“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”
― Howard Zinn
The thing about the coronavirus is the way it’s exposing the fault lines in societies ― from our economies, job security and accessibility to technology to health equality, housing and personal safety ― it’s showing up the tension points. Think of the issues coming all at once: Indigenous rights and inequality, the role of identity in politics, intergenerational equality, the cost of climate change, national identity and sovereignty, personal security and so on.
I’d wager we’re in for many months of rolling crises as economic contraction and the ongoing pandemic puts further pressure on governments and societies. As we go through this cycle of rapid change and adaptation we can expect to see economic, personal and societal rights and equality being contested.
Who could have foreseen the events of the last 10 days? The protests and unrest in the US all week have been deeply disturbing to watch. The divisive national political tone, threats of militarism to quash the protests, the ugly face of racism and the expression of ongoing and deepening anger at inequality and race relations has been like a theatre of the grotesque, and yet also a rallying point for change and hope. They remind us that protest has a valuable role in bringing a nation’s focus to important issues like racism and inequality. But the worries of mass gatherings during a pandemic are real and not to be ignored, yet these moment have to be seized to act for change. With low virus numbers in Australia and masks, hand sanitiser and some social distancing, hopefully we won’t see a spike in cases. As for the US, we can only wait and hope there’s not a huge uptick in cases from the protests.
This week’s post is a collection of books and articles examining race and racism, injustice, the fight for equality and how to be an ally in the movement. Some of the ideas may bring up uncomfortable feelings in us and prompt a resistance to examining ourselves and even a rejection of challenging ideas like white privilege or white fragility. But if this moment is to be one of change, to be that inflection point which shifts things for the better, then perhaps we need to live with uncomfortable feelings. Hopefully some of these ideas may challenge us to consider things differently and commit to being part of progress, however we can do it.
Books on race and racism
The Broad came across Layla F. Saad on Instagram in a post by Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote the hugely popular book Eat, Pray, Love about her quest to find a deeper sense of self. Gilbert has continued her self-discovery journey and takes approaches her life by seeking everyday meaning and connection. She introduced followers to Saad and her book Me and White Supremacy that was born out of a month-long Instagram challenge for people to share their racist actions, big and small. It became a cultural movement and this book encourages white people to examine their privilege and encourage other white people to help be part of the movement to tackle racism. In response to the events of this week, Layla Saad complied an anti-racist reading list for The Guardian where you can find more suggestions if you want to take this idea further.
Along similar lines, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, was a hit in the US when it was published in 2018 and in it, the sociologist and diversity trainer, examined why white people find it difficult to talk about racism. DiAngelo wanted to show a way for white people to have more honest conversations about the unintentional racism and being open about white privilege, particularly for liberals and progressives, who generally understand the issues but may still need to make their own changes.
Admittedly these books do have an American centrism, although racism exists everywhere. To provide another perspective, the Broad has gathered several books published out of Australia.
The Australian context
In Talking To My Country, journalist Stan Grant provides his thoughts on what it means to be Australian, what it means to be Indigenous, and what racism really means in Australia. The Hate Race is Maxine Beneba Clarke’s account of growing up black in white middle-class Australia that is by turns amusing and deeply disturbing. White Tears, Brown Scars is Ruby Hamad’s examination of what it means for women of colour when white women respond to accusations of racism or oppression by playing the victim. Her challenge to Western feminism is to acknowledge racial and colonial oppression.
What Pay The Rent means
To finish, here are some links to articles worth your attention as we come to terms with what’s happening in the US and now in the Australia on combating racism, equality Aboriginal deaths in custody and Indigenous equality. And a reminder about Pay The Rent, which is a charity that recognises we live on Indigenous land that was never ceded and raises funds toward helping redress the ongoing harm from dispossession. Iconic band Midnight Oil’s song Beds are Burning references Pay the Rent and land rights if you want to a way in to this idea.
Music connects us
The ABC’s youth radio station Triple J has compiled this list of practical ways to help support Aboriginal people and Indigenous businesses. Along the same lines, SBS will also set you straight about how to be a good Indigenous ally.
Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
The ongoing tragedy of Aboriginal deaths in custody has come back into focus this week through the death of George Floyd in the US and the national protests. The Guardian has tracked every death in custody since 1991 and separately asked why Australia still turns a blind eye to it.
Developing awareness in kids
How do we help children understand the events of the world? We need to find age appropriate books and have sensitive conversations with them to start to explain some of the these issues to them. NPR and The Insider have some thoughts on how to handle it. And Commonsense Media has gathered books on racism and social justice to help have these conversations.
Telling Herstory in History
Decoding the US protests
Yassmin Abdel-Magied writing in Time magazine says these protests are like an awakening for many non-black people in the US and beyond. In his article A Boot Is Crushing The Neck of American Democracy, philosopher, civil rights activist and public intellectual, Cornel West argues capitalism and democracy need reform. Meanwhile, Alex S Vitale, author of The End of Policing, who has studied the function of policing argues policing needs to reduce its remit and stop criminalising problems of poverty and inequality and instead tackle these underlying issues.
By a Black Ally
There are also plenty of sites publishing resources and guides to help promote understanding and education on race, racism, social justice and black lives. The Webbys, which gives out internet awards, has links to websites that help in the fight against injustice and race inequality. Mirian Francois, journalist, researcher and founder of the We Need To Talk About Whiteness website and podcast, discusses how white people can support Black Lives Matter. It’s insightful and helpful.
The Australian Black Lives Matter group has resources for allies who want to understand more about combating racism and offering meaningful support and practical help. It’s quite detailed but plenty of ways to help and consider the different between ‘performing’ support and acting for real change.
Working With Indigenous Australians has an excellent list of resources for understanding Aboriginal history, rights, injustice, literature and famous speeches like Paul Keating’s Redfern speech on Aboriginal history and injustice and Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation. It also includes links to resources on Henry Reynolds’ important book Why Weren’t We Told about the lack of account about Aboriginal history in Australia.