Whiteness, Racism and Power

Here’s a typical example of how White people exercise and maintain racism. Kerri-Anne Kennerly flies into a rage about Saturday’s protests, led by Aboriginal people, seeking to change the date of Australia Day and establish systemic reform that includes a Voice to Parliament and Makarrata (treaty). Kennerly taps the table angrily, ‘Has anyone of them been out to the Outback where children, babies, 5 year olds are being raped. Their mothers are being raped. Their sisters are being raped. They get no education. What have you done? Zippo.’

Here, Kennerly evokes the same strawman argument that politicises rape and child abuse that has been used since colonisation to deny Aboriginal people rights. She could be referring to the Northern Territory Intervention, where the army went into remote regions to justify removals of Aboriginal children. The Intervention was NOT based on evidence – that’s already been proven. It has been catastrophic for communities.

She could be taking about the same ill-founded arguments rehashed by another White woman on the TV program Sunrise in 2018 – which was found to have breached code of conduct.

Or it could be from 2015, when Western Australian White politician did similar.

In fact, Kennerly reproduces the same racism White women academics level at Aboriginal people, sensationalising remote communities (holding them up as ‘real’ Aboriginals on the one hand, and dismissing them as helpless on the other), using rape as a paternalistic tool to minimise Aboriginal women and their leadership. See Jackie Huggins AO’s fight against this rubbish in the 1980s and Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson in 2000.

What else is happening here? Kennerly is called out on her racism – albeit gently – by a non-Indigenous woman of colour, Yumi Stynes. Stynes says Kennerly ’*sounds* a bit racist.’ Australians generally think racism is calling someone ‘a bad name.’ Racism is actually about institutional power, which includes being a highly paid TV personality reproducing the racist machinery that dispossessed Aboriginal people and continues to remove kids from family. Dr Moreton-Robinson noted 19 years ago that White women constantly talk down to Aboriginal women, which is what’s happening here, where a White influential woman dismisses the leadership of Aboriginal women who have organised the Australia Day protests for years.

White Women benefit from racism. To dismantle racism, White women need to give up their power, which includes the platform to talk down to Aboriginal women (especially on a show that talks about Aboriginal people without them in the room). White people also have to recognise that the ideas Kennerly gives voice to are not ‘just’ an opinion. This is not ‘just a bit racist.’ Racism is not a debate with two equally valid sides. Predictably, this is how the other co-hosts react and how some segments of the media have placed this event.

To be anti-racist means not putting up with this logic, and following the leadership of Aboriginal people. This weekend it was a march. Soon it may be a referendum to deliver on the promise of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Let’s be ready. And let’s collectively and individually stop excusing racism as ‘just’ anything but the clamor for White power.