July 15, 2013
Sam de Brito
Sam de Brito takes the pulse of Aussie manhood.
After the Adam Goodes/Eddie McGuire fiasco kicked off last month, I heard the return of one of my favourite White Person Excuses: “I didn’t kill any Aborigines or take their land, what’s it got to do with me?”
It’s kinda sweet Aussies have retained this live-and-let-live attitude because it’s one that’d see you in a teensy bit of trouble in thousands of different parts of the world.
As of this moment, Australia and the good ole’ bustling Arctic are the only two places where there’s not some kind of ongoing territorial dispute between a national or sub-national entity.
The majority of these disputes are non-violent but most of them are also old; older than tall ships, muskets and keeping Indigenous Australians in pet collars.
It seems to be a universal human trait – when someone steals your land and kills your relatives, you remember it for a long, long time.
The Middle East and Balkans are handy reminders of the elephantine memories people have for atrocities committed against their forebears.
History is not linear in many cultures: the repression of the Hazara people – who often end up on Australian naval vessels as refugees from Afghanistan – dates back to them sharing too much blood with the Mongols, who killed everybody they could get their hands on in Afghanistan and Persia 800 years ago.
Of course, in places like Syria, Sudan, Mali, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt, things are even more heated and what you did or did not do makes as little difference as what your great-grandparents did or did not do.
There are vicious square-ups happening in those countries right at this moment dating back hundreds of years and in others (thanks to the Shiite/Sunni divide) over a thousand.
So, whenever I hear “what’s it got to do with me?”, I suggest we’re kind of a special case here in Australia because …
1. We’ve no shared borders with expansionist neighbours with whom we have long-standing bad blood and …
2. We reduced the Indigenous population to a numerical minority that struggles to insist we rethink history from their point of view.
Of course, the other side of the “what’s it’s got to do with me”? coin is our shared human heritage.
You might just as well ask “what does electricity have to do with me?” as you open your fridge. Or agriculture? Or aspirin? Or numbers and letters?
Every newborn inherits an immense body of knowledge, delivered via a struggle that’s dragged humanity up the ladder from supernatural to legendary and now scientific explanations of the world and, frankly, that’s also got nothing to do with you.
You didn’t invent democracy, currency, navigation, hygiene, law and order or shower heads – but you benefit from them every day.
It’s simple humility to respect the debt we owe billions of great minds, soldiers and civilians for where we are now in history.
It’s also common decency to recognise that with the good, we also should accept responsibility for the bad.
When that comes to Indigenous Australians, a humble acknowledgement of past injustices is a nice place to start.