has any one of them been out to the outback where children, where babies and five-year-olds are being raped, their mothers are being raped, their sisters are being raped. They get no education,” Kennerley said on the Ten morning show.
Before I attempt to reconcile the truth with this outlandishly inaccurate comment, let me just quickly point something out. Hey, Kerri-Anne, what are you doing about these awful atrocities you believe are happening. Before I move on and tell you why Yumi Stynes was correct in pointing out Kennerley’s racism, let me just pretend that there’s any ounce of truth in what she’s said.
Kerri-Anne, if you believe that these incidents are happening to the extent you’re proclaiming, then, with your profile, with your platform, why aren’t you reaching out and asking for change. As a journalist you should always be on the hunt for the truth. And yet, you have chosen an emotionally charged topic, while it’s still hot and causing pain, as a vehicle for you to push your outdated bias.
This is an element of the argument that always bugs me most. As I said, I’ll get to the inaccuracy of the statement in a moment. But when the ‘debate’ comes up every year, I am always struck by the superficial scope that we reserve for moments where we need to justify our ignorance.
To those who spewed that “Aboriginal people are on welfare” and that “Aboriginal people have substance abuse issues,” then let me make it clear: social problems such as these are actually the exact reason why we are calling for this small superficial gesture of changing a date.
If there is any better proof that something may be going wrong in our government, then surely cyclical poverty of a specific race of people should be the biggest indicator. We die younger, we are more likely to be incarcerated and we’re a lot more likely to kill ourselves, too. For a population of about 3% of Australia’s population to be so hugely over-represented in these areas surely means that there are problems that extend well beyond the surface.
“In 2010, suicide accounted for 4.2% of registered deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (NSW, Qld, WA, SA and NT combined). After adjusting for the different age profiles of the two populations, the suicide rate or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was 2.6 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians.” (Health.gov.au)
Furthermore, despite only being 3% of the population, we make up 28% of the incarcerated population. This should be one of the saddest statistics you hear and yet somehow it is used to argue the opposite of what it represents.
Before I move on, I feel I need to sit here quickly to ask a question of those who oppose this line of thinking: where is your empathy? Where is your understanding of trauma and generational oppression? Let me ask you why it’s “time to get over it” when these statistics blatantly point out that perhaps the trauma and social issues caused by 300 years of oppression and painful policy take more than ONE generation to heal from. (And by the way, it is ONE generation. My Mum was born in 1964, the Act was abolished in 1965 and the referendum that decided Aboriginal people were allowed to be counted in the census only happened in 1967. My Mum was still considered fauna and flora and wasn’t recognized by the Australian government until she was 3 years old. It’s that recent)
Now to the blatant inaccuracy of Kennerly’s statement. Firstly, don’t understate the size of the march. Kennerly referenced 5000 people marching in Sydney. It was 50,000 people who marched, not 5000. That’s a huge difference. Don’t downplay the support that was shown for the #changethenation movement.
Now to the ridiculous statement. Kerri-Ann references rape en-masse through ‘outback communities.’ Well, what a huge brush you’re using to tar a huge and very unspecific group of people there, Kerri. Crime is absolutely a problem in a lot of our communities. White or black.
I used to live in a suburb called Deception Bay; it had a lot of crime too. You know why? Because it’s a low-socio economic area associated with higher-than-average rates of unemployment. Funnily enough, unemployment is often associated with substance abuse. Substance abuse is often associated with crime. These social problems usually lead to generational poverty and generational lack of opportunity. You know who lives in Deception Bay, though? White people. The instant ‘visual indicator’ you’ve associated is removed, but social trends aren’t.
Also though, let’s talk about how the communities you specifically refer to are exactly the examples of what my people are protesting for. I’m going to specifically reference Tennant Creek, a town that has been in the news often over the years. The atrocities that have been reported recently have been awful. A lot of sexual abuse and child abuse in particular have been cited. But let’s not forget about other major social problems that are associated with the town. Tennant Creek has had a lot of Government intervention that undermines the town. This is a town in a regional area that had alcohol introduced and then policed and banned.
From an article I found, I was able to find the following account given by a local known as Mr. Jenkins.
“The core problems in Tennant Creek are children being raised in broken families; poor education; poor job prospects and a lack of community support… At the end of the day alcohol is certainly an issue and a contributing factor to everything in the town but our local community has been failed long before they started drinking or purchasing from our takeaway. It’s a national crisis.”
There’s no denying our Aboriginal communities need to band together to overcome these issues. The problems in Tennant Creek are absolutely atrocious. But is punishment and shame addressing the issue? Or should we perhaps take the time to figure out whether the issue runs much deeper and attempt to mend the scar with antibiotics instead of a band-aid. I just wish our Government could understand that my people need opportunities, empowerment and a police force that is intent on facing the issues instead of building upon prejudices and biases.
However, to say that babies and kids are being raped all over Australia in our communities is grossly untrue… heinously exaggerated at the very, very least.
Kerri-Ann Kennerly, what you have done with your profile and your position is unacceptable and unforgivable. You have not allowed our country to reflect appropriately after impressively supportive protests. Instead, you have used a platform to make outlandish statements that blame the victims of a broken system for issues that stem directly from mistreatment.
I used to just love you, I wanted to be you. And now I see that your success is probably based on the grounds of the fact that you toe the line and represent the discourse adopted by those in power. If you wish to make statements, make them even and balanced. I am sickened and I am saddened.