by The Revd Ted Witham
In his telling of the Transfiguration of Jesus, St Mark describes the change in Jesus: ‘his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them’ (verse 3). In the past months in the United States and here, whiteness has become a problem rather than a sign of spiritual transformation. Whiteness is our inability to see the world through the eyes of black and brown people, to imagine that our society with its systematic bias against any who are not white could be anything other.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement implores us white people to see that we are part of the problem of racism. It is easy for individuals and Government policies to blame black people’s poverty and disadvantage on black people themselves.
Years ago we would say, ‘They are lazy. They don’t want to work. They don’t want the benefits of a wealthy democratic society.’
These days our language is less blunt, but we talk of intergenerational disadvantage, remoteness, and dysfunctional families to put the onus on Indigenous people.
The truth is that the society white people have carved for us is the problem.
#BlackLivesMatters invites us to look back to the founding of Australian society to understand unhealed wounds. White people took over by violence the land from a people who were already here, loving the land, living off its bounty: the oldest continuous living culture in the world.
This violent dispossession must be acknowledged if we are to reduce deaths in custody, early mortality, high rates of incarceration, and all the other markers of Aboriginal disadvantage.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart urges truth-telling. Across Noongar country, from Geraldton to Esperance, there are reports of mass killings of Indigenous people in the early years of our settlement. For our own sake, but more especially for the sake of Noongar people, we should learn about these events and find ways as a Church to say sorry for these actions.
This may be a painful process, but the effect of an unreserved apology even after 180 years has elapsed would be electrifying.
It would educate us whites about our whiteness. It would offer a bridge for true reconciliation. We would find new good friends in the Aboriginal community. It would be a transfiguration where we ‘wedulah’ (whitefellas) will at last be proud of our whiteness.