opinion

'What every Australian needs to do in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.'

Warning: The article contains an image and the name of an Indigenous person who has died. 

"I can’t breathe."

These were the last words said by George Floyd before his tragic death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last week.

Aboriginal man, David Dungay, also muttered these words in his final moments before dying in police custody in 2015.

Many Australians like to believe that racism doesn’t exist in Australia although we can all acknowledge that the murder of George Floyd was racially motivated and abhorrent. We’re watching the news and seeing America fall apart, as protests seek to challenge the systemic racism and oppression faced by black people for generations, without a second thought to what is happening in our own backyard.

I think the reason why Australians fail to believe that racism is alive and well here is because it means they become responsible for change. It challenges them and makes them uncomfortable as they realise what it truly means to be an Australian. 

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud. On this episode, Mia, Holly and Jessie speak to Amanda Fotheringham about the parallels that can be drawn between the US and Australia when it comes to racially motivated violence. Post continues below.

We often refer to our country as the ‘land of the fair and free’ but that only really applies to us if we’re white. If you’re Asian, you’re going to cop it. If you’re African, you’re going to cop it. If you are a person of colour, you will experience racism at one point or another during your time here. 

You’d think that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be free of racism in their own country, and on their own land, but for hundreds of years this hasn’t been the case. This is highlighted in the statistics.

Currently, over 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in police custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

How many police officers have been held criminally responsible? Zero.

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up around three per cent of Australia’s population yet represent over 27 per cent of those incarcerated. They are the most incarcerated people in the world.

READ:  'My mum was stolen from her mum. Please stop telling me to "get over it."'

What do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need to do in order to guarantee their safety around police? We know that saying, "I can’t breathe" isn’t enough, as shown in David Dungay’s case. If the police don’t care for our physiological needs... the very people who are supposed to protect and serve us, how are we supposed to feel? 

This is why we need to challenge the systems that are in place because like the systems in America, they have been designed by the oppressor and continue to benefit white people to the detriment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Every Australian needs to go inwards and analyse their beliefs. Challenge them. Ask yourself who or what influenced you to think the way you do. 

I’m not here asking you to change everything overnight because that isn’t realistic, but if we all worked on ourselves to understand the way Australia works as a result of its colonial past, and question why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are dying in custody at the rates they are, we can work towards a more fair future for all Australians.

For generations, black Americans have waited and hoped for change. George Floyd’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Australia is headed down the same path if we continue to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dying in custody.

Amanda Fotheringham is a Gamilaroi woman currently studying a Bachelor of Community Services whilst working in the Diversity and Inclusion space. Amanda is passionate about sharing her family’s story so others can learn about the ongoing disadvantages faced by First Nations people. Follow her on Instagram here.

Feature image: Facebook and Doug Mills/The New York Times/via Getty.

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