Black Lives Matter to Us, Too

July 23 Black Lives Matter rally in Perth. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

This is the Australian version of the open letter created by Letters for Black Lives, an ongoing project for people to create and translate resources on anti-Blackness for their communities in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.

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Mum, Dad, Uncle, Auntie, Grandfather, Grandmother:

We need to talk.

You may not have grown up around people who are Black, Aboriginal or African but I have. Black people are a fundamental part of my life: they are my friends, my classmates and teammates, my roommates, my family. Today, I'm scared for them.

This year, footage of brutality towards children in juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, who are overwhelmingly Aboriginal came to light. In prisons across Australia, Aboriginal people make up almost 30% of people in prison, even though they are just 2% of the population.

Studies of the Victorian police have shown that young African people were targeted by police at a rate much higher than other people and statistics of Aboriginal people who have died in police custody, often as a result of over-incarceration, neglect and outright abuse, are also shockingly high.

There have been 340 deaths since a Royal Commission into this issue was delivered  —  where almost none of the recommendations to prevent these deaths have been implemented.

In 2014, Ms Dhu, an Aboriginal Yamatji woman, died of an infection when police officers locked her up over unpaid fines and claimed she was “faking” her illness. She was 22 years old. Police, almost exclusively, do not face any consequences for ending these lives.

This treatment by police and our legal system is a terrifying reality that some of my closest friends live with every day.

Even as we hear about the dangers Black people face, our instinct is sometimes to point at all the ways we are different from them. To shield ourselves from their reality instead of empathising.

When a policeman is responsible for the death of a Black person, you might think it's the victim's fault because you see so many images of them in the media as criminals. After all, you might say, we managed to come to Australia with nothing and build good lives for ourselves despite discrimination, so why can't they?

I want to share with you how I see things.

It's true that we face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don't think of us as “leadership material.” Some of us are told we're terrorists.

But for the most part, nobody thinks “dangerous criminal” when we are walking down the street. The police do not murder and imprison our children and parents for simply existing.

This is not the case for our Black friends. There are reasons why our Black friends experience things differently. As you may already know, Europeans colonised this continent, stole land and resources from Aboriginal peoples, and claimed this country for themselves.

In Queensland, tens of thousands of Indigenous people from Vanuatu or the Solomon Islands were kidnapped from their countries and forced to work on sugar plantations as slave labour, this was known as 'blackbirding'.

During colonisation Europeans committed genocide against hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal communities. For centuries, Aboriginal cultures, families, and bodies were ripped apart, their children stolen, their languages destroyed and their people forced into poverty.

Aboriginal people had to build back their lives by themselves, with no institutional support, and up until 1967 had to fight for the right to vote or attend university, all while facing constant threats of violence, which continue to this day.

In fighting for their own rights, Aboriginal activists have led the movement for opportunities not just for themselves, but for us as well. They were the first to resist and fight against White Supremacy, and have been beaten, jailed, even killed fighting for many of the rights that Asian Australians enjoy today.

Coming from many cultures where we honour our ancestors, we must pay our respects to the Black lives that have made our existence in colonial White majority countries possible. We owe them so much in return.

When someone is walking home and gets racially targeted by a police officer, that is an assault on all of us, and on all of our hopes for equality and fairness under the law.

Many Black people come to Australia as immigrants or refugees, looking for a better life and safety for themselves and their families, just like many of you have. Our struggles, while not all the same, are interconnected.

For all of these reasons, I support Black Lives Matter and other movements for Black liberation. This is why I speak out against Aboriginal deaths in custody, police brutality and racial profiling.

Part of that means speaking up when I see people in my community — or my own family  —say or do things that diminish the humanity of Black people. I am telling you out of love, because I don't want this issue to divide us.

I hope you join me in empathising with the anger and grief of the parents, siblings, partners and children who have lost their loved ones to police violence. I hope you empathise with my anger and grief, and support me if I choose to be vocal or protest.

I ask that you share this letter with your friends, and encourage them to be empathetic and vocal too. I know that it can feel scary to speak up. However, we cannot in good conscience stay silent while fellow human beings' lives are endangered every day, especially by the very system that supposedly protects us.

As your child, I am proud and eternally grateful for your long, hard journey here, and that you've worked hard and lived in a place that hasn't always been kind to you. You've never wished your struggles upon me. Instead, you've suffered through a prejudiced Australia to give me a better life than the one you had.

We're all in this together, and we cannot feel safe until ALL of our friends, loved ones, and neighbours are safe. We seek a place where everyone in Australia can live without fear of police violence, racism, and discrimination. This is the future that I want  —  I hope you do too.

With love and hope,

Your children.

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