Once upon a time, when I was in the desert of South Australia chasing (and catching) a full solar eclipse, I decided not to join the rave party nearby but instead enjoy a few cold beverages in town with the locals. Amongst these fine new friends was a large, hairy biker. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind me describing him thus. I can’t check and don’t even recall his name. It was just another half hour friendship, as that great folk singer Rodrigues sang about back in the 70s. But a funny thing happened that evening and I write about it now as the conversation has arisen again, this time in Broome, Western Australia.
At one point, I blurted out: “I just can’t get over the guilt of what my people have done to your people.” Did I mention my fleeting mate was Aboriginal? I wasn’t really sure how consciously I had thought about this before, but I was certain it had come up for good reason right then. Because somewhere, in the backs of our minds if not at the forefront, we all know we didn’t end up being modern Australians (or Americans, New Zealanders, Canadians, etc) by inheriting some just and fair deal over land rights. We are children of colonisation, with all that entails – the assumptions of entitlement to development, the religious colourings, the massacres and disease and benefits of more highly advanced technologies. Denying this won’t do us any good; the truth may be well hidden, behind vast reams of other stories, but once we know it exists we can never really shake its hold somewhere in our conscience. And if we want to be better people – happier, more comfortable in our bodies, feeling more at home where we live and work and travel, more consciously aware of our patterns and potentials – then lying to ourselves is definitely a barrier. So, out with it; I’m sorry about the way Australia was colonised, I’m not happy about the way I benefit from this with my mostly unspoken white privileges, and I wish it had been done differently, better, with more care, more sharing, more questions and compassion and understanding. For all concerned.
So there was my blurt and here was his deadpan response: “Get over it mate.” Um … OK. No further comment, from either of us. He didn’t feel the need to give more context – it’s the kind of comment that stands alone, that brooks no compromise, that sets the bar and then walks away, hardly even concerned whether I can jump it or not – and I didn’t see what I could add, subtract, hedge my bets against, conjure up or fluff along. I accepted it, in the spirit it was meant – the spirit of moving on, of harsh but real acceptance, of gruff forgiveness, of the recognition that we as individuals are not responsible for what went on decades and even centuries before, that we should be focusing on getting along right now, in the present moment, with its endless opportunities. Then he shared a piece of black glass with me, to watch the solar eclipse through. That’s a cool memory.
But I digress. Reconciliation. Between the people who lived here when our ancestors got here (the collective ones, the British and other western Europeans in this case) and us, the white fellas and other new Australians (and Americans etc). How do we deal with the painful history we know exists and move on, so that we are not shackled at the feet by guilt and remorse but not living in denial either? I’ve found a semblance of balance in this regard over the years and it’s time to share it. Because here in Broome, the other day, I met someone working in food sovereignty – helping locals in the community create wonderful vegetable gardens, promoting local produce, harvesting wild foods without compromising the carrying capacity of the land – who expressed her profound disquiet about exactly this issue. And it felt great to be able to help, if only in a small, seedlike way.
It goes something like this:
- Face it – the dark truths of colonisation, violent dispossession and all
- Sit with that for a while – if it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, it’s being repressed (again)
- Admit you benefit from it
- Position yourself in this life – you did not choose to inherit unfair privilege
- Recognise your relative power in this social structure – and your choice as to how you respond
- Rebalance, holding the spirit of generosity out in front of you, in your open hands
- Forgive your ancestors, and all who have gone before us, so that they can know peace (even if it is only in the depths of our own minds)
- Know peace – and spread it.
What this all boils down to can best be described in a kind of martial arts move: maintain your balance, as best you can, while you accept the incoming movement of this energy or force, realising that the knowledge sits all around you, especially behind, while in front of you, in your hands, you retain the capacity to respond with generosity, to know yourself as free, to give compassion and to be … more. Get over your guilt, white people, by facing it and going through it and coming out the other side. Otherwise, we perpetuate the cycle of inequality, of repression, of colonisation and its shame.