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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Stepping Away from Being a Target of Racism: Escaping the Heavy Toll, I’ve Paid

A Glimpse of My Childhood: A Dark Face in a White Australia

Captured in a school photo from the 1970s, I stand out as the only dark-skinned child in a predominantly white class. The image reflects my unease, devoid of a smile, with tightly clasped hands. My mismatched uniform, lacking a tie, and the stain on my second-hand jumper further accentuate my sense of not belonging.

That frightened seven-year-old boy remains an intrinsic part of who I am today. Recent events have transported me back to that time, resurfacing emotions I thought I had left behind.

Since the coronation of the King, I have endured relentless media scrutiny, racism, and the distortion of my words. False narratives have portrayed me as a vessel of hatred and accused me of besmirching Australia’s name.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. My ancestors, ingrained in my being, prohibit the seeds of hatred from taking root within me.

I was offered an opportunity to contribute to ABC’s coverage, engaging in a discussion on the legacy of the monarchy. During that conversation, I shed light on the fact that the crown symbolizes the invasion and theft of our land. It represents an era when my people were forcibly segregated on missions and reserves. It was beneath the emblem of the crown that children were forcibly taken from their families by police. The crown’s authority oversaw the massacres of our people.

My intention was never to malign Australia but to shed light on the historical truths often overshadowed by celebratory narratives.

I express my words with sincerity and compassion, extending the gift of Yindyamarra.

Australia stands alone among Commonwealth countries, as it has not signed treaties with its First Nations people. Tragically, under the rule of the crown, we, the Indigenous population, continue to endure disproportionate poverty and incarceration. We cannot ignore the harsh reality of our history and indulge in a fanciful version of Australia. It is our collective responsibility to strive for a better future.

These are truths, albeit difficult ones. They are not conveyed with animosity but rather offered with love. Yes, love. I consistently emphasize that these truths are spoken with love for Australia we have yet to realize fully.

Love was the driving force for my grandfather, a proud Wiradjuri man when he fought in World War II for a nation that failed to acknowledge his inherent worth and citizenship. Beside his bed, he cherished the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. As a Wiradjuri man, he knew he had a rightful place in this world.

Yindyamarra, a concept I learned through my Wiradjuri family, encapsulates respect.

During the recent coronation coverage, I spoke of Yindyamarra for those who support the monarchy, even as I confronted the dark legacy of colonization and empire. I speak the truth with love because it is integral to who I am. By offering Yindyamarra, I honor my ancestors, who would be deeply disappointed in me if I failed to do so. They would also be disheartened if I remained silent in the face of injustice.

I speak not to dwell on grievances but to shed light on the truth. Unfortunately, this is not how it has been portrayed.

My family and I are subjected to constant racial mockery and abuse on social media. This is not a new phenomenon. Hardly a week passes without being targeted racially. Even though I avoid reading such comments, I cannot escape their impact. People approach me on the street to express their disgust with the vitriol. They apologize for what I endured. While I attempt to shield myself from the toxicity, the mere existence of such hatred poisons the very air I breathe.

The price of survival

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has officially lodged a complaint with Twitter this year regarding the continuous stream of racist remarks directed at me.

I acknowledge that I am not immune to criticism. As someone occupying a privileged and prominent position in the media, I understand the need for critique. I am not easily offended, as Indigenous people have learned to endure hardships as part of our survival.

This year, the stakes are even higher. There is a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, and I am not alone in feeling scrutinized. It is an assessment of all Indigenous Australians, as is often the case in politics.

However, racism is not mere criticism; it is a crime. Racism inflicts violence. And I have reached my limit.

I am penning this not because I believe it will bring about a significant change. Undoubtedly, the haters will twist my words and provoke another round of racism.

I am writing this because not a single word of public support has been uttered by anyone at ABC, even though their producers invited me as a guest for the coronation coverage. No ABC executive has publicly denounced the lies and falsehoods propagated about me. I do not hold any individual solely responsible; this is an institutional failure.

I highly value the friendship of Justin Stevens, the ABC Director of News. He has provided support and solace. He is trying to transform an organization with its own history of racism. However, he is aware of my disappointment and my sense of discouragement.

Although I was neither the producer nor presenter of the coronation broadcast, every newspaper article accusing ABC of bias has featured my image. I am writing this because I refuse to allow others to portray me as a person filled with hate.

The media sees battle lines, not bridges

I am aware of my imperfections, but I strive to lead a virtuous life. Kindness is a value I hold dear. I cherish my family and my people, and I am passionate about the potential of our country. As a person of faith, I firmly believe that God stands with justice.

Regrettably, it seems that the media has no room for love, kindness, goodness, or God. Respect finds little place within its realm.

I apologize if some monarchists were offended by our coverage. It was never my intention. I believed I expressed words of love, but evidently, I failed. I must accept my role in the problem. I am part of the media that disappoints the Australian people on a daily basis.

This will be my final column for the ABC, at least for now.

On Monday night, I will host my Q+A program and then step away. How long will this break last? I cannot say.

I am not taking time off because of the racism I face—I refuse to grant racists satisfaction. I am not taking a break because I believe the ABC was wrong in discussing the impact of colonization and empire on the day of the coronation. I believe we approached that topic with maturity and respect.

I am taking a break because, once again, we have demonstrated that our history—our painful truths—is too significant, fragile, and precious for the media. The media only sees divisions, not connections. It sees politics solely.

But not everything is political. Some things are sacred. Our stories are sacred. Yet the media has turned public discourse into a mere spectacle. Social media, at its worst, becomes a vile exhibition. It reduces lives to mockery and derision.

I want no part in it. I long to discover a place of grace, far away from the repugnant stench of the media. I yearn to find solace where I am not reminded of the filth that pervades social media.

My parents have always been proud of the career I have built. I owe everything I have achieved to them. I have endeavored to represent my people and make a positive impact in the world.

Now, I am uncertain if any of it has truly made a difference. I believed I had come a long way from that timid Aboriginal boy captured in the school photograph. Yet, I now question if I have truly made significant progress at all.

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