“I can’t breathe.”
Here, we see three words that pierced the hearts of black men and women across the globe. Here, we see three words that echoed centuries of dispossession. Here, we see three words that reflected the cries of those enslaved, whipped and segregated.
Sadly, these three words are too familiar for Indigenous Australians who have stood against the silent demon.
It was a dark winter’s day when I first heard it.
A gut-wrenching shock paralysed my body as I stood in disbelief. I glanced towards my father who re-lived the howls that haunted his childhood. A proud Djadjawurrung man, my father was taken from his parents at the age of two and institutionalised until the age of 16.
He was separated from his parents for being Aboriginal. This experience gave me an insight into his youth and for the first time — I truly understood his pain. Never before had I felt so lonely. Nobody came to my rescue.
Almost two years ago, I was abused. Not physically and yet, it left an everlasting impression on me. Almost two years ago, I was racially abused.
I heard these taunts in the classroom, I heard it in the yard and I heard it in the locker room. It felt like the first steps of reliving the childhood lived by my father, a childhood marred by abuse and vilification.
When I heard those final gasps of air from George Floyd, I heard the howls that haunted my father’s childhood. Yet still to this day, Australia is more focused on prejudice occurring in countries on the other side of the world than the silent demon on our doorstep.
This tragedy gave Australia yet another chance to look at itself in the mirror and question what it could accomplish to better the lives of us Indigenous Australians. Instead, Prime Minister Scott Morrison chose to deny the existence of Aboriginal slavery having occurred in a history marred by centuries of white supremacy.
He is the same Prime Minister who monotonously repeats, “if you have a go, you’ll get a go”. My people can’t have a go. Not when I’m more likely to end up in jail than finish high school. Not when my people represent 50 per cent of the juvenile detention population despite comprising just 3.3 per cent of the national population.
Things like this merely represent yet another missed opportunity for Australia’s Government to contribute to the equality desired by all Indigenous Australians. Unfortunately, this notion of the “missed opportunity” rings all too true for Aboriginals across the country.
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was deemed a leader for apologising to the Stolen Generations. Yet what came from that?
I was there five years later when my childhood hero was called an “ape” while playing the sport he loves. Instead of taking a stance against racism, the AFL remained silent as a soldier as Adam Goodes combatted two years of relentless booing for exposing the inherently racist flaws in Australian culture.
Every time there is a chance for White Australia to take a stance, they hit a brick wall. It often feels like we are Jon Snow, standing solitary in the wind as we look to fend off a raging Bolton army of Australians clinging onto their generational white privilege.
If there is something that George Floyd’s murder has taught us, it’s that we’re no longer alone in the fight. The solidarity shown for the Black Lives Matter movement has been pleasing; especially in Australia, where thousands of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians have taken to the streets to protest the silent demon that lingers in the air of Australia.
While it is fantastic to see “social justice warriors” express their support for George Floyd, some are the same people who oppose movements towards First Nations rights in Australia. Opposition to these movements asking so little as equality are forcing our people away from genuine change.
These movements are crucial in raising awareness for the need to reform the Constitution to include Indigenous Australians. Suppressing the voices of our minority merely accentuates the difficulty in fighting against Australia’s silent demon.
This silent demon is omnipresent, yet hides behind notions of the Australian Dream. This silent demon is impossible to see if you choose not to look for it, but when you see it once, it hits you like a ton of bricks every day.
The silent demon becomes less and less silent when we hear the cries of George Floyd or the boos of Adam Goodes. The silent demon lives inside the minds of all Indigenous Australians.
I first encountered the silent demon on that day almost two years ago and I’ve spent much time pondering how I could defeat it. Unfortunately, this demon is strong, resolute and will not take a backwards step.
For this demon to be slain, it takes a collective effort. A pact from each and every Australian to play their part in supporting our Indigenous population as we continue to wage a war against white supremacy.
Unfortunately, we as people cannot slay this demon by ourselves. The first step of slaying this demon is the government recognising my people in the Constitution as the traditional owners of the land.
Once this is achieved, we can begin a genuine conversation about slaying the silent demon of racism in Australia once and for all.
Scott Morrison, don’t let this be yet another “missed opportunity”. After all, if you fail to slay a demon once, you might never get another chance again.
Thomas Williams is an Indigenous Year 12 student at St Kevin’s College.
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