Reconciliation Week: Insanity or Hope?

Reconciliation Week: Insanity or Hope?

National Reconciliation Week is celebrated across Australia between May 27 and June 3 each year. OTR Contributor Tabitha Lean discusses why this year, she’s had enough. (Image source: Tabitha Lean)

By Tabitha Lean | @haveachattabs

I am boycotting Reconciliation Week. It’s a joke, and I just don’t find it funny.

In the United States, they call it Groundhog Day.

White Australia calls it, “same shit, different day”.

Blak fullas simply call it Reconciliation Week.

Reconciliation Week comes around annually in May, and we can safely say it’s the same shit, every single year.

Every single year we bear witness to a series of tedious events, morning teas, flag raising ceremonies and little cupcakes with Nunga flags on them; however, each year so called ‘reconciliation’ between Mob and white fullas is more and more elusive. Wasn’t it Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

So, it got me thinking: am I insane? Am I insane to keep accepting invitations to join reconciliation planning committees, and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) groups? Or am I just ever hopeful?

Maybe I have faith in my fellow humans and think that this year, 2021, might just be the year white fullas get it right? After all, the theme of this year is, “More than a word”.

I mean, we couldn’t be clearer, could we? We are literally saying that reconciliation takes real and sustained action. That it is more than just a word. More than just a blip on the Blak calendar. More than you’ve ever done before.

But no, this year Reconciliation Week will trundle out the same as it did every other year. I know this because I can already see it in its planning.

The University of South Australia has convened a Reconciliation Week Committee filled with well-meaning white people and a smattering of Blak fullas: just enough to ensure representation, but not enough that we could band together and overthrow the committee.

The first meeting I attended with that group was the day a seventh person in custody was killed since March – the very same day. Add to that, my good friend Latoya and their family were in the Coroner’s Court seeking answers, truth and justice for the slaying of their brother and son.

Oblivious to the mourning in our community, the committee waxed lyrical about damper and tea (apparently that’s a historical practice of ours – could have fooled this little Blak duck who likes a bit of wattle seed damper on the regular), morning teas and sharing ‘bush foods’ (hey, isn’t it just our food, as in our tucker, that we also enjoy frequently?) and I felt ill.

I felt ill because my people are dying and these fullas want to talk about cute activities that will not change the face of race relations in this country, nor will they enhance Aboriginal student experience.

Add to that, only last year, the Aboriginal Student Club that I was convener of had called on the university to take action and move beyond symbolic gestures, like morning teas and superficial activities, and progress initiatives that could see actual change in the lives of Aboriginal students. 

We proposed increased scholarships (pay the damned rent already), moving one of the regional Aboriginal study centres to a safe space for Blak students (currently, it sits right next to Community Corrections – did someone say surveillance?), and called on the university to cease charging Aboriginal students a fee to learn Aboriginal languages (we view it as a gross act of colonial violence to charge our mob to learn a language that was stolen from us). 

Did any of our suggestions make the cut? No.

Then I think about my son’s school: a school which purports to support Aboriginal students. After all, they give some of our kids scholarships.

Recently, I met with the school about my kid’s hair. He had been given a Friday detention because they deemed his hair too long. Now, I’ll be clear: he doesn’t have a short back and sides, which is apparently the ‘gentlemanly way’, but it’s ear length and always neat.

I wanted to meet with the school to discuss the language used in their email to him, to challenge them to think a little differently about hairstyles, and perhaps get them to see the good my son does and the awesome kid that he is.

I wanted them to praise the fact that he has completed one and a half TAFE certificates while doing a full academic load at school, and that he does all of this with significant chronic diseases, not to mention a father in prison and a mother on parole.

I wanted them to care more about him than his hair cut.

Well, they were brutal. They were rude. They were condescending, both to myself and my son. At one point, a senior staff member spent five painstaking minutes trying to tell my 16-year-old kid that he could determine for himself (in other words, don’t listen to your mum) that the staff at the school were good people.

Those staff members should know that Blak kids learn from a very young age how to quietly assess white fullas, how to stand back and let them show their colours. He did not need a lesson from them on this.  He already knew their intentions and his silence was not complicity, nor was it fear; he was silent because he knew that he would be wasting his breath on a bully. And he knew this because, like every other Blak kid in this country, he has navigated race and racism every single day of his existence.

To add insult to injury, after enduring a full hour of their toxic masculinity, they turned to my son and asked his advice on Reconciliation Week at the school.

I scoffed – fuck that! This was their opportunity to reconcile with one of their Blak families, and they failed.

We do not need guest speakers, flag raising ceremonies and chapel services. We do not need you pulling in our Elders to perform for you. We do not need you to co-opt our healing ceremonies for white students whose parents own land that has been stolen from our people.

You take our kids into your schools, expect us to be quiet and grateful scholarship recipients while you set about assimilating our kids. And when we say something, when we speak up or speak back, you remind us that we don’t have to go to that school.

That’s what this is really about. It’s about compliance, because all of your rules and regulations are grounded in whiteness. You want to do the bare minimum during Reconciliation Week to assuage your settler guilt, and the remaining 358 days you’ll assimilate our kids, only letting them come out of the opaque cocoon once a year to perform for you.

It’s not good enough.

So, I am boycotting Reconciliation Week. It’s a joke, and I just don’t find it funny. Besides, I’m not insane so I have to stop hoping and betting on the impossible: the odds are just not good enough.

PS: I like cupcakes, so maybe keep them coming all year round – just be better with everything else.

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