As I write, I sit here in my little office largely immune from the trials the world (or perhaps mainly the Western world) is currently facing. But out there, beyond the azaleas, roses and salvia that my small office window overlooks there are momentous things happening. We not only have a coronavirus pandemic but also race-induced riots and demonstrations that are impacting on significant parts of Western societies.
Until recently the pandemic seems to have been the dominant concern. Yet despite some misinformation in our local Central Queensland community, I don’t personally know of anyone who has suffered from the affliction of the coronavirus. Surprisingly, the vast majority of those in my community, as far as I can discern, are obeying the government strictures of social isolating, rigorous hygiene and careful personal interactions.
And because we have been good little girls and boys our paternalistic (maternalistic?) premier is attempting to glorify herself by trickling back to us freedoms that largely should never have been removed in the first place.
The most hurtful part of this travesty is that those who are making these decisions that have devastated businesses in the government’s ham-fisted response to the coronavirus have no “skin in the game”. They are public servants who have no likelihood of losing their jobs. And even in NSW where the Premier is trying to curtail public spending by freezing wages and not approving automatic wage increases for state public servants, she is being thwarted by those in the upper house by elected members that seem to have no concern about the economic impacts of their pathetic attempts to pander to the inflated sense of entitlement of the public service. It seems to me that this could again reflect the unrepresentative nature of our parliaments. Surely we might get different outcomes if instead of a parliament dominated by ex-union officials, lawyers and party hacks there were a few more from the small business sector. When you have to mortgage your house to start your business and spend years gradually building a client base you might think more carefully about taking draconian measures that threaten the viability of businesses.
And now our news bulletins are dominated by riots in the USA protesting the death at the hands of a callous Minnesota policeman of an African/American citizen whilst three other officers watched on without intervening. No doubt almost anyone who has seen the footage would be incensed by the excessive use of force that led to this senseless death.
But the protests, as we have seen, have involved disproportionate violence, looting and property damage which often results in further hardship for coloured people. We have seen in the past that such activity in the poorer areas of American cities where many of the disadvantaged African/American population live has often driven businesses to relocate leaving these poor residents even worse off in terms of the services and facilities they can access.
In Australia we are beginning to see an emulation of the American protests. As I write the first reports of these protests are beginning to come in. Fortunately, to date there seems to have been no gratuitous violence. But the linking of the American “Black Lives Matter” movement with the Australian indigenous protests about deaths in custody seems tenuous and ill-informed at best. It just provides another excuse for those obsessed with victimhood to attempt again to attain attention.
Despite the fact that the state police forces have (over-zealously in many cases) been enforcing the social distancing of their citizenry, they have largely turned a blind eye to these gatherings of thousands of protesters in our capital cities. Gladys Berejeklian, to give her her due, at least tried to prevent the demonstrations by gaining a court order prohibiting the demonstration in Sydney, but that court order was inexplicably overturned in the Appeals Court and the demonstration went ahead. Many in the public at large are now questioning the validity of the efforts to suppress the coronavirus, arguing quite reasonably that the law should apply equally to all.
A friend, Paula Collins, in a recent blog, quotes the Lebanese-American author and scholar, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Paula writes:
Taleb offers pertinent insights such as:
- Minorities, not majorities rule the world. The world is not run by consensus but by stubborn minorities imposing their tastes and ethics on others.
The ability of these demonstrators to avoid the laws that are imposed on the rest of us, illustrates that point nicely.
These developments give rise to many questions. In order not to have to write a book, because the issues are numerous and important, I will confine myself to two of the most momentous.
- How necessary have the coronavirus lock- down initiatives been?
- How legitimate is the rationale connecting Black Lives Matter with indigenous deaths in custody?
For months now the Australian community has, in good faith, been largely abiding by the government mandated strictures (which supposedly have been supported by expert health advice) designed to halt the spread of the coronavirus. This required the abrogation of many of the freedoms we normally enjoy in support of the greater good. Although state police forces have, often in a ham-fisted way, helped enforce these restrictions, our compliance has more often been as a result of the goodwill of the general public in a determined effort to halt the onslaught of the virus.
