Black Lives Matter (BLM) has gifted us the opportunity to talk about inclusion in a way it hasn’t been in Australia before.
Please note: This article contains references and names of people that are deceased. Specifically Indigenous Australians who are deceased. As a result, this content may not be suitable for BIPOC readers. Reader discretion is advised.
Inclusion is rightly a central focus of business right now. It’s incredibly important for everyone to understand we have a unique opportunity to have a long overdue cultural revolution. Like any change, it is going to make some people uncomfortable. It’s also going to create its fair share of issues for people who refuse the change. It’s happening people, you may as well get on board.
It also means that there will be mistakes made. There will be times when the change is not enacted well. And it will likely see over-zealous allies jump to grab the mic.
I don’t want to be one of those over-zealous allies looking for gold stars and a cookie. I hate that when people place me, as a woman with disabilities, in the same position of having to reward enlightened, small steps.
But I am not a Black Indigenous Person of Colour (BIPOC). So, I can only write from a White perspective to educate why being an ally is so very important. I hope it in turns inspires thinking in White business ownership circles. And that we can begin to have more diverse conversations generally about the challenges faced in Australian business by BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and culturally diverse groups.
This blog is written to help break down some of the issues and why Black Lives Matters is permeating the business arena as well as Australian culture.
Here is the beginning of the conversation in the Freelance Jungle about Black Lives Matters and Australian business. We aim to continue this and grow in capacity
Why there was not an official stance beyond a statement before now
In the early stages of the movement, the Freelance Jungle was asked to release an official statement on our stance regarding Black Lives Matters. I was also keenly aware a lot of lip-service was starting to happen in social media circles.
As a team, we discussed it and made a statement about how we felt as a team of White people, we had no business making it about us. Let me be clear about that decision, though. It wasn’t meant to be a drop, too hard, run off. BIPOC voices are needed to direct the conversation. We want BIPOC voices as a part of the Freelance Jungle and are actively seeking someone to shape our approach.
We were not about to open discussion without us having the appropriate resources as a team to ensure people are not silenced, injured, or set upon by other members.
(The problem has been (and continues to be with me) a time management one. I was dealing with extremely difficult personal circumstances of a death in the family, a looming potential redundancy for my partner, and a dramatic downward shift in my father’s own cancer situation. It is not an excuse. But it is me picking up the cork and shoving it in the mouth of the usual “tsk, tsk, why now?” crew who seem to enjoy smoking and chatting behind the shelter shed with everything we do at the Freelance Jungle.)
So, I bought time. And guilt at taking the time.
Welcome to the starter blocks of Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Australian response from the Freelance Jungle. We say starter because this is far from over when we are yet to find our BIPOC admin team member. Or when this is an ongoing process requiring much work and many years to unpack.
Read articles on Black Lives Matter and understand what the heck has gone on
For all the ‘All Lives Matter’ people in the back, please read.
Black Lives Matter is not about importing the trouble of the United States. For surely everyone recognises there is much to be done here in Australia.
There are a few things that really point to the fact we’re failing Indigenous Australia and BIPOC generally:
- 432 deaths in custody have occurred since 1991. Not a single officer has been convicted in relation to any of them.
- Indigenous Australian incarceration rates are ridiculously out of proportion with the population. A lot of this has to do with harsher penalties and sentences being given to BIPOC.
- Despite a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody to help stem the tide, over half the deaths since 2008 have been needless as the people in question were found not guilty of any offence or were in protective custody.
- Media bias in the reporting of Black deaths in this country and the USA has been researched and well documented.
- It is estimated through UK and USA studies that approximately 7-10% of the prison population have been imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. Again, BIPOC are overwhelmingly over-represented in this number. These figures have not been documented appropriately in Australia. But it doesn’t mean it’s not an issue as deaths in custody stats show.
- The health outcomes for Indigenous Australia are worse than that of the rest of the country. A small example for you is that Indigenous Australians were advised to minimise COVID-19 risk and stay home at 50 if they have chronic illness, a statistic which is again over-represented in the community. Surely that highlights how large the gap and how impractical the advice is?
- Health issues, mental health issues, and depression rates are higher. If we continually shut down Indigenous Australia, if we allow the sort of bullying received by Adam Goodes, if we set up society to say “oh yeah but some Aboriginals are blah..blah” and have this be acceptable discourse, there’s no way in hell we can inspire the First Nations People to participate with open hearts.
