This week is National Reconciliation Week in Australia, where I am currently living. As a new Australian, my perspectives may not match many people’s. I was lucky enough, not long after becoming a citizen, to attend a 2 day workshop on white privilege. This workshop aimed to help mainly white Australians understand the history of Australia from lived experience perspectives, mainly Aboriginal.
I was stunned at the time that many of my peers did not know, nor have any concept of the events and systemic abuses that followed colonization. Reconciliation requires honesty, which is why the South African process was called Truth and Reconciliation. However, truth telling is hard work, emotional and painful and I can see why communities and societies may shy away from such a raw process. As a relative outsider, I knew more of those difficult truths that people born and educated in Australia.
But, perhaps it is my Kiwi connections that grounded me in truly aiming to achieve reconciliation within Australia. Not in a week, and certainly not by setting aside one week of the year to focus on it, but rather by living day to day in ways that validate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences as expressed by both individuals and collectively. During the workshop, participants were asked to take a personal stand against racism and to challenge it in their lives. For me in the months since, this has meant asking people not be be racist in my home or in my company, blocking people on social media and not supporting local businesses who have posted racist videos online. I also try to smile at everyone I pass in the street or in a store. This sounds so silly but the story that stuck with me most powerfully from the workshop was the one where an Aboriginal Australian felt hurt by the lack of smiles and fleeting contact when out and about, noticing that the white people around her smiled at each other but not at her.
A smile costs nothing, but can be more meaningful than you realise. The only way racism will be defeated is if everyone decides that there is no place for racism in our society. What can you do in your life to challenge racism, whether that is helping those of us who are white understand or responding to those around?
On another note, I am still not reconciled to the facts of life and death, and I am still struggling to accept that my wife will never physically walk through the door again. I am also finding it strange that people offer up ideas as to how fast or slow I should “move on”. I am not sure what they mean by this as the dog and I are not planning to move, but the advice often seems to be tinged by judgement; ‘not too soon’, ‘before you get stuck’, ‘you seem to be doing very well, we are still so sad’. I often wonder if people think before they assume that just because I am functioning ‘very well’ at that moment that I am always full of joy? I also need to reconcile being polite and being respectful with protecting my heart. Kind and generous people who want to share how much they miss Jane and seek to tell me long stories or tell me how irreplaceable she is, even though they have already replaced her as their GP or colleague etc. Here my autism is my gift, I can have my polite mode on, and stand and listen (though I do wonder at people who don’t notice the tears running down my face) and then when they take a breath, I can say that “I am sorry I need to leave, it is very sad, Jane was too young and died too soon.” Then I go and sit in the car until the tears ease enough for me to drive home.