If All Lives Mattered, Australia Would Shut Up And Listen

All lives won't matter until Black lives do.

Black Lives Matter Australia

The hashtag #AllLivesMatter first became a prominent term around 2013, when #BlackLivesMatter started trending after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American teen.

It is a phrase coined in direct opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, and is generally only used to actively speak over the top of, as opposed to alongside, Black voices — and it works in direct contradiction to the statement that the Black Lives Matter movement is making.

Sometimes it is meant innocently, but more often it is a bad faith argument, co-opted by racists.

While “All Lives Matter” is not wrong in itself, the statement itself does not apply to the system we all live and work under, in which systemic and structural racism is ingrained.

When a Black person says “black lives matter”, surely a person who genuinely believes that all lives actually matter would ask them what they mean, what their experiences are, and how they can help — rather than shoving the lived experience of Black voices to the side in favour of their own minimal experience on the issue.

They’re saying, “Your lived experience means nothing over my opinion”.

While both phrases began in America, they are just as relevant in Australia. In Australia, Aboriginal lives have been cast aside for over two centuries, and in 2020, they aren’t seen as any more important.

In Australia, Black lives and Indigenous lives still need to matter.

While human life on this land goes back 60,000 years plus, Australia’s short history is only 250 years old — and it wasn’t always ‘Australia’. In those 250 years, Aboriginal nations, social constructs, and the identities of Aboriginal people have been almost completely wiped out because of colonisation, massacres, the Stolen Generations, and continuing racist policies.

All these issues still play out today.

Racist policies like the NT Intervention have led to nothing but trouble for Indigenous communities. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in the ten years since it was introduced (2007-2017) the number of Indigenous men in prison doubled, the number of Indigenous women in prison increased times three, and abuse of children in detention doubled.

Deaths in custody is also a huge issue.

Between 1980 and 1989, there were 99 Aboriginal deaths in custody, leading to a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The findings were released in April 1991, and it included 339 recommendations to help lessen the amount of deaths. These included strategies as simple as ‘give medical attention where necessary’.

Since 1991, there have been 434 deaths in custody — on average that’s more per year than the 10 years prior to the royal commission. If all lives mattered in Australia, then these recommendations would have been implemented.

Systemic racism in Australia is not limited to purely governmental or justice realms — it’s also echoed in our culture and society, such as sports.

The AFL is a prime example of corporate systemic racism. When Nicky Winmar lifted his guernsey in 1993 in a stand against the racism he received from the crowd, it took a further 2 years, and the threat of a player strike from the Aboriginal players led by Michael Long, for the AFL to create a players code of conduct.

Aboriginal players continued to receive abuse from other players, and have continued to receive it from the crowd.

Just look at Hawthorn’s Chad Wingard — he’s spoken out about racism and the negative impacts of media as recently as June, and social media is crawling with racist comments. Racism is embedded in the system and unless you are actively trying to rid the world of it, then it will stay there.

Just look at the long and documented abuse of Adam Goodes.

I get the AFL can do little to curb the racist voices of the crowd, but it could have been bucked from the inner workings a hell of a long time ago.

A fairly curt example of how Black lives are disregarded in Australia is mining company Rio Tinto blowing away 46,000 years of Aboriginal history like it was nothing. When Indigenous culture and history is literally wiped off the map, but white cultural history is venerated, it’s a stark juxtaposition that speaks against the truth of all lives mattering here.

In many ways, since Australia’s inception, Aboriginal lives have ceased to matter — and it’s just a fact, but Aboriginal people have not been the only targets either.

Do all lives matter? Yes.
But is it a reality? No, it is not.

It’s a comforting thing to say to sound like you care, or to withdraw yourself from any uncomfortable political conversations, or to just be a troll. But, systemically speaking, nothing could be further from the truth.

Travis Akbar is a Wongatha man living on Peramangk country, Adelaide. He is a film critic and freelance writer. Follow Travis on Twitter @TravAkbar