- Inter-generational trauma is a huge issue for Indigenous Australians. Trauma and dislocation from society is never cured by shaming a person’s best efforts and focussing on their worst while you tell them their suffering doesn’t matter.
It’s about recognising we have a hell of a lot of homework to do when it comes to making BIPOC welcome.
Oh, and it is also not cancelled out by ‘All Lives Matters’ as though this is some kind of suffering competition. Frankly, every time I hear this phrase, I feel sick to my stomach. Black Lives Matter started in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin, a young unarmed African American teen who was shot by a self-appointed neighbourhood watchmen, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman followed Martin for streets until Martin asked him why (he was on the phone at the time and was overheard by a friend). There was a scuffle and Martin was shot. Zimmerman was later acquitted, despite the police stating the killing could have been avoided if Zimmerman stopped following Martin and instead, called for police assistance and waited for it to arrive.
When you say, “All Lives Matter”, you’re stating you do not understand the original genesis of the movement is one to highlight prejudice in the system. If your teen son were followed in the street and shot by an over-zealous, self-appointed law and order figure for walking the street in the rain (apparently a suspicious act), wouldn’t you want justice too?
Still unsure of the link to Australia? Read the words of the organisers of the first Black Lives Matter protest in Melbourne.
We shouldn’t be rejecting causes designed to highlight inequity in the system without understanding what they stand for. Yet this is what most people who use ‘All Lives Matter’ are saying. We’re literally saying, “I can’t be bothered understanding this” before we deny it’s importance.
Even if you personally don’t mean that, that is what you are saying. Be accountable for that ignorance.
The Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t magically translated into anything else in the USA or Australia. It sadly simply accumulates more body counts with each passing death or death in custody.
It’s no different to women advocating for people to listen to the unacceptably high domestic violence rates. Or people like the Morecombe’s campaigning to find their son as well as using their profile to highlight other missing children.
We need to grow up and realise that because BIPOC are asking us to value their children, siblings, partners, and parents more under the judicial system or in the media doesn’t mean White folk lose anything as a result.
Black Lives Matter exists because all lives are not being treated equality under the law. To right that injustice, we need to focus on one area to end the imbalance.
It’s not enough to not be a racist. We need to be anti-racist
“I’m not racist but…” is over. It should never have been part of Australia but it’s well and truly toast now. No more casual racism through jokes. No more saying the symptoms of centuries of systemic mistreatment reflected in higher drug or alcohol abuse are validation for your misgivings at BIPOC. No more ignoring the fact that people can and do judge people based on race and racial profiling each and every day.
Not only that but we also need to support Black Lives Matter by being anti-racist.
We have to embrace allyship – read this allyship outline – it’s so very important for context and what we can do as White people.
If you haven’t had a conversation about race and what it’s like with at least 20 non-white people, still your tongue. Listen. Your experience is most definitely distinct.
Oh, and stop accidental minimisation to justify your straw poll of one. Your one Aboriginal friend agreeing with your point of view doesn’t mean others aren’t in pain. There’s a big gap between Jacinta Price and Celeste Liddell. There might be a big gap between you and Steve Price or Alan Jones. One person does not an accurate reflection make.
And don’t allow for the racism to define what is and isn’t acceptable. Adam Goodes is a classic example of a lot of people joining a race-based pile on. You don’t turn around to a person and everyone watching on and say, “I think you’re a flog” when everyone is saying “stop being racist” and expect that to be acceptable.
If someone is saying to you, “you’re hurting me when you say that”, you don’t get to decide, “No I am not.” The person on the receiving end is the receiver, after all.
Bullying a person out of a job is disgraceful enough without pretending it wasn’t about race when it clearly bloody was.
Recognise there are levels of privilege
To understand Black Lives Matter, you have to understand privilege permeates our system like weeds in a garden. We run off old laws, old educational systems, old ideas- so of course there are some embedded ideals that resist change even when society tries to enact it.
You have privilege. Whether you grew up poor or you’ve had a tough life, if you are White, there are certain steeplechase hurdles you have not had to jump that a BIPOC experiences.
Accept that reality and move forward instead of pulling out a violin.
Here’s an example for you.
I know exclusion because I am a disabled woman with gay sister. But I don’t know the experience of a LGBTQIA+ person through my personal intersection. I only know the experience of a family member who sees their sister face exclusion. I can empathise but I cannot tell her story.
Having disabilities in a society built from a position of health is rough. I have faced exclusion at work, a lack of infrastructure, additional fear and vulnerability placed on my person. And sadly, emotional, intellectual, and physical violence was also a feature of my teenage years as a result of my disabilities through bullying.
