By Cally Jetta
A common term is that of ‘reverse-racism’ and I have observed debate between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people as to whether it actually exists or not.
First of all I want to start by saying I am well aware of the fact that anybody can be the subject of racist name-calling. Many of us – black, white and in between have been on the receiving end of it at some point. The second point I want to make clear is that I don’t condone it whomever it’s directed at or comes from. It’s usually adequate enough to just call someone a name (if the shoe fits) without adding ‘black’ or ‘white’ to the front of it. It becomes something different then – a whole new situation, interpretation and level of anger is often the result.
When people say that reverse racism doesn’t exist, what they’re trying to say (I think) is not that Aboriginal people aren’t capable or guilty of racial slurs and profiling, but; that the systematic racism, entrenched societal racism and institutionalized racism that favours white history, values, perspectives and experiences are not levels of racism generally experienced by white people.
Some white people will tell you they have been on the receiving end of racial name-calling. Most Aboriginal will tell you that’s a pretty common occurrence for them.
I also think it goes back to the fact that racism was a non-issue or phenomenon prior to invasion. Maccassan trade was on equal footing, both racial groups interacted on mutually beneficial terms and then both returned to their own lands. The arrival of the British was the arrival of class and race hierarchies.
Since the first British arrivals there are records of Aboriginal people integrating escaped convicts and disenchanted settlers into their clans, the practice still happens today. These individuals are given skin names and access to knowledge and ceremony off limits to others. They are considered kin based on their soul, their heart – which the Elders can read like a book. Skin colour, race and origin were irrelevant so long as they respected and upheld the Lore.
I prefer to think of it as ‘reactive racism’ rather than reverse racism. I believe that’s largely what it is. I feel this racism is often (though not always) fuelled by anger and the internalized feelings of being constantly judged and looked down upon.
When I think about the reasons white people are racist towards Aboriginal people – the list is long. We are drunks, lazy dole bludgers, criminals and thieves, dirty and smelly, stupid and dependent, child abusers and petrol sniffers; complainers and whiners; aggressive and violent, and more. I know it’s horrible to read but these are all things that we have heard or read personally – often multiple times.
When I think about the beliefs behind Aboriginal racism – that comes up in conversations often – the same comments come up again and again. For the most part they are based on anger and the feeling that white people do not respect, value or even try to understand First Nations people and look down us with pity, contempt, apathy or harsh criticism. They don’t mention how white people look or smell; how they raise their kids or remember their past. They don’t mention their drug, alcohol and criminal habits (unless to make a point by comparison). They don’t mention having to pay taxes to support Non First Nations people and rarely is the intellect of other races mentioned either.
They talk of arrogance, ignorance and snobbery. They talk of injustice and discrimination. They talk about being treated like less in so many ways by others- sometimes without these other people even realizing it. In some instances it almost seems a self-fulfilling prophecy – a kind of ‘well if they all think I’m a scary, violent thief – that’s what I will be – there’s nothing to lose’. The constant negative press and demonization of Aboriginal communities contributes a lot to this mindset also I believe.
Some younger Aboriginal people have a great deal of anger. They understand their social status, their disadvantage and their family’s ongoing struggle, pain and grief is inextricably linked to our people’s political oppression – they are angry, feeling hopeless – but have no idea how to articulate what they are thinking and feeling – or how to change it. They lash out at what they believe to be the oppressor – the ongoing source of Aboriginal despair and treatment as second-class citizens. They may not have the self-confidence and self-esteem to see past their defensiveness and in some cases their own negative self-image and they are on guard at all times.
I don’t know many (if any) Aboriginal people who don’t have non-Aboriginal people they count as close friends and family. Yes, even those who say racist things to white people. There is kind of an unspoken understanding that when the term ‘white’ is used it does not apply to those brothers and sisters close to us – or even the majority of non-Aboriginal people – it refers to a mentality, a mind set and the government and other systems of oppression and their supporters.
Could the same be said for those openly racist non-Aboriginal Australians? Would they have Aboriginal friends or even contemplate that possibility? Some would, but some wouldn’t. Their fundamental beliefs and racism are too entrenched to see past the race, to the individual. And that I think is one of the big differences our people encounter in our perspective of racism.
Again, I can only speak for myself and share with you my honest thoughts about issues and realities from my perspective. I hope this may help to somewhat explain why some Aboriginal people reject the concept of reverse racism and maintain that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal racism are not on par.
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