Jill Biddington puts the 'active' in activism! A staunch supporter of workers' rights Jill is also passion about being part of a process that creates a better nation, one at she can be proud of, an Australia that makes her proud to say she's Australian. (I love her for that). Today as part of National Reconciliation Week, Jill is sharing here her reasons for why she is grateful for reconcilation.
Why I am grateful for reconciliation...
I wonder if you have ever had the experience of friendship where someone has apologised to you for something, and they are relieved not only that you have accepted their apologies but want to continue the friendship. Or, maybe like me you have been the one who has been offering the apology? There is that time between the moment when the something happens in the relationship and the acceptance of apology and reconciliation. It’s the time of high emotions and questioning and often a feeling of low confidence. I have a clear memory of someone who, in a state of some distress blurted out an apology and dissolved into tears. In that case I felt like an absolute dill because I was not really aware of the slight, just of the absence of my friend. I hadn’t hurt. I remember how much it meant to my mate to feel she could apologise and reconcile. I didn’t need an apology, I wasn’t offended or hurt but I certainly needed to be part of the reconciliation.
So this is how it can be with individuals. Reconciliation with Australia’s Indigenous people is a far more demanding process for our community. As an individual, I know that I am not racist and I try my best to be a decent person – no, I am not perfect but I try to do my best. Like lots of other Australians I sat and watched Kevin Rudd then, Prime Minister, apologise on behalf of Australia to Indigenous people. I wasn’t alone in feeling the enormity of the moment – a long awaited full and genuine apology for great wrongs committed to Indigenous people past and present. I felt that we could have some pride for being big enough to recognise what was wrong and being mindful of the need to apologise. There I was sitting in the lounge room by myself (and the box of tissues) feeling we had finally matured enough to say sorry. Being committed to apologise is the first step. Working for reconciliation is the entire process that follows and enables us as a whole nation of people to work together to correct the imbalances, the disadvantages and the wrongs to find a new way. We need new ways to ensure that being Indigenous in the country doesn’t mean ongoing disadvantage and exclusion. We are a long way from the end of the reconciliation. There are still so many prevalent attitudes towards Indigenous people that reinforce the negative and faulty stereotypes about Indigenous people that continue to cause disadvantage and exclusion. Much of what I observe is both systemic and non-systemic.
I can easily plummet in a low mood when I read the mainstream media, look at employment participation rates, observe what is happening under the Northern Territory Intervention and the way that people interact in the community. Sometimes it feels like there is nothing to celebrate. But then, I remind myself to look for what is happening to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and communities in Australia, and know how hard many people are working - as individuals and within organisations and within communities - to bring about a whole nation, and better understanding and ultimately a reconciled nation. Sure, sometimes I have to look hard because these stories are not in the mainstream media but it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Though having said this, I have to ask again, why don’t the mainstream media participate in working for reconciliation? Why do they keep promoting ugly attitudes?
I am grateful for reconciliation because I know of no other way of building the kind of nation that I want to live in. I am convinced that there is a quicker or more effective way to show that we are serious about coming together as one. It means that the onus is on the non-Indigenous community to make an effort. It isn’t the responsibility of Indigenous people to reconcile with non Indigenous people – after all, what have Indigenous people done to harm that community?
I celebrate all people who are active in working for change and reconciliation in their communities. Part of the challenge will be to keep on the building of a civil society and education but a bigger part will be to let people make connections with each other so they can see at first hand that those stereotypes are just plain wrong and racist. Our future lies in the sum total of all of our efforts. It isn’t going to get better until each of us makes the effort to change the way we behave in our communities, how we teach our children, how we communicate our values to our peers and how we tell our stories of gratitude about Indigenous brothers and sisters.
The other aspect of reconciliation is how Indigenous people may respond to the efforts made. For me, this is the most humbling experience. I reflect on how easy it must be for bitterness and hatred to exist for what has happened in the past and continues today. If Indigenous people didn’t welcome the efforts it would mean that there were no prospects for reconciliation. That would be understandable given what has happened but gutting. I want the future to be better for all and I want change. However, I accept that we can’t make people reconcile if they aren’t open to it. We can’t argue that we “deserve” or are automatically entitled to the consideration of Indigenous people for reconciliation. Non-Indigenous people can’t reconcile with Indigenous people unless we make the effort. And, we have to be conscious that we can’t be slow and casual either because we can’t afford for Indigenous people to give up in having hope in the rest of us being successful.
I don’t take the involvement of Indigenous people for granted. I wonder if I would be able to accept an approach from another who represented a community of violence and oppression if I was in the same position. I wonder what it would be like to be a mum and know that even though a formal apology was made that not enough else in everyday society and life had changed for me to have hope that life might be very different for my kids. I wonder if in reading the newspaper that I would be comfortable that people from my community who were sporting heroes, musicians and the odd politician allowed me to feel that I was part of a society where I was included. I wonder if I would be resilient enough to have hope. I wonder if I could have hope in other humans to treat me and my kin with respect and dignity?
As a non-Indigenous person, my belief in reconciliation lies in the efforts of both non-Indigenous people in being active and in the spirit of Indigenous people in retaining hope in the non-Indigenous community. If it feels hard to be part of the non-Indigenous community who is committed to work for reconciliation and justice for Indigenous people, how hard must it be for Indigenous people to watch on and hold onto hope? I can easily become overwhelmed when I reflect on this. It is so easy to get angry and frustrated with the uglies of this world who get their jollies out of continuing racist behaviour and systems in Australia. There are times that as a person who subscribes to non-violent protest that, I feel acutely my want, to bang heads with some others in my community who make their money out of continuing to denigrate Indigenous people. There are times that writing letters, signing petitions, going to rallies, voting and speaking out and challenging society seems not enough. Well that is me, impatient and keen to build momentum and witness progressive change. And when it feels like it is all too hard, I have to remember that there is more at stake than my energy levels and my ego, that there are Indigenous people who have a more mature understanding of society and change than I have. For change to happen it takes lots of building and lots of listening so we can learn to be a better society that is inclusive of everyone. I can’t place conditions on my support and activism because this is much bigger than me. I probably won’t defeat my impatience though.
I might not shift my sense of feeling small either and of not being enough as an individual but it’s what we can do together and imagining that we will all be walking taller when we live in a country that place a premium on inclusion, equality, social justice and dignity and respect for all. That is the way I want to be able to describe Australia.