Had a bit of a break from blogging, actually I've had a bit of a break from social media altogether... first proper one I have had since I started tweeting/blogging a few years ago.
Considering that I (& many others) set out to achieve absolutely nothing, well nothing more than killing time (and hopefully finding a less painful Facebook alternative) by joining twitter, I think it has been a fairly enjoyable and worthwhile few years at that.
We've had the #TwitterDeadlys (3 years running!), #TeamMabo, #racistlikeafox, #itriedtobeauthenticbut , #IndigenousX (thanks to the NCIE) and soon after we had @IndigenousX as well which lead to #IndigenousXmas, #IndigenousXto10k, #iXchat (coming back soon) and plenty of others along the way.
I've made heaps of friends, many of whom I have never actually met in real life (a new category of 'friendship' in my world), and many others who I am now friends with in real life but never would have met without twitter. I've also had a few jobs doing education consultancy, professional development, guest speaking at conferences/forums/events, event organisation and other opportunities that would never have arisen without being online. None of which I ever saw coming just from signing up for a twitter account like the two million or so other Australians who've done likewise.
The opportunities I have been afforded by engaging in social media have been nothing short of life changing. I have found friends, allies, and kindred spirits, new insights and experiences, but most of all I have been offered a voice, an opportunity to place to put my ideas and my experiences to new people, in a new way. 140 characters at a time. A very scary, exhilarating and at times overwhelming opportunity, but one that I am infinitely grateful for, and humbled by.
I became a teacher because I believe that a love of knowledge, a respect of other's people's perspective, critical thinking, and fun, are amazingly powerful things. These are also the same reasons I created @IndigenousX.
To share the opportunities I had been given with other Indigenous people. To give them an audience for their voice, and a backdrop of 'You Are Excellent Just The Way You Are!' to help set the tone. I also had the audience in mind in this process, to introduce them to new perspectives, new stories. To show them what IndigenousX is all about. Indigenous people living their lives, telling their stories their way.
Many of the people who have followed me on Twitter at point or another have said that the only Indigenous perspectives they ever heard were mine and the people they occasionally hear on mainstream media, maybe 6-8 people, tops.
Thousands of years, hundreds of language groups, half a million individuals, countless histories, realities, stories, experiences, opinions; condensed to half a dozen people, and those only through tweets, or a rare TV interview or news story that is not only about Aboriginal people but that actually has Aboriginal people in it, speaking for themselves, and later edited to suit the needs of the story.
In one sense it was quite a privilege to be one of such a small group, but on the other hand I was disgusted that this is how it is for too many Australians. 6-8 Aboriginal people would be 5-7 more than many Australians can say they have ever had an actual conversation with. Or if they did, it was entirely reliant on one individual (one of my best friends is Aboriginal...).
I was horrified that for a lot of people who followed me on twitter, I was that one person. I was the person they used to justify their opinions to others "This Aboriginal guy I followed on twitter said...". I cringe at the thought, and am reminded of Eddie Murphy talking about people coming along and enjoying his show, but then going the work the next day and ruining all of his jokes trying to retell them to their friends.
In some ways I think that fear was almost as big a motivation as was the excitement I felt being able to share @IndigenousX with others. It is great to know that those non-Indigenous people who followed me on twitter, and who continued following when the account became @IndigenousX, have heard from over 50 Indigenous tweeps, without edit! Even though it is just for a week at a time, they can follow those individual hosts they connect with and continue the conversations indefinitely.
Luckily we are seeing this lack of voice being partly rectified not just online with things like @IndigenousX, but in mainstream with shows like Redfern Now (Hooray for Shari Sebbens winning a Logie!!!), and of course with NITV going mainstream (unfortunately not as its own entity but under the umbrella of SBS but still, it's pretty cool).
However, it is not enough.
The desperate need for justice, for self determination, for opportunity, for hope, is still overwhelming far too many Indigenous people, right across the nation (and globally as well for that matter). The endless stream of racist hatred, stereotyping and misinformation seems at times to be only growing, fuelled by media and government, and then turned around to justify inhumane policies and practices affecting Indigenous people (and notably asylum seekers as well). It is hardly surprising that we have the highest youth suicide rate in the first world. I don't many people whose family haven't been affected by suicide, by the Stolen Generation, by incarceration, by DOCs. I have heard more of these stories than I would recommend, I have experienced more of it than I would recommend too, whereas too many Australians have never heard these stories at all, at least not first hand.
The positive changes being fought for, and occasionally won, are all too often set back by the whims of paternalistic political attitudes and platitudes.
As Dr Perkins said:
"We pray eternally that the White authority structure will not turn on us and impede what little progress we have made"
"We live off the crumbs that fall off the White Australian tables and are told to be grateful."
"They [Aboriginal youth] learn and receive messages from society of low worth and expectations of mediocrity and failure. I challenge these messages and dream for young Aboriginal Australians and I encourage them to believe in themselves."