Yet, I know that even my own personal experience of exclusion as a person with disabilities is not as hard as Black person with disabilities. I don’t have to face exclusion based on judgement related to my race. My disability isn’t blamed on me in the way it is blamed on a BIPOC with disabilities. I will never face not having culturally inappropriate mental health or physical health resources foisted on me the way a BIPOC may.
We experience privilege in different ways. Watch this vide on privilege.
If you are not sure where your privilege lies, read the Invisible Knapsack of privilege paper and look at the points outlined by researcher Peggy McIntosh.
I accept my privilege exists- I wrote about that here. The question remains what more can I do about it? I urge you to challenge yourself to write your own list.
Then let’s work on what we can do together.
Understand the reactions and responses
Don’t dismiss protests and riots as bad. You also may have seen the meme circulating about how BIPOC should protest. They kneel at sporting games, but that’s not acceptable. They right songs or books, but that is not appropriate. They march, but people dismiss it. They use the judicial system, but the system fails them even in clear cut cases.
How many decades of lives lost have to be peacefully protested for White Australia or White America to wake up? People get pushed to the edge and they act in ways that make you uncomfortable because that’s what they have left.
Meyne Wyatt explains it best with his speech from City of Gold. Watch it.
What can White Australians do?
There’s a lot of things that we should and could be doing. Here is merely the starting point for making sure you are educated as much as possible. I urge you to add your ideas in the comments.
- Understand the movement- Dig deep. And read this kick ass list. Work on what’s next for Black Lives Matter – and what you can contribute.
- Use your social media for good – If you have a big following, let BIPOC take over your social media accounts. Indigenous X on Twitter has been doing this since I first found them in 2012. It’s been picked up recently by other people on Instagram via Tara June Winch and @sharethemicnowaustralia #ShareTheMicNowAustralia
- Hear the pain – Know the names and stories of Mark Haines, David Dungay, Ms Dhu, Tanya Day and her Uncle Warburton Elder Mr Ward, Mulrunji Doomadgee, TJ Hickey, – and know there are over 400 more.
- Get educated – Understand and celebrate NAIDOC week. Follow places like group Indigenous Rise, the website and social of Indigenous X, writer Celeste Liddell, politician Lidia Thorpe, actor and writer Meyne Wyatt, journalist Allan Clarke, journalist Stan Grant and anywhere else Google leads you to.
- Recognise the trauma – Allan Clarke summed it up when he spoke of covering Mark Haines death and seeing more deaths unfold. And check out this LA TIMES article to understand the trauma BIPOC freelancers in community management are feeling with Black Lives Matter receiving push-back online.
- Know the problems with black deaths in custody – where so many people die needlessly and sadly, without anyone being convicted for their demise.
- Challenge the existing systems. Take the pledge to denounce fear mongering in journalism and say Hate is not News. Throw your weight behind this open letter to the Melbourne Press Club asking for change. Push for Diversity in Media. Unwhiten your Australian Feminism.
- Buy the books and authentic art and the theatre and TV. There are plenty of people you can support. Rachel Perkins, Leah Purcell, Bruce Pascoe, CB Mako, Ruby Hamad, and others are great jump off points. Or check out Creative Spirits for resources, lists and theatre companies in profile. Understand the history of Indigenous Theatre. Check out Magbala Publishing for Indigenous books for adults and kids across fiction and non-fiction.
- Listen to the amazing Indigenous music scene in this country- Find out about NIMA, Koori radio (Greater Sydney), Indigenous Hip Hop project, and hit playlists like this Spotify of Aboriginal Hip Hop and rap or lists like Wikipedia’s list of Indigenous artists. Follow and listen to proud Indigenous women’s music with Thelma Plum, Mojo JuJu, Emily Wurramara, Lady Lash, and Alice Skye. Tune into Briggs, Baker Boy, Jimblah, Tasman Keith, and watch who Briggs and Baker Boy introduce and collaborate with via their songs especially for some of the best stuff in the country. And listen to Kobie Dee’s ‘Still Standing’, an honest summary of the pain felt.
- Get educated on Indigenous Queer and Transgender culture – and its distinct differences to White approaches. Start with articles like this from Nayuka Gorrie, Dean and Kai sharing about Brother Boy culture, and this primer from Creative Spirits.
