The one reading that stuck out to me this week was ‘Whiteness Studies’, by Fozdar. So many emotions and feelings were stirred up inside, I knew I could not wait to start writing my response. As the words flow out of my mind right now, I feel I cannot, and will not accurately express how I feel about this topic in the space of one reading response.
Previously, society has focused on ‘problems’ of ‘minority’ face in assimilating into the dominant ‘majority’ - nearly always white. The measures of success in our capitalist society including English speaking preference, education history, employment status, income, and owning your own house are traditionally associated with whiteness and the associated measures of power, privilege and class. While governments are forever spending superficially to patch up these divides, there is still a major divisions in race and ethnicity.
I am fortunate enough to have witness these divides first hand, both as directly involved, and at a distance. I am a fluent English speaking Australian citizen, have a world class education , am currently employed, and hold down a stable and reliable job with steady income. I have witnessed first hand the other side of the coin. I have spent time in Ltyentye Apurte in the Northern Territory over the past 12 months, and I have witnessed such inequalities that make it hard to believe that these people are my equals. They are treated like animals by their very own goverment I voted into power. On many occasions in my time spent with the indigenous residents of the community, I have felt safer than I have ever felt elsewhere in Australia, despite not knowing a soul.
Being white is a privilege and speaking English is directly associated with the ownership of power. On one occasion on an end of year excursionwith my grade three class to Alice Springs to attend the YMCA and the Swimming Pool, these points could not be made any clearer. As I boarded the rundown 1960’s model 21 seater bus, I was full with apprehension and excitement at the day’s forthcoming events. Already it was hitting me, and I had to stop and take note; I was on a 21 seater bus with 25 children, 4 teaching staff, and the driver. This would never happen at home, but because I was surrounded by those lacking in ‘whiteness’, it was considered acceptable.
Before we had even left the settlement, we stopped to give a lift to 5 more adults. This now meant that there were a total of 35 people on a 21 seater bus. Besides being highly illegal, this was highly unsafe, but somehow second nature to everyone involved. As the 170 kilometer round trip proceeded, I could not help but think of the same situation in a different setting. What if this were Kevin Rudd’s own son’s class, and this was in Melbourne or Sydney. It just wouldn’t happen. Upon arriving at the YMCA, I was approached by the manager. The man made his way past 25 children, their own indigenous support staff, a white female teacher, to me to welcome the group - all because I was a white male. How could a man in Alice Springs do that when he would be immersed in a vastly diverse mix of different cultures everyday?
The importance of being an English speaker is widely acknowledged if you are wanting to become successful in today’s society to the people of Ltyentye Apurte. The people of Ltyentye Apurte speak Eastern Arrente, and on many occasions up to three other indigenous dialects, followed by English. During the daily literacy block at school, this importance of learning English is made apparent as indigenous support stafftake a more stern approach to classroom discipline as evident in their tone of voicein the dialogue of their native tongue.
If students want to succeed in their studies beyond year 8, they are encouraged to attend a boarding school some distance away, where they will be taught intensively, as they stay for 3 years, seldom seeing their families and friends. If this doesn’t confim that being more ‘white’ means being more successful, then I don’t know what does. This social construct seems ridiculous. As Fozdar writes, for something so small to have such a huge effect - to me, is so silly. How do those with ‘whiteness’ maintain the power that comes with it? If race didn’t play such a massive role in our society, would we be equal, or would we find something else to segregate us from others deemed less deserving than ourselves? To me, the indigenous people of Ltyentye Apurte, and I imagine many indigenous communities in outback Australia have given up on any chance of making things even between those with the aforementioned ‘whiteness’ and those that do not. It has become easier for the ‘have nots’ to subscribe to the invisible agenda of the ‘haves’.
Australia first needs to fix it’s relations with it’s Indigenous citizens before it starts worrying about fixing relations with anyone else. As Fozdar writes, “whiteness is paradoxically visible and invisible”. I could not disagree more. If you find yourself in a room of solely indigenous Australians, you will soon realise this. In Pauline Hanson’s infamous speech in 1996, she claimed she was in fear of being “swamped by Asians”. This implies that she, or her people somehow have ownership of Australia, when in fact, she is in an Asia-Pacific nation where those with ‘whiteness’ is not a natural occurrence.
While I could write for pages on end, nothing will fully encompass my feelings for this topic, and the people involved. Something meaningful truly needs to be done, and done now. None of this superficial band-aid type Goverment action. Change is needed - perhaps we can be the start, look in the mirror and be the change you want to see.