Dear Settlers: paying the rent and your respect this January 26 and beyond

A letter detailing what you should know and do this January 26 and beyond. (Image source: Tabitha Lean)

By Tabitha Lean | @haveachattabs

Dear Settler,

My name is Tabitha, or as my ancestors know me, Budhin Mingaan. I am a Gunditjmara woman born and raised on Kaurna yerta. I’m writing to you about January 26 — the day you call Australia Day — because friends don’t let friends celebrate genocide. 

I wanted you to know that while you are all chomping down your BBQ sausages and rissoles, listening to Triple J with the colonial flag draped across your shoulders, stubby in hand, calling out “cheers” to your mate with the Southern Cross tattoo…. you’ll likely forget that your feet stand on stolen country.

Your Aussie flag themed thongs bought at Cheap as Chips stand on the Earth that contains the blood of my ancestors slayed on their own land the day Cook dragged his sorry, white ass onto our shores. 

I go into this particular January 26 with a new boyfriend. A great guy who I’m madly in love with, in fact we just moved into a new house together, combining our families, Brady Bunch style. He’s Welsh, so quite white. He is a direct beneficiary of colonisation and his capacity to migrate to this country is only made possible due to the continued dispossession of Traditional Owners from their lands.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say this to guilt him, I’m totally jazzed he’s here, but through this relationship I’m learning so much about white privilege: things I couldn’t know if I wasn’t with him. Things I don’t see or experience despite my fair skin.

For example, the other week we sat on the beach in banana lounges alongside a bunch of white people watching them swill from beer bottles and sip Chardonnay. I was shocked. I was shocked because if I had been there with my brothers, sisters and kin doing the very same thing we would have been moved on and likely arrested.

I watch him say “no” to receipts at the shopping centre checkout and stroll out of shops unconcerned about being seen as a potential thief. I never see him spending ten full minutes rifling through each shopping bag to find every single receipt to prove he paid as he exits the store. 

So, while I’m learning a lot about his privileges, he’s learning what it’s like for mob in this so called, “lucky” country. He’s learning that I freeze when the cops walk in to any space we share. He’s learning how hard it is to get a rental property when you’re on ABSTUDY.

He’s learning that my kids get pulled over by the cops and are grateful if they don’t get bashed. He’s learning that the land he owns actually belonged to my children’s people.

He’s learning that our people are proud and strong and staunch. That we have been here since the very first sunrise. That our culture is relevant, dynamic and still living and breathing today.

And he’s learning that what he once thought was a lucky country, a land of boundless opportunities for all, only really provides them to some. He’s learning that his new love, is one of those who is denied them.

He’s coming to understand that nothing in his life has been untouched by his whiteness. Everything he has would have been harder to come by if he had not been born white. He’s learning that when his friends invite us to an “Australia Day” BBQ, we politely decline, because we don’t celebrate the slaughtering of human beings.

So, as you can imagine, this is a very steep learning curve for both of us. But mostly, and almost every single day among all these revelations, I’m left here wondering in the wee midnight hours: Settlers, what do you do with all the masses of privilege you have?  

What do you do to pay the rent for occupying this great country? Because I don’t see a lot of you doing that much with the bloody good fortune you have. So, in the spirit of friendship and so called, “reconciliation” here’s a list of ways you can pay the rent. That way you can never say you weren’t told by that one Black friend you love to trot out just as you’re about to be racist.

1. Buy Blak

Buy from Blak owned businesses all year round and buy extra on the special days…retail therapy is great for assuaging colonial guilt. Check out Trading Blak for some deadly businesses.

2. Challenge your racist uncle at your next family BBQ

You can interrupt racism with some classic one liners such as: “that’s not okay with me”, “I didn’t realise you think that”, “that’s not funny”, “what you just said is harmful”, “help me understand your thinking”, or just plain old “fuck off uncle Frank” works well too.

3. Listen Blak, here’s a few podcasts to wet your whistle:

4. Read Blak, here’s some personal recommendations:

  • Where the fruit falls by Karen Wyld
  • Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkapoorta
  • Fire Front: First Nations poetry and power today edited by Alison Whittaker
  • Day Break by Amy McQuire
  • Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
  • Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

5. Watch Blak, so much talent amongst mob, but here’s a few films to get you started:

  • Top End Wedding
  • Samson and Delilah
  • Rabbit Proof Fence
  • The Australian Dream
  • In my blood it runs
  • The Australian Dream

6. Put your money where your mouth is. Support Blak campaigns. There’s loads, we are out here doing heaps for our people. Here’s some I’d love you to get behind:

7. Clean out your wardrobe and send your clean, good quality clothing to Remote Op Shop Program.

8. Get educated: Read Indigenous X and, if you can, become a Patreon

9. Learn your rights as a bystander — if you see mob being harassed by the police, observers can use the cop watch video recorder to record interactions safely.

10. Find out whose country you are on. Show respect to the Traditional Owners and walk that country with respect and soft feet.

Most of all show up, stand up, speak up and be consistent. These half measures are killing us. I mean really killing us.

Don’t wait until a brother gets killed in another country for you to take to the streets and say that Black Lives Matter. Care that First Nations people here are having their last breaths extinguished at the hands of the state. 

Start caring for our country, and demand that mining, fracking, pillaging and wilful destruction of this great land ceases. Stand with us to abolish the police and prisons because you know that these carceral systems impose death sentences on my mob.

Get familiar with your own privilege, and weaponise the fuck out of it…for good, not against us. Share your platforms. Get educated and get angry. This rage is not just mine to hold; you’ve got to do the heavy lifting sometimes. After all, your people are not my people.

So, my friends, we go into another year and the downward slope to January 26 is among us. This is a tough time of year for mob, check in on your Blak friends, we are not ok. We are not ok because we suffer an ocular assault every time we walk into shops at this time of year.

We are not ok because the genocide of our people has not stopped in the 232 years you have been here. We are not ok because we live in a colony designed to erase, brutalise and kill.

We are not ok because we are fighting to survive and to simply breathe alongside you. And we are not ok because we are watching our old people live, fight and die before any true justice is realised.

Remember, this always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Show some respect, abolish the date and pay the damned rent!

Kind regards,

Budhin Mingaan

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