- Show some respect to Indigenous Australians– use Capital Letters for Indigenous and Aboriginal as an absolute minimum. Know the place names of your local area and the people that called it home. Find out the mythology too because the stories are not only useful for bridging the gap, they are truly magical. Tell those myths to your children. Use welcome to country on your website, podcasts, and events. Understand that you need to preface mentions or pictures of deceased people with a warning for Indigenous Australians like you would on any other sensitive content
- Show some respect to BIPOC generally – stop with the whole “where did you come from?” question. Stop assuming every person from the Middle East is a Muslim (spoiler alert, many are not). Challenge why race has to be a necessity in reporting in this country when it comes to mythical Sudanese gangs or the stereotypical ‘brown person done wrong’ narrative. Be better than that!
- Recognise and respect the ties Aboriginal people have to their land- Understand the impacts of gentrification on places with cultural significance such as Redfern or displacement in other places of Indigenous significance. Fight mining companies being able to run over land that is meant to be protected.
- Volunteer- there are places and programs you can support to make for better outcomes for BIPOC. Too numerous to mention, really. They all need a helping hand.
- Give a crap by giving financial support – Support CHANGE THE RECORD with your words and your wallets and let Australia’s first Aboriginal led justice coalition know you give a crap about legal and health issues. Give to the ALNF programs that improve literacy in Aboriginal communities and for refugees. Improve outcomes through proper financial support.
- Check out the global movement – like Black artists creating via Patreon, read the books that denounce white supremacy, begin to question why the women in business movements such as Girl Boss are so White, break open the archives and see Black voices in action in design and print, know the businesses that are giving money to the Black Lives Matter movement, and do the work to be anti-racist with this reading list.
Reduce emotional labour on your BIPOC friends
Don’t expect a cookie for being kind or woke. Stop asking your BIPOC friends to explain everything but if they do want to share their experience, listen without being defensive. Do your own research. Stop taking the devil’s advocate role- the system is already doing that; it doesn’t need a cheerleader. Don’t share content that puts protesters at risk such as photos of their face or identifying information. Rethink your cheesy business promotions related to Black Lives Matter and be a real ally instead. Check out how you can dismantle culture via these resources. Drink deeply from overseas resources while educating your children.
Ask yourself these three questions (borrowed from Ann Friedman):
- Who is accountable to me, and who am I accountable to?
- What institutions am I invested in, and how can I change them from within?
- Who am I amplifying, week in and week out?
And remember- there is NO TREATY.
Constitutional recognition is not enough. Understand that a treaty stands as a huge vehicle to support Indigenous Australia with recovery. And without it, the rest is lip-service. Baker Boy has remixed Yothu Yindi’s hit. Sing it loud and proud while you add your voice to the movement for a proper treaty. If you believe Black Lives Matter in Australia, you support the treaty movement.
Put aside your feelings
Don’t look away. TBH, at certain points in the weeks it has taken me to read and write this, I wanted to stop. I cried. It hurt to think how much I have not known or how many times I have screwed up. But this isn’t about my discomfort or yours. This is about real pain by real people that we have let continue for far too long. We have to bear witness to the pain and lend our voices to the change. We have to stand with our friends and tell them we will throw our privilege behind change in Australia.
What the Freelance jungle is doing
To support Black Lives Matter, we are making small changes we can do ourselves. We are also going to actively recruit someone to help guide us to make the very White admin team (and often White reflecting Jungle) be more inclusive.
First bunch of changes include:
- Reinstating the Welcome to Country on all podcasts
- Adding Welcome to Country to the website, Facebook group, and social media
- Adding a category or some kind of display to show pride for BIPOC and Disabled Freelancers and LGBTQIA+ friendly freelancers in our directory
- Actively seeking out further educational resources and content to share
- Strengthening our commitment to removing race-related content. E.g. challenging statements like “All Lives Matter” and the same sort of erasure culture with appropriate content from the admins
- Introducing Indigenous wake up and shutdown content
- Continuing our search for a BIPOC admin to help us to get better at this
- Being unapologetically anti-racist. By which we mean we’ll give people the opportunity to open their mind, but as a group that recognises sovereignty wasn’t ceded, inter-generational trauma exists, and racism is institutionalised, we’re not looking for to sacrifice our ability to change and grow to people who are not willing to do the same.
We welcome your suggestions as well. This doesn’t unwhiten the business culture by any measure. But we stand committed to making it happen with your help.
Are we going to fail? Sure. But we expect that to happen as we navigate entrenched racism and indifference. It’s something we’re willing to do because enough is enough. It stops with me. It stops with us as a community, too.