#10 TOP IA STORY OF 2017: Drowning in White privilege

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'First Nations communities are already experiencing epidemic levels of suicide and the racist oppression of living in Australia continues to be underlined without hope of reform' (Image via @australizer)

2017 was a year of highs and lows for our First Nations citizens, so it is appropriate for Indigenous affairs editor Natalie Cromb to kick off our countdown of the top stories of 2017, with this piercing July story attracting over 11,000 unique views.


Drowning in White privilege

The First Nations community is both reeling and in mourning; Indigenous affairs editor Natalie Cromb reflects on the gut-wrenching despair.


I am drowning under the weight, the exhaustingly heavy weight of the constant and brutal hits that keep coming. I find myself both breathing deeply in anger and suffocating all at once. The feeling is difficult to enunciate, because it’s all internalised as I continue to rise each morning and smile at my daughter, and maintain the façade that the world is good so I can shelter her as long as possible and give her the childhood she deserves, while inside I am crying and it is guttural as I think about Elijah’s family and the fact that not only can they no longer smile at him — they can’t even find comfort or closure in justice being served.

I feel rage so powerful and overwhelming I feel like I am burning up, but I am not showing it as I continue to go to work and advise clients on the law, as I internally fester at how abysmal the law is when it fails our community as it has.

I feel hopeless soul crushing sadness as I think of a musical genius gone too soon as a result of a failure of the medical system in addressing preventable illness, which hits all too close to home as we contemplate our grandmother – the strongest and staunchest woman I know – crippled with kidney disease and the health care system so pathetically hopeless she has had to move two hours away from all of her family for treatment that could easily be provided in her home town where she has a support system, all because of funding.

I worry that, as bad as this is, it can get worse and probably will because of the level of apathy in the non-Indigenous community. This devastates me beyond the capacity to speak most days. When the rest of my family is asleep, I sit up by myself and contemplate this bleak reality, which almost feels unreal if not for the constant state of emotional pain so strong it manifests physically.

I worry about members of my family, Gamilaraay community and all First Nations communities across Australia, and their capacity to process this devastating state of reality, considering First Nations communities are already experiencing epidemic levels of suicide and the racist oppression of living in Australia continues to be underlined without hope of reform.

In 2014, a terminally ill woman was gaoled for unpaid fines of $3,622 and, rather than receiving urgent medical care, was treated with derision and contempt before dying — her family learning through the coronial inquest that her death was preventable but there was no action taken against those who failed her so grossly.

In 2015, a White man was given an 18-month suspended sentence and six months in home detention for driving under the influence of methamphetamine hitting and killing Aboriginal boy – Jack Sultan-Page – and it was followed by calls by Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda seeking reform after the baffling sentence.

There was no reform and no change.

On 16 August 2016, an innocent Aboriginal woman was placed in a police cell in Maitland, presumed intoxicated, before dying five hours later. The police took an additional six hours to notify her family and although police could not explain why she was placed in the cell. An investigation revealed she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time and no explanation of a failure to render medical care was forthcoming.

Thirteen days later, Elijah Doughty was mown down by a White man, who placed more import on a piece of property than a child’s life and the criminal justice system so egregiously failed him that the killer may walk free next February after being convicted of a traffic offence.

It is hard to find meaning or purpose beyond going through the motions of daily life as numb as possible so that the pain doesn’t completely overwhelm you and leave nothing left but a shell, but I need to have purpose. I need to feel like I have done something productive that benefits the First Nations community — especially now when it is so very needed.

But what I am going to say might not sit well with many.

White people need to stop being so fragile. White people need to stop tone policing First Nations people who are going through so much. We are angry, we are sad and sometimes when we are voicing our emotions we struggle to enunciate the sheer weight of our situation but that is not an opening for the non-Indigenous to offer solutions, suggestions or opinions. Now is the time to sit down and shut up. To amplify First Nations voices in silent support by sharing our voices, join our struggle by speaking in our defence but never on our behalf. Recognise your privilege and use it to support our fight to dismantle the structures that reinforce it, with full knowledge that you are giving up some of your power so that we can claim ours.

Turn up to rallies and march alongside us. Listen! Respect! Do something! Stop making your support contingent upon a pat on the back. Stop expecting us to listen to your point of view on our issues. Stop taking up space and speaking for us when we are so ready to speak, but are often sidelined by White spokespeople hell bent on telling us Australia is not racist.

Each and every non-Indigenous Australian benefits from the special racism reserved for the First Nations population — one which denies our history, rebuts our voices when we speak against racist oppression now and implements policies to maintain the subversion we have experienced for over 200 years.

Now is the time for you to own your place, move aside and let us claim ours with your full support. If you do this — you are owning your privilege and using it to smash the colonial system of oppression of otherness.

We are strong. We have proven our resilience to still be here but enough is enough. No human beings should have to continue to contemplate the reality of living in racist Australia.

Natalie Cromb is a proud Gamilaraay woman. You can follow Natalie on Twitter @NatalieCromb.

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