Time spent deal­ing with white fragility could be spent tack­ling racism

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Scott Trindall for Indige­nousX

Yaama, I be­long to the Gomeroi peo­ple. My dad’s fam­ily are Trindalls from Narrabri, my mum’s mother was born at Bo­rah Cross­ing, sort of near Tam­worth. Mum tells me that Nan could al­ways pick the tree out that she was born un­der. I love this yarn – some­thing about my roots to this coun­try be­ing as­so­ci­ated with the lit­eral roots of Nan’s birthing tree grounds me. I’m from here, be­cause Nan was from here, and her nan was from here, and all the nans all the way back were from here.

Nan’s gone now. I wish I had spo­ken to her more about life and how she al­ways man­aged to han­dle racism with stoic grace; “but­ter wouldn’t melt in her mouth”, they’d say about her. I thought that meant she was sweet, but later I learned she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, speak her truth in nam­ing racism.

For me, it’s the to­tal op­po­site when deal­ing with racism. I’m get­ting bet­ter, more tact­ful, but I do get tired of not be­ing able to iden­tify racism with­out hav­ing to first cen­tre the feel­ings of peo­ple com­plicit in de­ploy­ing or main­tain­ing racially prej­u­dice prac­tices. I’m from the old­est con­tin­u­ing cul­ture on Earth, but noth­ing makes me feel as old or as tired as com­ing up against white fragility when dis­cussing racism.

White fragility can de­scribe the col­lec­tive emo­tions of angst, de­nial, fear and out­rage that are present when those from the dom­i­nant cul­ture en­gage with crit­i­cal race aware­ness. At a hu­man level, I can em­pathise with this – hon­est re­flex­ive cri­tique can be con­fronting, es­pe­cially when you iden­tify traits in your­self that you’re morally against. What I can’t stand though is when white fragility dis­tracts or dis­man­tles con­ver­sa­tions that aim to ad­dress racism and di­min­ish its im­pact on Murri peo­ples.

Whereas racism is an in­sti­tu­tional is­sue, white fragility presents as an in­di­vid­ual one.

White peo­ple shift into a state of white fragility when Mur­ris call out racist sys­tems be­cause sub­con­sciously they know Aus­tralian so­ci­ety is for them, not us. The jin­go­ism of the Aussie “fair go” doesn’t al­low for the no­tion that not ev­ery­one gets one. White peo­ple can take this as an in­di­vid­ual at­tack.

As with all man­i­fes­ta­tions of racism, it is a sub­stan­tial bar­rier for Mur­ris to over­come on the path to equal­ity on our own lands.

In in­sti­tu­tions, they have the power to cen­tre their hurt feel­ings as an in­di­vid­ual, rather than re­flect on and dis­man­tle un­fair struc­tures we’re try­ing to name. Deal­ing with white fragility can take up all the oxy­gen when Mur­ris are try­ing to burn down racist sys­tems, leav­ing no fuel left to tackle the dis­ad­van­tage those sys­tems place on us. Time spent deal­ing with white fragility could be bet­ter spent re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers for peo­ple be­ing dis­ad­van­taged by racism.

We don’t have to look too far in Aus­tralia for ex­am­ples of white fragility shut­ting down what could be oth­er­wise con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tions about race:

When Adam Goodes named racism dur­ing an ALF match, he was hounded by crowds for the rest of his play­ing ca­reer that were out­raged he would do that. Com­men­ta­tors fo­cused on the age and gen­der of the of­fender, rather than how toxic an en­vi­ron­ment must be that such hate can be ex­pressed freely against an Abo­rig­i­nal man.

The in­dig­na­tion ex­pressed by the 2GB au­di­ence when Alan Jones was found to have used racially of­fen­sive lan­guage on air was cou­pled with a fear that po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness was threat­en­ing their free­dom of speech. An op­por­tu­nity to crit­i­cally re­flect on the power of racist lan­guage flew right over the heads.

Pe­ter Dut­ton an­grily dou­bled down on his claim peo­ple in Mel­bourne were too anx­ious to go out for din­ner af­ter ma­jor me­dia out­lets ran the story and were al­most im­me­di­ately re­futed by so­cial me­dia. Those peo­ple weren’t racist, his claim im­plied, they were just scared for their safety. Dut­ton could use the power of his of­fice to cre­ate equal­ity but in­stead he drives a cam­paign that tar­gets peo­ple of colour.

Hy­po­thet­i­cally, it could be the time that you asked how a white col­league was go­ing to work ef­fec­tively on a tar­geted Abo­rig­i­nal pro­gram that re­quired a high-level of ex­per­tise in work­ing with Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, but then you had to have a whole two meet­ings and send four emails be­cause you called some­one white and the is­sue at hand re­mained un­re­solved.

Tony Ab­bot’s frag­ile life view on the vi­o­lent coloni­sa­tion of Aus­tralia was so trig­gered re­cently about do­ing acknowledgements of coun­try he said we should con­sider spend­ing more time in prayer in­stead. He could have said just a silent prayer about it and got on with his life.

For colo­nial set­tlers look­ing for ways through white fragility on Murri lands, I’m not sure what the an­swers are. We don’t have the ev­i­dence-based strate­gies for deal­ing with it be­cause the con­ver­sa­tions keep get­ting sti­fled by white fragility. But I do know that you have to do the heavy lift­ing here. You could start @nonIndige­nousX to drive that con­ver­sa­tion and stop tak­ing up our space with it. I’d def­i­nitely give you a fol­low and help where I can, be­cause I need you to get through this. There are more im­por­tant dis­cus­sions to be had.

• Guardian Aus­tralia is proud to part­ner with Indige­nousX to show­case the di­ver­sity of Indige­nous peo­ples and opin­ions from around the coun­try.

Pho­to­graph: Scott Trindall

‘I do get tired of not be­ing able to iden­tify racism with­out hav­ing to first cen­tre the feel­ings of peo­ple com­plicit in de­ploy­ing or main­tain­ingracially prej­u­dice prac­tices’

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