By and large these efforts have succeeded in achieving the health objectives desired with a little over a hundred fatalities occurring. Most of these have occurred in the most vulnerable cohort, the elderly, many of which had other ailments that rendered them even more vulnerable.
As an aside, in order to gain some perspective of the impact of the coronavirus, during the same period almost twice the number of fatalities occurred due to road accidents. It also suggests that instead of police chasing sunbathers, sunning themselves in suburban parks, tens of metres away from others, they might have been better employed policing our roads!
It is also worth reflecting that in previous years we have had more than a thousand people die from influenza, generally from the same cohort who have succumbed to the coronavirus, but without any attempts of isolation and lockdown.
There have been months of privations suffered by the general public requiring them to isolate at home with minimal visitors. Finally state governments began to loosen restrictions in a very paternalistic way, no doubt expecting huge gratitude from the long suffering public. Hurrah, at last we can have five visitors! A few of us can now go to the pub. And so generously, we have been allowed to have fifty mourners at funerals. Oh thank you, thank you, premier for your wonderful generosity!
But then some disgruntled malcontents in Australia decided to join in the gratuitous Black Lives Matter demonstrations currently devastating America confecting a link with indigenous deaths in custody. Then all of a sudden gatherings of tens of thousands in our capital cities seem to hold no health dangers at all! This is government hypocrisy writ loud! As a result our governments have lost a lot of goodwill. If, on the off chance of a new spike in the virus eventuates, they would be foolish to expect the same slavish obedience from the public that followed the initial onset
Now, I could be wrong, but I suspect that these demonstrations are unlikely to spark a second wave of the coronavirus. Even though health authorities have detected one protester in the Melbourne demonstration who had the virus I am optimistic that that won’t lead to another onset of any consequence.
I also believe that the most effective steps at halting the virus were taken months ago, including social distancing, good hygiene practices and closing our borders to international travel. Mandating quarantining and rigorously pursuing those who might have contacted those infected were also important factors. Also it was prudent to move to protect the most vulnerable as well as is realistically possible. But totally closing down our economic activity was unwarranted.
Australia was always in a better position than most countries. Except for the high population density in Sydney and Melbourne and other capitals, much of the country is sparsely populated. Many regional areas have had no coronavirus cases. And being an island continent it was relatively easy to close our borders and prevent the importation of the disease from other countries.
Those premiers who tacitly allowed these demonstrations that flouted the health advice of their experts have put themselves in an invidious position. If after a fortnight there are no or few new cases, they can’t possibly argue that the lock-down restrictions should continue to apply in any way. If however there is a resurgence of the virus they deserve to be pilloried for allowing the demonstrators to flout the restrictions.
But what about the second question I posed?
Let us backtrack a little and contemplate the similarities between the plight of African/Americans in the USA and the plight of indigenous Australians. They each fare worse than the Caucasian members of their respective societies on indicators such as health, levels of incarceration, alcohol and substance abuse, and their propensity to being involved in violent crime.
Their common dilemma is that the majority of those suffering in these populations belong to a low socio-economic subclass within their respective societies. Now their racial history might be invoked to explain their low socio-economic status, but in today’s society they are in the most part not discriminated against because of race.
No doubt in Australia, we have some racist citizens – but we are not a racist society.
As for the notion that Black Lives Matter – of course they do! In Australia they matter so much that we spend twice as much in government support of indigenous peoples as we do on the general population. We have gone to extraordinary lengths to try and support our indigenous fellows.
But unfortunately, many of those who might be called black activists get personal gratification from being perpetual victims.
The debates about indigenous disadvantage have become very emotional and facts are often ignored as a result. When it comes to black deaths however, it is quite clear from the statistics that by far the majority of black deaths due to violence are perpetrated by other black people. The Black Lives Matter movement conveniently ignore this fact and strive to divide our community by outrageous claims that black deaths are somehow the intentional outcome of white race hatred.
For example, in Australia, indigenous deaths in custody have been reducing for a decade. And on a per capita basis more non-indigenous people die in custody than indigenous people.
