First performed as spoken word 25 January 2014, Kamberri (Canberra)
By Judith Kohn
Captain America said that patriotism is not about blindly supporting the actions of your government, it’s about knowing what your country could be, knowing what your country should be, and trying to lead it there through your example.
Many of us may hold some shared ideals of living in a country of justice, of equity; a nation that offers the opportunity to live in peace to all of its citizens – perhaps even a nation that offered that opportunity to those who are not yet citizens but are seeking a new life here, away from their mother country.
And yet this is so far from the reality of the country that we live in.
The nation-state on this land has been forged out of an unbroken line of racial policies and politics that have had deadly consequences for millions of people.
In fact, it is my contention that the guts of this nation are in its self-identification as supremely white population.
The ironically titled White Australia Policy, only dismantled in 1973 – and Ironic because this land never was and never will be white – was the very first act of Parliament passed by the newly federated Australian Government. In this sense – the very foundation of our fledgling nation was the act of defining itself as a place for "whites only".
Please let me tell you my deeply personal experiences as a non-white citizen, and please do not let the colour of my skin fool you – because I’m a ‘first generation’, barely an Australian, born to a family of Jewish refugees who were once barred from entry to this great country because we were not considered, by law, White.
In 1938, an International Convention on Jewish Refugees was held in France to discuss what to do about the growing climate of hate and destruction of Jewish life in Germany. The Australian delegate, when asked whether Australia would consider opening its doors to Jewish people, stated:
...It will no doubt be appreciated also that, as we have no real racial problems, we are not desirous of importing one...
One year earlier, the Commonwealth had passed a major resolution about the fate of Indigenous people. The resolution said that:
This conference believes that the destiny of the natives of Aboriginal origin… lies in their ultimate absorption by the people of the Commonwealth, and it therefore recommends that all efforts be directed to that end.
A perverted toast.
And consider that the first group of people in the world to protest against the treatment of Jewish people in Europe were the Australian Aborigines League – who marched to the German Consulate in Melbourne in 1938 but were refused entry. Yorta Yorta people living in Footscray, standing up on the behalf of my ancestors, were not even "citizens" of their own land.
My grandmother, one of less than 200 Jewish survivors from a town in Latvia numbering more than 5,000 Jews before the war, eventually did settle here with her husband and child. My family was given the privilege of peace. Upon arrival, my grandmother said she received a letter of welcome from an Aboriginal community in WA, although she did not tell me anything more specific about the letter or it's authors.
But today, those same communities that welcomed us are suffering, being made refugees on Their Own Land.
Our government is proposing 150 Aboriginal community closures in WA. Up to 20,000 peoples’ lives affected by this tall poppy colonial government, drawing a continuous line of genocide and destruction from 1788 to present day – against a peoples who Never Ceded Sovereignty.
And what can we do?
We can rally tomorrow on Invasion Day. We have to.
White Australia, we must learn to disregard our collective identity in favour of our humanity.
There is no dignity in indifference; there is no pride in ignorance.
As long as white Australia’s identity rests upon the omission of the truth of its Black history, there is no freedom in this country for anyone.