Unless you’ve been living under a rock in Australia for the last week or so, you’ve been hearing about Adam Goodes and the issue of racism in sport/society. So much has already been said, I wasn’t sure if I had anything to add. But a few things have really challenged me and got me thinking about racism, listening to the voices of the “other” and how this all connects to the gospel.
The first is how easy it is for white Australians to make simplistic pronouncements about what is and isn’t racist. Here’s what I think: if you are a member of a majority group that has historically been responsible for the mistreatment, oppression and belittling of another group of people, and a member of that group is telling you that your actions are hurting them by perpetuating some of those attitudes and feelings, then you don’t get to tell them that they are “playing the victim card.” You don’t get to decide whether how they feel is valid. You don’t get to define what is going on. Your job is to listen. Not to rush to make statements or excuses or minimisations or give your perspective. To really listen. To hear what they are saying. And then to ask yourself how you are going to respond.
As appalled as I have been by some of the comments I have read and heard from white Australians this week, I’m hopeful that this is a moment in our history when we might finally be starting to listen. Listening to the voices of our indigenous Australians and realising there is something we need to really hear. That we have not yet dealt with the ongoing consequences of our shared history.
And so as well as appreciating the insights and responses of people like Charlie Pickering or Mia Freedman or this incisive outsider view from an ex-pat American, this week I have actively sought out the voices of indigenous Australians who are speaking about this issue. I want to hear what they have to say. I want to listen.
If you haven’t heard these voices, here are some you might want to take some time to listen to.
* Stan Grant’s article in the Guardian: “Estranged in the land of our ancestors, living on the fringes of a rich society – parse your words, but we see only race in the attacks on AFL player Adam Goodes.”
* Dickie Bedford’s opinion piece in the Australian: “It reinforces our scepticism that while Australia — a country we all love deeply — pretends to embrace us, it fails miserably when it comes to taking real and significant steps towards truly understanding our culture, our lore and our traditions.”
* Charlie King’s excellent question to Andrew Bolt: “How would you feel if you sat in that position and looked at the world through the eyes of Aboriginal people?”
* Warren Mundine on the Drum sharing his personal experience with racism in Australia: “This week has been a really dreadful week for me because it has brought up so many memories … This is what it [racism] does to people. It actually cripples you within your life and stops you from doing things and being able to function as a human being.”
* And this blog post from an indigenous man which takes the opposite view to the others and made me feel quite uncomfortable, but was an important reminder of the subtle racism I can easily fall into of assuming that all indigenous Australians share the same opinion or a single story: “For an urban blackfella like me, I hate the fact that all of a sudden my opinion is relevant … If someone is genuinely looking for a discussion, they are easy to tell, but most people just want me to be the token black who validates their own feelings on the matter.”
As a Christian, I’ve also been continuing to reflect more widely on how we can better listen to our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. The family of churches I am part of recently welcomed an indigenous church into our (overwhelmingly white) association. The pastor spoke to our gathering and his key message was for us to listen. To hear and understand what a big thing it was for them to join us, given our shared history. To hear the questions and fears and concerns they have about maintaining their identity even as they participate as part of our group. To walk a journey of listening to them rather than too quickly jumping in with our “help” or “solutions”.
Then a few weeks ago I had the opportunity at a dinner with some ministry friends to ask an indigenous friend if he would share with the rest of us some of what he thought we needed to hear from indigenous Australian Christians. With some good-natured joking about his role as spokesman for “all Aboriginal people everywhere,” we had a really amazing hour just listening to him. One of the most profound things he said, that has been challenging and inspiring me ever since, was this:
As Christians, we believe that the gospel becomes “enculturated” – that is, as the gospel is lived out in every people group throughout the world and throughout history, we see different aspects of it and we realise more of who Jesus is. So what do you have to learn about the gospel, about Jesus, from your Aboriginal brothers and sisters?
For people who believe that every tribe and tongue is part of God’s incredible vision for the future in Christ, what a great question. And I know that trying to answer it is going to take a lot more listening on my part.