And in the midst of all of this, the biggest Indigenous campaign on the agenda at the moment is not basic cards, deaths in custody, child removal rates, over incarceration, under employment, institutional or personal racism, or fighting against grossly punitive laws and practices denying basic civil and human rights, it is Constitutional Recognition. A campaign which has bi-partisan support and therefore should be instantly suspect to all. As I said at a recent forum on the topic, I am not opposed to Constitutional Recognition, that the Constitution should be changed seems logical enough at face value, but what it will actually MEAN is something we need to be very mindful of when (and if) a proposal ever gets on the table. Many suspect it will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture, others think it will be a positive step forward and will create meaningful change in empowering the lives of Indigenous people, others still think it is actually a Trojan Horse which will undermine and possibly destroy the hope of future campaigns for Sovereignty or treaties. Since it has bi-partisan support, options 1 and 3 certainly make the most sense, but I will not rule out Option 2 until I can see the wording of the proposals, and get the opinions of a wide range of people, hopefully people much more clued in than I on Constitutional Law... but I digress.
The value of hearing from voices on the ground cannot be understated. I don't want to hear from Tony Abbott telling me that he is going to make himself the 'PM of Aboriginal Affairs' *shudders*, I want to hear from people with knowledge, experience and evidence to back it up. I want to hear from Indigenous people, but not just the small few who have a voice, I want to hear from so many Aboriginal people that no one will ever be able to say, "oh but I once heard an Aboriginal person say" and win the argument because they are the only person there who can actually say that!
I want to hear from Aboriginal people in every state and territory, rural, remote, urban and metropolitan. I want to hear from those who know their culture, those who are fighting not to lose it, and those who have lost it and are looking to reconnect with it. I want to hear from the anti-Intervention people as often as I do pro-Intervention people. I want to hear from our young fellas and our old fellas. I want to hear from people who hate what I do and who love what I do, from people who would deny me my identity as well as those who recognise and celebrate it. I want to hear people fighting for Lex Wotton's Freedom of Speech as often as I hear people fighting for Andrew Bolt's - actually no, not 'as often', 'more than', as Lex Wotton's example is real!
Obviously this will never happen with the current mainstream media mindset (agenda), but it can happen via social media. A person or group can get as big an audience as they can carve out for themselves on social media. For IndigenousX it seems like 10k is our limit, but that's not a bad start, and I am hopeful that something will happen at some point to get the numbers climbing again.
I was excited that the new NBN would improve access for Indigenous people and that in time we would see an increase in people choosing to take their message to social media, I also really hope to be able to send @IndigenousX to as many locations as possible, and this is difficult when a lot of people who have something important to say have no internet access to say it. The future of this all seems a bit up in the air at the moment, but I think it is safe to say that neither group seem to be placing as much importance on the issue as I am.
I am not usually a sit around and wait kinda guy though, so while that is playing out I'll finally get to the point.
We've done OK on Twitter, but we need to do more, we need to do it better, and we need to do it now.
This is an election year, and for the first time I am taking an active role in the process, but I am not writing this to push the party I am with, I am writing this to push you to push the party you are with!
While it is important that we have spaces for Indigenous people to be heard, it is also important that those non-Indigenous 'supporters' become active, competent supporters and nothing less. I don't mean they should speak 'over', or 'for', but 'with' Indigenous people. If real change is going to happen we need people speaking in support of those fighting for justice, and an actual stronger future. We need people demanding that media and government listen to these voices, and send a message of high expectations for transparency, accountability, respect and negotiation in reporting and decision making.
We need to make Indigenous issues an election issue, and from there we need to make it an everyday issue. Not just on NAIDOC Week, or when another person inevitably dies in custody, or when another politician or media figure inevitably says something intentionally racist and inflammatory, only to issue a 'correction' or a fauxpology, or cry that their rights are being denied as part of the new 'white genocide' (Google it, it's real. Well, it's obviously not 'real' real, but it is a thing some people think/pretend is real).
As always I will be tweeting info and opinions in the hope of encouraging information, discussion and critical thought. I will try to keep @IndigenousX as exciting, interesting and diverse as I can, I will also try to grow the reach and impact of IndigenousX as I seek to move it into its own website (HELP ME PLEASE I AM DROWNING!!!!), and also some offline IndigenousX activities as well (I got that stuff sorted!). I will be bringing #iXchat back for all the above reasons too. I will also be talking to as many organisations as possible this year about how we can raise the profile, reach and impact of Indigenous voices on social media, & how we can take a more active role in dealing with racism online and offline and encourage others to do the same; which are things I believe I can make a positive contribution to.
What can you make a positive contribution to?
'There can be no Reconciliation without justice."
This is what I want from you, whoever you are reading this right now.
Increase your standards of your role and the role of those officially, morally and professionally responsible - locally, regionally and nationally.
Increase your knowledge so you will be able to think more critically about what you hear/see/read.
Increase your expectations and your volume.
Think about it. Ask about it. Learn about it. Think about it some more. Then speak about it. Then shout about it.
Tell your politicians, your political parties, your peers, your family and friends... and tweet the absolute hell out of it until your fingers hurt.
This is not just about justice for Indigenous people - knowledge of the 60,000 year story you are now a part of, and your place in it, is being denied you... and if it continues to be for long enough it might not be there when you decide you finally want it.
Now seems like as good a time as any.