Dear Stan Grant (The Guardian’s Indigenous Affairs editor),
I am an Australian of migrant background and mixed ethnicity. I grew up in largely ethnic communities in Melbourne’s north and have lived in Darwin and Townsville as well. I have observed you recently in the media making various statements which I personally take issue with. In particular the divisive nature of your rhetoric and the monopoly on human suffering you seem to claim for ‘your people’.
No one in this nation denies the horrors that the indigenous people suffered at the hands of European colonialists nor does anyone expect you to not feel internally scarred by these events. The most important factor in a healing process is moving forward. Many of us in the migrant community understand things of this nature and I would like to share some of them with you.
I must first address your ‘them and us’ rhetoric.
I have observed you link the current circumstances of indigenous people to past atrocities with statements such as: “For so many of my people, aboriginal people, (…) there is a deep, deep wound that comes from the time of dispossession”. As if the tribalistic sentiments of this statement were not bad enough, you feel the need to foster guilt and resentment among people who cannot change the past, as if this will somehow change the present circumstances of indigenous Australians.
Fuelling resentment does not lead to change, only positivity in the face of adversity can do this. This is a tried and true method for the healing process. Australians from the former Yugoslavia know a good deal about where tribal behaviour and the fuelling of resentment can lead. Following the rise of Croatian nationalism, Serbs in the town of Knin began to re-adopt a ‘them and us’ mentality, with the wounds of World War two still fresh in their minds, when the Nazi puppet state of Croatia slaughtered thousands of Serbs.
Just outside Knin at the time of these tensions, a news crew interviewed some men at a roadblock. One of them stated: “We’re scared. We Serbs must protect ourselves. We’ve learnt from the past. We must stop history repeating itself.” Undoubtedly, I am using a most extreme example but your rhetoric runs along the same trajectory of ‘them vs us’ and the negative emphasis on old ‘wounds’.
Please Stan, I implore you. Desist in your use of this twisted rhetoric.
Nothing good has ever come of it and whether you are aware of it or not, you are sowing seeds of discontent in a nation that does not need them to see them flourish. If you will not do this for white Australia, please do it for us of migrant backgrounds. We still hold true that we are all Australians regardless of old wounds.
Secondly, your statement at the national Press Club where you announced to a room full of non-indigenous Australians: “Someone’s suffering was the scaffolding on which you built your prosperity”. I’m not sure whether that was only meant for the white Australian audience but frankly, I’m not sure I care. Greeks, Italians, Chinese, Somalis and a plethora of others in the migrant community have built our prosperity on hard work in a nation that offered us safety and freedom.
When you accuse non-indigenous people of building on someone else’s suffering, it totally undermines our efforts and our gratitude to the great nation we call home.
Many in the migrant community have also suffered. There is the Vietnamese who fled the persecution of the Communist north; the Lebanese who fled a hideous and brutal civil war, not to mention our Jewish community whose horrific past I’m sure I need not revisit here. My ex-girlfriend’s parents fled their home in Sarajevo after Serbian soldiers came around and brutally beat her father. They were given the ultimatum to leave the next day or die. The next day after they had fled, the soldiers burnt their home to the ground. When her grandfather arrived at the house and saw it burning he was understandably and visibly upset. Upon being asked if he knew who lived there he replied it was his son’s house, at which point the Serbian soldiers beat him to death.
For years growing up I believed that there were Tigers in Papua New Guinea. My mother explained the scar on her arm with this elaborate story to cover the fact that, when she was younger, a man had broken into the nursing quarters in which she lived, attempted to rape her and, before being chased away, decided it would be fitting to bite a chunk out of her arm. Please do not lecture your fellow Australians on the manner in which they have built their prosperity or at very least, have the decency to leave other people’s suffering out of the conversation.
There are many of us, white Australians included who carry our own scars and do not demand special treatment.
I take no pleasure in bringing up the past of my friends and myself but I must illustrate the point that none of us benefit from an emotional scars competition. The things we have built have not been for indigenous Australians but have equally not been built for white Australians. We are all free to build for ourselves and others and we must not expect others to build for ‘us’, whoever that may be.
Nothing can be done about our past, Stan, and it is not appropriate to judge a nation by its past sins. Every civilization has committed crimes against humanity at some point in its history. A far more accurate way of judging a society is by which crimes and bad practices it has abandoned. Reform and progression are what makes a society great. I will not deny that racial prejudice exists in our fair nation but it has never stopped me from getting a job, getting an education, making friends or pursuing my passions.
It has not stopped men like yourself, Adam Goodes or the legendary Reg Saunders MBE from achieving greatness. My sentiments are firmly aligned with those of Morgan Freeman who, when asked about how to stop racism, replied: “stop talking about it… I’m gonna (sic) stop calling you a white man and I’m gonna ask you to stop calling me a black man”. This in no way means you must forget your past or ignore the issues we still face. It just means that we all take responsibility for our actions and how they impact those around us regardless of their colour, creed, religion or any other characteristic of their background. If you ever hope to be in a position where you lead this great nation of ours, I must humbly request that you speak to, and for all of us equally.
A fellow Australian