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Australia Day: it’s a health threat

Summer May Finlay writes:

You may or may not have heard of the men’s underwear label AussieBum or the game which was launched this month where people need to survive and are rewarded for killing “Aborigines”.

AussieBum, in their wisdom, launched a new pair this year for Australia Day, which included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander iconography. The advertisement is the distastefully stereotypical picture you can see below.

undies

This rightly caused an outcry on Twitter and in the media from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians about the insensitivity of linking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the Australia Day celebrations and about cultural appropriation. To their credit, AussieBum removed this particular product line.

I first heard about ‘Survival Island 3-Australia Story 3D’ created by Nil Entertainment on Triple J as I was driving home. The game promotes negative stereotypes of Australia’s First Peoples and rewards you for killing us.

I immediately pulled over to see what I could find out about it. What I found was a game that had been played by people, which promoted complete disrespect of Aboriginal peoples and lacked an understanding of our Cultures and reinforced racist stereotypes. The game was available on Apple and Google products and has now been taken down after a social media and mainstream media push.

The emotional toll

This last week has left me feeling emotionally shattered because of these two issues. I am a successful, well-educated Aboriginal woman, I am confident in my identity and have good family and community connections, and at times feel completely vulnerable because of the racism against me as a person or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a collective.

Sometimes, so much of my energy goes into protecting or defending myself and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people against racism, that at times it can feel like I have nothing left in the tank.

The pain that racism causes me to feel is not just for myself but also for my family, my community and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As Peoples we are a collective Peoples.

If I feel like that, what has been the impact of the more vulnerable members of our communities?

These issues are big and have drawn media attention. Casual racism and attacks on individuals, which occur frequently, rarely hit the headlines.

In the lead up to Australia Day, these two issues have reminded me how embedded racism is in the fabric of Australia. To many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the very premise of Australia Day is racist.

What’s to celebrate?

I am one of those people who does not celebrate Australia day. I love the 26th of January – but only because of Triple J’s Hottest 100!

To me, Australia day is a celebration of the day Australia was invaded: the day Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were dispossessed of their land. That day became the day that would forever change the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Australia Day symbolises racism and disrespect of Aboriginal Cultures. The first day where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were stripped of their right to freely express their identity and Cultures without fear of racism.

You may ask yourself, what this has to do with readers who may be health professionals?

We know that there is a strong link between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health and wellbeing and racism.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 56 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who experience discrimination report feelings of psychological distress, which are a risk factor for anxiety and depression.

We know that the more racist incidents that occur, the greater the impact on people’s mental health. We know there are links between mental health, suicide and incarceration, unemployment and substance misuse.

We also know that reducing racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can improve our mental health.

Professional responsibilities

As health professionals, how then can you condone or even celebrate Australia Day on the 26th of January?

The concept of celebrating our amazing country is fantastic, but should we be celebrating a day that is synonymous with invasion?

Many non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians do not contemplate changing the date because they don’t understand the impacts of the day and racism has on us.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could move Australia Day to a date which can be celebrated by all Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

This is by no means a new concept. Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue called for conversations about changing the date in 2000.

Professor Mick Dodson of the Australian National University called for the date to be changed in 2009. Tammy Solenec, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Manager, Amnesty International Australia called for the date to be changed in 2015.

Also in 2015 Michael Mansell from Tasmania called for the date to be changed. At Croakey last year, Nathan Appo also suggested shifting the date. This year Luke Pearson, the founder of @IndigenousX has also called for Australia Day date to be changed.

Health professionals are in a unique position to have conversations with the people in the lead up to Australia Day, on the day and after the event about the impacts of racism and the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

You might even want to start a conversation about changing the date; a critical mass might be all we need to make it a reality. You could even go as far as joining me in boycotting the day and listening to Triple J’s Hottest 100!

Inevitably, there is going to come a time when Australia is going to have to face its racist past and present, rather than digging its head in the sand and choosing to remain “naive”.

Be ahead of the game, and if someone makes negative or disparaging comments about Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples’ objections to Australia Day, take it as an opportunity to assist us in fighting the racism we face on a near daily basis.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are recognised as the oldest living Cultures in the world. Let’s keep them healthy and strong by reducing racism and its impacts.

Let’s create a future we can all be proud of.

***

Key tips

  • If someone makes a racist joke, explain the impact this has on Aboriginal on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because it reinforces negative stereotypes.
  • Chat to your children about why many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not celebrate Australia Day.
  • If people make disparaging comments about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people calling “Australia Day” “Invasion Day”, take the opportunity to chat to them about the effects of racism on health.
  • If feeling really brave, tell people you won’t be celebrating Australia Day because you believe the date should be changed to a date to a time which can be celebrated by all Australians.

• Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman, a public health practitioner, a PhD candidate, and a member of the Croakey connective.  On Twitter, follow @OnTopicAus

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#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17
#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
#IDS17
#LBQWHC17
#LivingOurWay
#OKtoAskAu
#OTCC2017
#ResearchTranslation17
#TheMHS2017
#VMIACConf17
#WCPH2017
Australian Palliative Care Conference
2018 conferences
#6rrhss