Content warning: This blog post discusses racism and violence. 

If there’s one thing we’ve learned 3 months on since a majority of Australians voted ‘no’ in the Voice to Parliament Referendum, it’s that Australians find it really hard to have honest and productive conversations about race.

This is especially so when it means fronting up to a history of that racism which continues to negatively impact Aboriginal people today.

The referendum lead-up exposed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to a fresh level of racism and bullying. It also showed us how regularly non-Indigenous Australians exclude Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives from conversations about their own lives and rights.

But even though it can feel difficult to have conversations about race in this country, not only is it possible, it’s necessary and can lead to positive change.

Here are some ways non-Indigenous people can get started having conversations about racism, and learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives.

Overcoming difficulty

26 January marks a time of deep pain for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s the day in 1788 when British colonist Arthur Phillip arrived, and the a place to send prisoners that’s far away from where they’re from.penal colony began.

Celebrating the anniversary of this date means celebrating this event and the years of conflict, genocide, and segregation that followed.

It’s a history that’s painful to remember, but one we have an opportunity to do our part in correcting.

So how do we practise good allyship when having conversations about racism?

Communication strategies

Ultimately, we all want conversations to be productive.

For that to happen, we want to make sure that everyone feels heard and understood, and is open to opposing opinions or ideas.

Here’s a few key things to remember when navigating conversation.

Work out your goal and purpose

What are you trying to achieve by having a conversation about racism? For example, is it for someone to rethink celebrating the public holiday? To encourage someone to reflect on the language they use?

Remember, you can’t make up someone’s mind for them. Our aim is to share positive information and challenge harmful ideas – not to challenge people. This conversation also isn’t about you or being ‘right’ – stay open and on track with what will be effective for the bigger goal.

For example, if they say, “Nothing we say will affect whether they change the date”.

Try saying, “Even if they don’t change the date, raising awareness about injustice can be just as important”.

Approach with genuine curiosity

You want to hear them out and understand their perspective to find common ground and build trust. Then, consider what you’ve learned that might be relevant and speak to that.

For example, if they say, “It’s just a word we’ve always used, does it really matter?”

Try saying, “Maybe you didn't mean this but I've learnt that this word is derogatory and can bring up past trauma for Aboriginal people. I don’t use it anymore to make sure I don’t hurt anyone that might overhear me.”

Focus on values, not facts

We can’t change facts, and that isn’t our goal. What we can do is figure out where our values align with our positions on certain issues.

For example, you might know you share a common value of disliking violence. If they say, “We’ve always celebrated on 26 January, why should we change it now?”

Try saying, “There’s lots more to being Australian that we can celebrate that isn’t an anniversary of violence towards Aboriginal people. We can commemorate those things on any other day of the year”.

Control the controllables

We can’t control how people deal with information and ideas. Instead, focus on what you can control - like what you can share.

For example, if they say, “I want to do more research before I decide if I believe you”.

Try saying, “I encourage you to do that. Here’s some examples of places you can go to find more information...”

Listening to First Peoples

The most reliable source for information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their rights is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

So on 26 January, and all the other days of the year, the best way to be an ally is by listening to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to say, and promoting their voices.

YACVic is not an Aboriginal-led organisation, and while we advocate with and for Aboriginal people, we strongly encourage you to look to Aboriginal-led information to continue your learning.

Treaty and Truth

Even though the Referendum returned a ‘No’ result, it doesn’t mean the journey to Voice, Treaty and Truth are over.

These are the key things The Uluru Statement From The Heart called for. The Statement brought together over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Delegates from all over Australia to sign a statement that details the future that Aboriginal people see for themselves, and for all Australia.

First People’s Assembly of Victoria

The Assembly is made up of Traditional Owners of Country who have been chosen by their communities to represent their hopes, needs and ideas on the journey to Treaty in Victoria.

Yoorrook Justice Commission

The Yoorrook Justice Commission is the first formal truth-telling process into historical and ongoing injustices experienced by First Peoples in Victoria.

Aboriginal People Respond to ‘Australia Day’

How does Jan 26 make you feel

Having conversations with others about how to be a better ally to Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people can be challenging for non-Indigenous people. However, it’s important to acknowledge that you have a greater level of safety in conversations about race, even when others are being problematic. You should use this privilege wisely.

Support that is available

26 January can be a difficult time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If you need a bit of extra support this 26 January, here’s some places you can reach out to:

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