I used to be very opinionated. Wait, I am very opinionated but I used to not be afraid of using my voice. I’m not sure when, but at some point I started doubting myself. I had internalised a message from somewhere that I should tow the line, be quiet, and stop caring so much about things. I should definitely stop telling others to care about them too. I changed the language I used when posting on Instagram and Facebook, I stopped calling people out when I saw them post racist, homophobic or post in otherwise equally privileged ways lest I be seen as confrontational, or a know-it-all (most of the time I’d just delete them as a friend but I’m not sure that’s useful). I guess at some point I thought this was better for me and everyone else – after all, I told myself, no-one wants to be told what to think and you can’t change people’s opinions anyway so what’s the point?
What’s the point?
I was listening to Glennon Doyle’s audiobook Untamed the other day, and like almost everything she writes in that memoir, I was struck by how much it resonated with me. She tells a story where she and her daughters are looking at a picture of a civil rights protest from the 1960s and a single white face shines from the crowd. Her youngest daughter asks if they would have attended the protest if they were there then and Glennon replies ‘of course we would honey’. Then her older daughter pipes up and says ‘no we wouldn’t, we’re not there now’. Glennon (and then us, her listeners) realise that perhaps the most evil committed in the world is not by outwardly extremist groups like the KKK who exist only in small numbers, but instead by the ‘moderate whites’ who make up the majority of the Western world who want ‘positive peace’ (the absence of conflict) rather than negative peace (justice). I think about the many conversations I’ve had with people about WWII Germany and Nazis and how I always think I would have stood up for the Jews, yet this story smacks me in the face with the realisation that I’m not standing up now. Heartbreakingly obvious, I see now that no, I wouldn’t have stood up for the Jews, I would have been a good girl and towed the line – perhaps I would have felt uncomfortable, perhaps I would have ‘wished there was something I could do’, perhaps I would have let my feelings of powerlessness overcome me into helplessness and inaction as they do now, and perhaps I would have simply carried on with my white, middle-class privileged life because I could just as I am now. Sharing posts on Facebook, while important, just don’t cut it and sadly I think many of us can feel like it means we’re doing something, when really we’re doing the least we can. These ideas make me cringe, and as much as I wish they weren’t so, the truth is – they are.
In the past week I have been outraged on a number of occasions:
First, a senate inquiry into domestic violence prompted by the murders of Hannah Clarke and her children was closed months earlier than it should have been, without looking for any submissions or public hearings (you can read more here). I remember when Thomas Kelly was coward punched in Kings Cross in 2012, which together with the death of Daniel Christy in 2014, prompted legal reform including mandatory sentencing and lockout laws, which subsequently lead to the death of Kings Cross nightlife as we know it (despite both being punched well before midnight). In fact, these events even changed language – spurring the use of the term ‘coward punch’ being used to describe such attacks. We are yet to see such drastic legal action, nor language development, take place for perpetrators, victims or survivors of domestic violence, despite 26 women and 15 children being killed this year already. I wonder if perhaps part of the issue is that our legal and media systems seem to place more weight upon the deaths of young males than women and children – showing clearly which sex is more valued.
Then, I read that 46,000 year old Aboriginal sites in Juukan Gorge in the western Pilbara were blown up by Rio Tinto. Anyone with even a brief understanding of Aboriginal culture (which, sadly, is more than we were taught about at school) would know that connection to land and ancestors are central to Aboriginal culture. Despite many Australians arguing that Aboriginals should ‘get over’ the issues that occurred from colonisation, one can clearly see the same issues are still occurring (see more here). Our government so frequently trades anything for profit, it is clearly their modus operandi. And sadly, with the recent developments with the Adani mine on Wangan and Jagalingou land in QLD (preventing the traditional custodians from accessing the land even for cultural reasons), again the message is that the rights and livelihood of some people in this country are simply not as important as the right of our government to make money.
Then, the beautiful, innocent face of Willow Dunn shone at me from a Facebook news post (here). As a new mother reading the horrific injuries and neglect she faced, it felt like my nails were being ripped off. I just can’t comprehend this, I think of my fragile little boy and it is beyond any sort of understanding how this can happen. Then I wonder why on earth “Willow’s stepmother and stepsister are not facing charges. There is no suggestion there was any wrongdoing” despite them living in the same home. Luckily, new laws from 2019 allow murder charges if a ‘reckless indifference to human life’ is shown (which is clear here) but still, I am saddened that little girls and boys like Willow ‘fall through the cracks’ (sadly, rather than a cracked system I think we have a system so riddled with holes it’s more rare to not fall at all).
And then, there was George Floyd. I’m still processing what happened here, again I’m reminded of 1940s Germany and SS murdering Jews in the street. I can’t watch the video. I know I should. It’s important we know – Knowledge is power yet I just can’t. My husband telling me about it left bile in my mouth. How how how how how how how how how can this occur again again again again again, in broad daylight, in 2020, by police??
Only recently I returned from a trip down the far south coast of NSW to visit isolated family and was confronted with hundreds of kilometres of burned bushland from the recent Summer fires, and acres upon acres of logged pine forest behind my uncle’s home. Again, my heart broke for the environment, for our one Earth, for our climate, and for the millions of wildlife who’ve died or lost their homes. I posted about it on Instagram and then I got back to life. That’s the truth of it.
In short, (who am I kidding – this is not short – thanks for reading) they’re all utterly devastating and yet they are just different faces and names on issues we have seen occur over and over and over again. The word ‘why?’ is on my lips, and I’m sure everyone elses, and yet finally I have cracked the code. Why? Well, as my beautiful Grandmother used to say ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing’ (Edmund Burke). I am a good person. I would like to think so anyway. But how good a person am I if I put these issues in the too hard basket? How good am I if I stay silent on things that matter, in order not to offend anyone or annoy people by caring? (And what sort of society is this where we feel like we will annoy people for caring about important things?)
Now that I’ve figured out why these things continue to occur, I’d like to think I know how to stop them. Sadly, I don’t. I feel powerless, weak and a single, small voice in a sea of 7 billion but as I keep telling myself ‘Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousofzai were both individual teenage girls and look what they’ve done!’
I’ve come up with a project for myself, to feel like I can contribute somehow, and perhaps help others who feel the same way (stay tuned). In the meantime, I’ve decided I’ll no longer silence my voice. As someone of privilege, as a white, cis-gender, heterosexual, able-bodied, healthy, educated, middle-class woman in a developed country, I have a duty to use it to speak up. So I will. You can expect to hear more from me.