Invasion Day race-baiting does nothing to help Indigenous Disadvantage

by on 26 January, 2016


It seems that with every passing year, it becomes more and more fashionable to lament Australia Day rather than celebrate it. Indeed, a day founded on the idea of national unity is increasingly being used by race baiters as a platform to preach collective guilt and perseverate over historical grievance.

Few, if any Australians would dispute the historical injustices perpetrated against Australia’s indigenous population. So why should we have a problem with the growing minority that choose to infuse Australia Day with at atmosphere of division and bitterness?

It’s easy to condemn wrongs committed by generations several hundred years in the past based on the virtue and enlightenment of today. This is especially easy when all you’re doing attributing moral blame to people that died hundreds of years ago as opposed to seeking any specific reparations for Indigenous people.

However, what is far more difficult – yet infinitely more consequential – is to talk constructively about what can be done to rectify the disadvantage faced by Indigenous people living in Australia today.

Put differently, how many people do you know who have take to social media on January 26th to hang their head in public shame over living in such a despicably racist country care about Indigenous disadvantage the other 364 days of the year?

It’s worth checking out your local ‘Invasion Day’ event and glancing through the list of attendees. We can’t over generalise; many at these events are Indigenous people and leaders who still feel a keen sense of injustice over the events of the past. But how many are part of the same museli-chewing rent-a-crowd that show up to any opportunity to yell obscenities in public?

Clearly there is a lot of self-satisfaction to be derived from sharing Facebook images shaming your friends who intend to spend the day drinking around the pool rather than wallowing in their own self-hate. But rarely do people talk frankly about what these yearly exercises in national self-loathing are likely to achieve.

Above all, recasting Australia Day as ‘invasion day’ promotes the idea that spending a day celebrating what it is to be Australian is inherently hostile Indigenous people. Quite apart from raising awareness about Indigenous disadvantage, this actually politicises the issue. It signals that to be patriotic is to be unfeeling, even defiant of the wrongs committed against Australia’s first people.

Is this kind of thing likely to create political momentum that sees governments doing more to alleviate Indigenous disadvantage? It might, if the invasion day rent-a-crowd actually named any manner of tangible policy objective save for decolonising the entire continent. But let’s not pretend heaping scorn on Australia’s settlers does anything at all to address Indigenous life expectancy, unemployment or educational achievement. In fact, the Indigenous people afflicted most by these problems won’t be seen anywhere near a protest rally on Australia day. They’ll be out in remote communities, hundreds of kilometres away from the hessian sack-wearing beatniks you’re likely to see shrieking into a megaphone on the 6 o’clock news.

Truth be told, if you’re goal is to divide Australia into victims and oppressors, this is probably a fairly effective way to go about it.

We can navel gaze all we like about how much moral blameworthiness to apportion to the forbears of the Australian colonies for the death and disruption inflicted upon traditional Indigenous life in 1788. But for the motley crew of poseurs whose sole contribution to the plight Indigenous disadvantage is just that, it’s time to stop pretending you’re engaging in some noble act of civil disobedience.

Unless you genuinely want to Indigenous Australia to secede and form it’s own nation – in other words, instate a 21st century Australian apartheid – you aren’t helping reconciliation by choosing January 26th to pontificate about the original sin of Australia’s colonisation; you’re actually hindering it.

It would be unfair to say that this is the intention of Indigenous leaders who make no secret about their mixed emotions towards Australia Day. Still, what kind of tone does it set when someone like respected Indigenous journalist Stan Grant claims racism sits at the heart of the Australian dream? In the now well-known speech, Grant goes on to list some of the injustices faced by today’s Indigenous Australians, among which he mentions the booing of Adam Goodes and Indigenous life expectancy in virtually the same breathe.


Can we really put both these things down to the racism purportedly ingrained in Australia’s national character? On one hand, we have one of the most celebrated AFL players of a generation being booed by opposition fans for on-field bravado. On the other, we have a complex public health issue which all sides of politics have spent decades and billions of dollars trying to fix. If there was some known magic bullet (or dollar figure) that would bring Indigenous health into line with national averages, you’d be hard pressed to find a politician not willing to put their name behind it.

So what good do we achieve turning it into a self-loathing meditation about how innately racist we are?

Are there parts of our history that are challenging and regrettable? Absolutely. Yet if you look across the globe, it’s striking to note how few countries and civilizations haven’t been blighted by conquest at some point in history. Even Great Britain, the greatest colonial power the world has ever seen, endured a period of bloody occupation by the Romans early in its history.

Most countries take at least one day a year to celebrate their nationhood, often with far more fuss and officialdom and than we do to mark ours. Yet far fewer seem to feel a growing need to spend that day sulking in cultural self-flagellation.

Those who pretend that celebrating Australia Day counts is tantamount to re-committing the sins of our forbears like to think they are doing Indigenous Australia a service. But if in the future Australia Day does become a day mired by division, the race-baiters will only have themselves to thank.

John Slater is studying a Bachelor of Law/Arts at the University of Queensland

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