National Sorry Day – are we truly sorry?
Since 1998, this is the day of the year set aside for all Australians to collectively express our regret over the historical treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This date was chosen in commemoration of the Bringing Them Home Report being handed to the Federal Government on 26th May 1997.
I was recently browsing through YouTube to listen to some music video clips of some of my favourite singers. One of these singers happened to be a Torres Strait Islander woman – a quite famous, widely acclaimed artist whose music, I think, is pretty cool.
I then did something which I don’t often do – I read some of the comments made by people who elected to review her music. For some reason, I tend to not be all that interested in what other people think about an artist’s music. I’m usually happy enough to just appreciate it for myself rather than be concerned about other people’s tastes or preferences – if I like it, I’m not really all that concerned about whether anyone else likes it or not. On this day though, when I read the comments a number of people had made about this particular artist’s music, I became incredibly concerned about what other people were thinking and about what they liked or didn’t liked.
The following are extracts of some of the comments I read –
(Comment) “She’s my cuz! So proud of her!”
(Comment in response) “Yeah OK, whatever, every Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander thinks she is their cousin, sister, aunt or mother. Unless you’re blood-related, there is NOTHING!”
(Comment) “Go to school mate… Aboriginals are primitive…”
(Comment in response) “You are scum mate. I’m Aboriginal and proud of it. I’m a scholar, I have a diploma in Community Services and a Bachelor of Arts and now studying my Masters. I feed off your hate. It makes me stronger and more willing to be the best I can be…”
(Comment) “What race is she? Reasonable to assume that she is a coon but she doesn’t really look like that.”
(Comment – referring to the artist) “Fuck off whore.”
I often hear non-Indigenous Australians stating a case that we should cease being “sorry” for the injustices meted out to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples decades ago, that it’s time to move on and we should stop being held responsible for the “sins of our forefathers”, that this belongs to the past and not the present, we have no reason to continue being “sorry”.
I am a white man – a non-Indigenous Australian. As a white man and a non-Indigenous Australian, I read those comments on YouTube and I was filled with shame and sorrow.
I’m not sorry only about what has happened in the past – I continue to be sorry for what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to endure today, as evidenced by the vile, racist and ignorant comments that some Australians apparently have no qualms about entering into a public comment thread such as that provided by You Tube!
After sharing the comments I read with Fiona McColl from PeakCare, Fiona reminisced about a favourite saying her mother often proclaimed – being truly sorry means promising to not do it again.
On this National Sorry Day, can we, as Australians yet claim that we are truly sorry – bearing in mind the definition of being sorry recommended by Fiona’s mother? Can we say, as a nation claim that we are truly sorry when it is possible to still read the racist diatribes of fellow Australians on YouTube and not speak out against that?
At PeakCare Queensland, we often receive positive verbal and email feedback and comments made by people who read our blog posts, but for some reason, these people seem reluctant to enter their comments into the blog.
To all of you who read this post, here is a challenge for you.
I am a white man – a non-Indigenous Australian – and on Sorry Day 2011, I am inviting you to join me in saying to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that we are sorry. We are sorry for the injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in the past and we continue to be sorry for the injustices you continue to experience today.
Make use of this blog post to enter your thoughts about this matter – add your voice to my expression of sincere sorrow.
Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director – Peak Care