I attended the Black Lives Matter protest last weekend.
I stood and listened for over two hours to Black and Aboriginal people speaking on issues directly affecting their lives. Black deaths in custody, racism, stigma, police brutality, destruction of cultural and sacred sites – these issues spoken directly about at Langley Park, an old corroboree ground cleared and developed by the state.
I am a Māori woman, but I’m also Pākehā – white, a whitefulla to some. I am white-passing, and I get treated that way at face value. I will never have the lived experience of a black or brown person, and I benefit from my white privilege. I have not experienced being treated differently, negatively, because of the colour of my skin, but I’m sure many reading this have.
How we got here
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has existed since its inception in America in 2013, after the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the man who killed him.
Since then (and indeed, even before Trayvon’s death), there has been a long list of Black people dying in dubious circumstances in the United States. Each death adding fuel to the fire of a country set alight not by riots, but by racism. A country gripped by a president who has not even addressed the concerns of protestors.
And now, the latest uproar, a result of the death of George Floyd due to police brutality.
Australia, too, is shining a spotlight on itself. As a country built on the labour of Aboriginal people (and even those from Pacific Island nations), we should take this opportunity to reflect on racism in Australia, and demand action and justice.
So, Australia is not without its shameful past, though some think it so, including the recent comments from our own Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Making a stand - in the rain
Protests have been happening across the country, with tens of thousands turning out in support of the movement.
June 13th hosted the second Black Lives Matter protest in Perth following George Floyd’s death. Though there was a focus on ending police brutality, many other issues were addressed, including the recent blasting of a Juukan Gorge sacred site.
Of course, Aboriginal elders and activists were also calling for the removal of statues honouring James Stirling and John Septimus Roe, as well as the renaming of highways in Perth named after them.
We heard fiery speeches from speakers on stage through intermittent sunshine and downpour. I felt sorry for a young girl I spotted with only a singlet and shirt on, who seemed to be attending alone. I wish I saw her in time for us to share our umbrella, social distancing rules be damned (and yes, everyone I saw was safely distanced, most with masks).
As names of Aboriginal deaths poured out of the stage speakers into Langley Park, I felt utterly unsettled and cried. As I heard the recital of Strange Fruit by Abel Meeropol (made famous by Billie Holliday), I wept.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Chilling, considering at least five black and brown people have recently been found deceased and hanging from trees in the U.S. in the past three weeks.
There have been unjust deaths in Australia. There are so many names, but there shouldn’t be. Too many names of people to list off, and I don’t want to spout off names like a grocery list. They mean the world to someone.
I’ll never know what it feels like to be in the firing line of a system built to oppress. But I’m sure people in my family do, people I call my friends. So what can I do? After feeling utterly emotionally fatigued by constant updates on social media, bombarded with videos and images of police brutality and violence, I know there’s still work to be done.
The best we can do is to amplify the voices of Aboriginal people, Black and Brown people here. We can do our best to listen, learn, and speak up when we see racist behaviour.
Boorloo Justice is the grassroots organisation responsible for spearheading the BLM movement in Perth. I encourage everyone to keep an eye on their social media for updates.
You can donate to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services fundraiser to help stop Black deaths in custody in Australia.
To update yourself on the details of Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia, The Guardian has the database resource Deaths inside: Indigenous deaths in custody 2020 examining the causes and issues involved in each case, as well as updates.
As for ProudRoots, we stand for the rights of Indigenous peoples the world over and are a small team trying to make a difference here in Perth (or Boorloo), paddling upstream against forces of entrenched colonialism and capitalism for our peoples.