I write while my children steal cars and rob houses: the awful human cost of racist stereotypes

UNs I write this article, my children are stealing cars and robbing houses, I suppose. I am an Indigenous father – so, doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know about me as a parent, and about my children’s capacity to understand right from wrong?

I know you sense the sarcasm in this. Bene, a great, great majority of Australians would. But there is a certain type of person I am implicating here. The type who have an ignorance so deeply ingrained, that it is a wonder they haven’t wandered off into the dark recesses of our colonial history and followed each other off the edge of a cliff. Shouldn’t they be extinct?

An article celebrating an infamous Bill Leak cartoon – the one which depicts an Indigenous father unable to remember his child’s name – sparked me to respond to those with this mindset. I suggest you don’t bother reading any of these articles – don’t give them the benefit of a click. But I will summarise: A journalist, hiding behind a rotting façade of caring about Indigenous children, argued that the statistics of Indigenous over-representation in prisons are caused by “Indigenous parents [Oms] routinely abandon their responsibilities and do little to instil in their children respect for our laws and the property of others”. According to this privileged white man, “While [Indigenous parents] march up and down the street waving flags, their children are stealing cars, robbing houses and being hauled off to the watch-house”.

The harm that racist comments and cartoons cause is never felt by those who make them. It is not white males, nor their children, who are creepily shadowed by security as they shop. They don’t feel the suspicious glances that a First Nations father feels when he hugs his child, as if he is not a protector of the child, but as if the child needs protection from him. They would never have felt that thick and heavy fear that we feel, when we imagine what may well happen to our children should they step into the path of a cop who has nodded in agreement at a cartoon in a major paper, and believes that all Black kids, thanks to all Black parents, carry a greater criminal intent in our DNA.

Racist stereotypes have an awful human cost.

The fact that Indigenous people die around eight years younger than other Australians says more about how little regard our political system has for my people, than it does about our genetics. And the fact that Indigenous people are proportionately the most incarcerated people on the planet says more about our powerlessness as a people to hold the nations law and policymakers to account, than it does about my children’s capacity to understand right from wrong.

It really is as the Uluru Statement so eloquently and powerfully says:

And how can you argue with that, unless you believe we are less than human – unless you are racist?

I had to think hard about if I bite back by writing this article. Why give the likes of Leak and others any attention, I wondered. Should I ignore it and focus on the positives rather than the negatives?

I concluded there should be a response. The stereotype must be defeated; not so much by changing the ignoramus’ mind, but by changing the country so the ignoramus is forced closer to that cliff.

And so it is to the pen, the ink, the keyboard we go, more and more Indigenous writers who are fighting fire with fire. We are the authors of who we are. Not old white men.

This is one of the reasons 12 First Nations men wrote a book with me, Dear Son – Letters and reflections from First Nations fathers and sons. We wrote it, partly in response to publications like Bill Leak’s racist cartoon, but also because of the awful legacies of the Northern Territory Intervention, and the crap we were taught about our First Nations forefathers in school – that our forefathers were savages while the white students forefathers were our discoverers and saviours. Dear Son celebrates Indigenous fatherhood through letters and poems. We express love for ourselves and our families in a beautiful act of defiance.

The key factor is that contrary to claims of failed responsibility by Indigenous parents, we in fact are calling for greater responsibility. We march the streets and fly our flags, we protest because we love our children. We are calling to change this country for the better – we want a referendum for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice, so we may hold parliament accountable for failing to meet their responsibility – to keep all Australians equally safe.

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