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The current plight of Indigenous Australians can only be understood in terms of their history, in particular the past 200 years since colonisation. An appreciation of the full extent of the violence and degradation suffered by Indigenous people at the hand of European oppressors is pivotal to understanding the problems Indigenous people now face with regard to alcohol and substance abuse, family violence and high unemployment rates. Through education it becomes apparent that these unfortunate characteristics that beleaguer Aboriginal society were dealt to them by white colonisers and have been perpetuated and exacerbated by a succession of Australian governments. It is therefore unavoidable to accept that many of the reasons behind peoples' prejudices towards Indigenous Australians are in fact the corrupt sanctions placed on Indigenous people by elected members of white society. Evidence that responsibility for the disadvantaged state of Australia's Indigenous community lies directly with colonisers is contained in Australia's inescapable history which, when enlightened with this knowledge, makes racial discrimination completely inexcusable.
Gaining a full understanding of the devastation to Indigenous culture, tradition and their system of kinship and the subsequent detrimental affects to health, socio-economic prosperity and education is vital to fuelling compassion and goodwill towards Indigenous communities. An increased awareness of the forms and extent of racism which continue to be directed towards Indigenous people is a mechanism to facilitate exposure and self-regulation of what Davies describes as an ‘entrenched Western ideology'. The process of re-programming a society that was established with racially segregationist attitudes burnt into the collective consciousness is a formidable task.
The necessity to educate at all levels of society emphasizes the often insidious nature of racism and the ease in which it can filter through society feeding on peoples' fears and ignorance. In the absence of education about the ‘history, causes, nature and consequences of racism' members of Western society may continue pay heed to the unfounded 17th century beliefs of racism and white supremacy. It is the very fact that racism managed to gain such momentum from an assumption and the willingness with which people are prepared to degrade their fellow human beings based on such conjecture, which reinforces the necessity of education in bringing about its eradication.
Non-indigenous Australians have gradually reduced the racist treatment of indigenous over the 230 years since colonization, as the initial policy of attempted genocide was replaced by paternalistic control and then by laissez faire neglect. Much racist treatment is now illegal though racist attitudes may not have reduced as quickly and continue to effect many aspects of indigenous life today.
Demographic characteristics with important effects on social and economic status include household structure and age distribution. In particular, growth in child poverty has often been associated with the rising share of single-parent families. Also, differences in the age distribution of populations may affect their rates of growth, as well as differences in average economic and social well-being. For example, poverty rates are highest among children and rates of criminal activity are highest among young adults. (O'Donoghue, 1992; National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party, 1989).
Low levels of employment and high unemployment contribute to the economic disadvantage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples relative to other Australians. For many Indigenous Australians, lower levels of educational attainment and greater geographic isolation act as inhibitors to securing skilled jobs and high wages. (ABS, 2004)
A high proportion of Indigenous males are on relatively low individual incomes compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts. The incidence of relatively low individual incomes increases with remoteness, with the highest proportions of low incomes occurring among Indigenous living in very remote Australia. Indigenous lost ground everywhere relative to their non-Indigenous counterparts between 1996 and 2001 in terms of being more likely to be on low incomes (ABS, 2004). Deprived of meaningful labour, boredom and will-sapping welfare dependency combined with the “psychological legacy of past discrimination, forced assimilation, the devaluing of traditional male roles [including by the supporting mothers' benefit] and the mourning that followed the often brutal initial conquest” (Sutton, 2001) to foster an epidemic of alcohol and drug misuse following the extension of drinking rights to Aborigines in the early 1970s
Differences in Indigenous total mortality are reflected in substantially lower life expectancy for the Indigenous population resulting in a much younger age profile. At the national level, the life expectancy at birth for the period 1999-2001 was estimated to be about 56 years for Indigenous males and 63 years for Indigenous females, some 20 years less than their non-Indigenous counterparts (ABS 2004).
In addition to elevated mortality, Indigenous Australians suffer four times higher rates of morbidity from diabetes than non-Indigenous Australians (ABS, 2004). In 2001, reports of a long-term health conditions increased with age from 34 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged under 5 years to 99 per cent of Indigenous Australians aged 55 years and over. Eye/vision problems were the most commonly reported conditions (29%), followed by asthma (16%), back problems (15%) and ear/hearing problems (15%).
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, research suggests that further adverse influences contributing to such differences in health include:
- Early childhood and development problems,
- Substance use/misuse,
- Economic participation and development (low incomes and education levels),
- Greater disposition to behave in ways that increase the risk of ill-health (such as smoking, drinking, poor diet and lack of exercise),
- Lack of access to clean water and inadequate sanitation, and
- Inadequate access to suitable housing and health services.
Within Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not enjoy the level of well-being enjoyed by the wider community. They consistently experience lower levels of health, education, employment and economic independence than those enjoyed by Australians. To grow as a nation, this difference in experience must be addressed. As Indigenous disadvantage is overcome, the economy grows and the need for government expenditure is decreased. At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples will be better placed to fulfil their cultural, social and economic aspirations.
I had primarily chosen The Civil Rights movement as the subject of my presentation but subsequent ‘classroom' experiences led me to reflect on the this and having felt quite uncomfortable with the prospect of delivering a presentation on this subject to the group, I decided to chose the subject of the Indigenous Australians. Not my initial choice, but in my belief still very relevant to the module. After completely the research on the subject, which ‘touched' me quite passionate, I felt that this was a very important subject to discuss. Throughout the module there has been no information given that has been of a complete surprise to me, as most of the subjects that we have discussed I had some knowledge on, albeit very limited in some cases. This is not to say that I have not learnt a great deal, I certainly have. However, I knew nothing of the treatment of the Indigenous Australians and believe that I have learnt so much in regards to their history and the centuries of oppression that they have had to survive. I was quite happy to stand before the group and deliver this presentation and felt that I had researched and learnt a sufficient amount to deliver the presentation with conviction.
During this module I have had both positive and negative experiences. I am very saddened to say that mostly they have been negative. Again that is not to say that I have not gained a greater knowledge from this module, I certainly believe tat I have, and I also believe that to some extent even the negative experiences have had made me reflect and consider my academic learning further.
I would like to say that not once after a black perspectives session have I returned home feeling good about my day, and whilst I understand that my happiness is not a learning outcome, or indeed priority of the module, I feel that I should not have been leaving after each session feeling like I was. Feeling such tremendous feelings of guilt for being white, whilst I understand can be seen as ‘normal', as I have discovered since one in five Germans feels personal guilt over the holocaust, 60 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, I do not believe that for me this was a learning experience I not wholly necessary. Whilst I understand the need to acknowledge history to be able o deal with the future, I personally believe that I have never oppressed or enslaved any person. Black or otherwise, and I have certainly never personally made anyone feel so irrelevant due to their colour, race, gender or sexual orientation.
When Kemi (module speaker) spoke to me as aggressively and dismissively as she did she possibly believed that she was teaching myself and my white colleagues a lesson on how it feels to be oppressed and bullied, not a lesson that has escaped my learning, but also possibly not a lesson I needed. I strongly believe that oppression and discrimination, although my experiences of which have not been due to colour, are without a doubt issues that need to be address. I believe that education is of paramount importance to eliminating all forms of racism and in society through instilling in people the knowledge that the innate differences of people from diverse cultural backgrounds cannot be measured against the social indicators of white society.
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