When an indigenous person dies in custody the activists, stirring their racist pot, usually try to make the case that the death is a result of deliberate mistreatment or neglect by non-indigenous jailers. And yet many deaths in custody are a result of natural causes.
The Prime Minister expressed his concerns about emulating the divisiveness of the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia. He was joined in his concerns by the courageous indigenous leader and Alice Springs councillor, Jacinta Price. In commenting on the activists pursuing the BLM agenda, Price said,
What disappoints me is the same people largely remain silent on domestic and family violence. Never do they take umbrage at black on black violence.
That is far more prevalent than black people dying in custody or at the hands of white people – let us not forget there are high rates of incarceration rates due to the acts of violence, often against Aboriginal women and children.
In the United States we see a similar trend with African/American people where black-on-black violence takes far more lives than white-on-black violence.
So, although there are some similarities between the plight of African/Americans and that of indigenous Australians (largely the dilemma of their lower socioeconomic status) there is a huge difference between the Black Lives Matter movement and the response of activists to indigenous deaths in custody.
A significant part of the history of the United States revolves around the importation of Africans who were draughted into slavery to labour in the sugar and cotton plantations of the American south. Americans fought one of the bloodiest wars in recent history over the right to own slaves. There have been numerous race riots in the United States and the issue has been extremely politicised with radical far right groups like Antifa aligning with liberals protesting police brutality against blacks and unbelievable seeking to defund police forces. We have never seen anything like this degree of conflict over race in Australia. Statistics show that there is no systemic bias by police forces against the coloured population and history shows that when police forces are compelled to focus on riots and looting diverting them from normal policing duties there are elevated level of crime and violent behaviour in black communities. Those communities benefit more from normal policing efforts than any others.
The disappointing thing about the Australian movement regarding indigenous deaths in custody is that the participants offer no real solutions.
And this of course begs the question what are the solutions to indigenous disadvantage? They largely lie around the issues of the socio-economic status of indigenous people. Indigenous advancement will only occur when indigenous people embrace education, seek employment and adopt responsible parenting practices.
Here are some unpleasant facts that aren’t normally promulgated in the face of the confected claims of the protestors.
- Whilst some Australians are racist, Australia is not a racist country.
- There is little evidence to suggest that indigenous people are deliberately targeted by the police.
- Indigenous people do not suffer disproportionate numbers of deaths in custody.
- Most indigenous deaths in custody are due to natural causes. Some of these deaths are as a result of illness, often brought on by their lifestyles outside gaol. In addition some die by suicide and others as a result of violence by other prisoners. Very few are due to the direct intervention of their jailers.
- There are considerable numbers of indigenous deaths in custody because there are disproportionate numbers of indigenous people incarcerated in our prisons.
- There are disproportionate numbers of indigenous people in prison because some parts of the indigenous population do not respect the law and are consequently far more lawless than the general population.
However, we must not forget either, that there is a large and growing part of the indigenous population who have assimilated into the population at large. These people are fine citizens. Growing numbers of them are gaining high school education and acquiring tertiary qualifications. They ensure their children are properly looked after, go to school, and kept off the streets. They are as law abiding as the rest of us. If they choose to do so they can be just as proud of their indigenous heritage and mindful of the customs and history of their indigenous ancestors as the black activists but without the exaggerated sense of victimhood which dominates the motivations of the latter group.
As I said earlier, almost all Australians believe that black lives matter – if we didn’t we would not choose to spend so much more on trying to advance the welfare of indigenous people than we do on other sectors of the community.
I have written many essays trying to argue that identity politics erodes our humanity by trying to promote the specialness of minorities in our society instead of emphasising our commonality. I find it hard to believe that anybody I know would not agree with the truism that “black lives matter”. But this is merely a subset of an even greater truth that “all lives matter”. Unfortunately the actions of the demonstrators would have us believe that “only black lives matter”. Their thoughtless demonstrations, bringing tens of thousands of people together in this time of pandemic stress would seem to indicate they had little concern of the demonstrations re-energising the coronavirus in the population at large.