You’ve probably heard some statistics about First Nations disadvantage in Australia. Maybe you’ve even heard personal stories of pain and injustice. You probably wish someone would do something about it. But at the end of the day, it’s just not your problem … or is it?
Right and wrong
There’s an injustice in our nation that originated at the time of British colonisation and is ongoing today. For over 230 years, this injustice has inflicted pain and suffering. It’s not just an issue for First Nations people; it concerns every person living in Australia. It matters because it’s an issue of justice, of right and wrong, and as human beings, this should concern us. The fact is, something’s wrong and you can be part of making it right.
We're all connected
We’re all connected by our shared government, economy and the land we live on. We’re connected by the TV programs that air on our networks, the songs that play on our radio stations, the sports we follow, the national public holidays we celebrate and our education system. We’re also connected by the fact that as Australians we have a reputation for a quality of life in the top 10 countries in the world. We enjoy much of this prosperity today because of historic events that got us to this point.
It’s a history of courage and perseverance … but also of violent dispossession, exploitation and abuse. In this way, our current lives are inextricably connected to the pain of the past and its present fallout – the disparity between First Nations people and non-Indigenous people across every social indicator. It’s a situation at odds with our national values, the things that make us proud to be Australian. This is a challenge for all people who live in Australia, whether we feel like we‘re part of it or not.
What’s this got to do with me?
Australian society is increasingly multicultural and yet many people living in Australia are still connected by a common culture. People born into this mainstream culture are fortunate to have it reinforced on a daily basis – in the media, education system, legal system, English language and the faces of our parliament. This means a member of Australia’s mainstream culture can expect to feel comfortable, accepted and affirmed in most social situations. It might not seem like a big deal, but this is actually a huge advantage! It translates into other benefits such as better chances of accessing education and employment, and avoiding encounters with the criminal justice system.
People born into mainstream culture didn’t ask for these advantages. In fact, most aren’t even aware of them. After all, being part of the mainstream doesn’t automatically mean we don’t experience other forms of hardship or disadvantage. But due to factors we have no control over, we live in a society that structurally marginalises some people and holds them back, while allowing others a head start. The fact that our society operates in this way is no-one’s fault today. We all inherited this system, which has been passed down from the beginning of colonisation.
Good people in a flawed system
For more than 230 years, our society and systems (legal, education, political, health, etc.) have evolved to be less blatantly discriminatory. In fact, modern Australia openly celebrates and promotes the multicultural nature of our society. These advancements are worth celebrating, but it’s also important to understand that discrimination isn’t just the result of overtly racist policies or actions. It’s possible to have a proudly multicultural society and yet retain systems and attitudes that subtly discriminate against minorities. Unfortunately, these systems are reinforced daily by the unconscious behaviour of decent, moral, well-intentioned people. For example, when we believe the stereotypes promoted by the media or accept the mainstream version of history without considering another perspective, we reinforce a society that favours the Anglo culture, and either ignores or actively excludes minority cultures. This means the way we think and act in our everyday lives, from listening to the news and chatting with family, to going supermarket shopping, has a profound effect on others. It follows that our attitudes matter. Something as simple (and as challenging) as examining our own thoughts and attitudes can help make a difference to injustice in our nation.
Want to be part of the solution?
No-one today is responsible for the pain resulting from our shared past. But the fact is that a grave injustice remains unresolved. The good news is that we all have the opportunity to become part of making things right. It starts with understanding that we’re all connected and recognising that we each have a part to play in creating a better future. Are you ready to consider your part in the story?
- 1. United Nations Development Programme (2020) Human development report 2020: the next frontier – human development and the Anthropocene, United Nations Development Programme, accessed 15 February 2022.
- 2. Hunter B (2009) ‘Indigenous social exclusion: insights and challenges for the concept of social inclusion’, Family Matters, no. 82, Australian Institute of Family Studies, accessed 15 February 2022.