Stupid white bastards

Our treatment of Indigenous people paints a far more vivid picture of who we are as a nation than Sam Kerr’s late-night run-in with police

You just know it’s going to happen. The reports from the old country – where national icon and woman of colour Sam Kerr allegedly called an officer of the law a “stupid white bastard” – have opened a crack that will erode into a chasm, which will turn into a new front in Australia’s ever tedious culture wars. Such is our acuity to matters of race in the national conversation, in the wake of last year’s Voice to Parliament referendum. You can feel the initial stunned silence turning into a hum, as people’s prejudices are reignited after months without a racism-in-sport scandal, and with all the Australia Day–induced self-flagellation fading away at last. You can almost hear the machinations, as people who feel they need to be heard on such matters desperately search for an angle in the story of a high-profile athlete under duress, which can be turned into an attack line against the soft left – a point-scoring exercise against those who deride racism in all forms, except when it is aimed at stupid white bastards. You just know that the Kerr incident has legs. 

The sad thing is the British “justice” system seems to move at an even slower pace than Australia’s – meaning the matter won’t be settled until at least February next year. That’s a lot of column inches and broadcast hours of punditry to be filled between now and then, and we will all have a front row seat to whatever ensues, whether we like it or not.

Within the same 24-hour period of the news breaking of the charges against the Matildas captain came the images from Western Australia (or South Africa East, as I like to refer to it) of three Aboriginal children zip-tied together after being caught swimming in the pool of a vacant home. This story won’t get as much airtime, even though it paints a far more vivid picture of who we are as a country than an elite athlete’s late-night run-in with a bobby in Twickenham. The images of the terrified children as they are stood over by a 45-year-old stupid white bastard will have shocked most who saw them. The thought of a stranger touching one’s children – let alone zip-tying them together – will have caused rage around the country. But how long will that shock and rage last?

Each story that emerges of cruelty and violence towards First Nations people could act as a moment of enlightenment, a moment to pause, to ask ourselves how we got here. But in this country, where we only wish Indigenous issues away, most likely this story will be swept aside with a tinge of guilt but a sense of helplessness that only the entitled can afford. The First Peoples of this country continue to be seen as a problem that needs to be solved, if they are seen at all. Generally the approach is, out of sight and out of mind.

Racism is about the retaining of power, at the expense of the oppressed. It is propped up by the wealth and power generated from stolen lands, and entrenched in the systems and institutions installed by the powerful to keep the powerless in check.

This isn’t some revisitation of our history. Any cursory examination of the current state of affairs in the Northern Territory, for example, will reveal a story of oppression. If you are an Aboriginal person living in the Northern Territory – where 85 per cent of all inmates are Aboriginal despite making up only 26 per cent of the NT population, where almost three-quarters of those in prison have been locked up before, and 35 per cent are being held while unsentenced – it means you are up against systems and institutions designed to oppress.

It means when you want some semblance of justice, or just even the truth – as is the case for the family of Kumanjayi Walker, shot dead by NT police officer Zachary Rolfe, who was later acquitted of murder – you are going up against a deeply racist police force full of cowboys and bigots, a justice system designed to lock Aboriginal people away and a complicit media. Add to this a coronial inquest that is delayed for 18 months because the copper who has been acquitted of murder doesn’t want to give evidence – and only then do you start to scratch the surface of the kinds of terrible ordeals that are all too common in this country. Be under no illusions – this is what you are up against if you are Aboriginal in the NT, and it’s not much better elsewhere.

But by all means, let’s talk about the real issue here. Is it racist to call someone a “stupid white bastard”?

In Australia, where there has never been a person of colour as prime minister, premier or on the bench of the High Court, where every police commissioner is white and running largely white police forces with ingrained colonial mindsets, where newsrooms may have some diversity but the people at the top are white and those from diverse backgrounds end up walking away from their careers because they aren’t listened to, where political forces are willing to drink from the racist well to quench their thirst for political gain – I say, no, it’s not racist to call someone a stupid white bastard. And it would be much better if people stopped behaving like it.

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