Among other things, the killing of George Floyd in the USA has raised big issues about racism, in Australia as well as the USA, and elsewhere. Here are just three reflections by Aboriginal Christian leaders which raise the profound challenges to those of us who are white and continue to benefit from the systemic violence of our society. At the end of this Reconciliation Week they are particularly important to hear, and act upon...
Sober Reflections during National Reconciliation Week
The first reflection is from Garry Worete Deverell, a Trawloolway Pairrebeenener man from Trouwerna (Tasmania), who, after 20 years of ministry with the Uniting Church in Australia, now works as the vicar of St Agnes' parish in Black Rock and as the Vice-Chancellor's Fellow in Indigenous Theologies at the University of Divinity in Melbourne - read here
Gary's words are, to my mind, more than fair:
I have to say that, to this Aboriginal Christian leader, National Reconciliation Week appears to be struggling as a tool to extract a more just settlement for our people. It is struggling, I think, for two reasons. First, instead of encouraging the colonial establishment to address issues of justice for First Peoples persistently and all-year-round, NRW has become a way in which organisations may signal their virtue in this area for one week per year, largely for PR reasons, but effectively ignore our concerns at every other time. Second, it has become increasingly clear that it is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves who are expected to do most of the work of Reconciliation Week, just as we are expected to do most of the work of reconciliation itself. Which means, simultaneously, that our prophets grow weary and sad at the lack of progress on justice for our people whilst our colonial gubbas congratulate themselves for their virtuous attention to the politically correct, all the while refusing to lift a finger to actually change anything. Which leads us to ask, with the Psalmist, ‘what I did not steal must I now restore?’ Must we who did nothing to create Indigenous suffering now be the ones who must do all the work of healing and restoration? Why cannot those who have benefited from the dispossession of our people take responsibility for putting things right?
These, I believe, are uncomfortable words but vital to hear, full of truth about the limited progress of churches in responding to the crying injustice of Australia’s history and present. Sadly such slow burning embers reflect the wider retreat in so much of Australian society - for it is not as if, on this issue, churches are being put to shame by many other secular bodies. That our federal Indigenous Minister admits - in this very National Reconciliation Week - that constitutional recognition has yet again been kicked into a future Parliament is but one devastating indictment, alongside Rio Tinto’s sacrilege and other continuing dispossessions and neglect. Personally I remain committed to doing what I can - including locally through our diocesan Reconciliation Action Plan (as just one small, imperfect, tool to offer some practical hope and education) - but I share the view of many that Reconciliation is all too often ‘white-washing’. We need much much greater depth and action on the really big things. Folks like Gary and need hearing in this. Institutional racism runs deep and is typically unrecognised or given token response (paralleled in some dynamics with institutionalised homo/bi/transphobia). I don’t see it disappearing anytime soon and we badly need a breathing of the Spirit in fresh creative imagination and action.
Homeland Calling - Let the Revolution Begin
A second vital Anglican Aboriginal Christian contribution at this time, at the beginning of the Pentecost season, comes from Fr Glenn Loughrey, reflecting on recent rap-style poetry by young Aboriginal Australians - emphasising the priority of education for empowerment, not dependence on others, as core to moving forward with struggles. As he writes - see the full text here:
‘Just as Pentecost sparked a revolution, setting the Spirit of transformation free into the world, this little book and the poems in it have sparked a transforming revolution in the lives of those who wrote them.
And because of that, there is hope for equity and justice in this country. Not yet. It is to come, but come it will and it won’t be comfortable for those for whom reconciliation is about superficial relationships and appearances. It won’t be comfortable for those who have RAP plans with no sacrifice, real sacrifice attached. It will not be comfortable for all those who have said sorry but continue to live on and off stolen property....
“until you open your heart
no, you can’t take control
unless you start
strength in my roots
hope in the wind
strength in my soul
in the spirit within”’
My Favourite Colour? Invisible.
A third reflection is also from Glenn Loughrey, in video form here.
For as here puts it clearly:
While there is much focus on racial violence in America and Black Deaths in Custody, it is important to remember that these are simply the outworking white blindness, the failure to see and the failure to see that you do not see.
This is the issue we need to resolve in this country.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.