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Privileged leaders need to step aside to ensure once-exploited voices are heard loud and clear

Guest Author -

Indigenous Business Month isn't just for October. It's an all year-round thing.

This article is going to be divisive.

It shouldn't have to be, but unfortunately it tackles not only a cultural background that has been cemented by centuries of silence, but also by a natural human reaction.

No one likes to be put on the spot for circumstances which they previously ignored, no one likes to be told they had unfair advantages in life that came at the cost of other people's suffering and exploitation.

But if you are, like me, a white person born in Australia, or any other former colony, that is precisely the case.

It doesn't mean you're a white supremacist, but it does mean that you benefit from racist systems and culture.

It's not an easy pill to swallow, I've choked on it many times, but you can't clean a house unless you look directly at all the stains.

And white privilege is the mother of all stains.

Accepting You're Privileged

I was taught a very simplistic view on racism growing up. When people asked if Traditional Owners and people of colour were equal to everyone else you were supposed to say "yes" and wait for applause.

Luckily, a more nuanced take on the matter has been steadily growing in mainstream discourse. One that calls out how my "opposition" to racism as an idea means nothing since I still had access to services like education, health and leisure without barriers.

Not only that, but it also calls out how I never had to fear for my life if stopped by police, that I was never followed in a store, that when I spoke people actually listened.

I didn't choose any of this, and I never wanted First Nations people to be treated unfairly, but it is a fact that the world reacts to me this way based on social and historical precedents which are founded on white supremacy and knowing this gives me a moral responsibility to do something about it.

But how?

Using it for Good

Currently in Australia there are hundreds of initiatives and thousands of First Nations people seeking to gain equal rights in a land that is rightfully theirs. And if they are seeking to bridge that gap from their side, it means I should be trying to bridge it from mine.

And bridging that gap sometimes means being that one "unpleasant" person in conversations.

It means being the only one to point out that there are only white people in the room, that the one minority is trying to speak but keeps getting interrupted, it means asking what precisely some of your friends mean when they make certain jokes or comments.

Ultimately, it means using your position of privilege at the podium to give that spot to people that were barred from it for centuries. It means using your privileged position to undermine white privilege.

No Overnight Solution

It should be noted that the systems which hold white privilege in place today are the product of centuries of white supremacy, and its dismantling will not happen over just a couple years.

This will take the cultivation of a culture which rejects the supremacist ideals that created this mess in the first place, which means we'll have to take this message across generations, transforming people first to change society.

As you may have guessed, this will take a lifetime, scratch that, it will take several lifetimes, but undertaking this task is not really a choice, it's a responsibility.

Luckily, it is being undertaken by people who are infinitely more talented and qualified than me, people who are from these very marginalised groups who will stop at nothing to see their loved ones succeed in a fairer society that takes them into account.

Even if I was passive, they would still succeed. And that gives me hope.

The very first step towards fighting white privilege is recognising it.

The second step is, having recognised it, to understand that you are not the protagonist of that fight, the Traditional peoples, Black people, everyone who has been exploited creating today's society are to be in the spotlight.

As someone with privilege, your job is to step away and make sure their voice reverberates loud and clear in workspaces, schools, elections, movies, radio, and everywhere culture is solidified, so their children don't have to do it too.

Wes Chapman is Kuuwa's managing director


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