On 25 May 2020, African-American man George Floyd was killed by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The officer’s knee remained on Mr Floyd’s neck long after he had lost consciousness, long after his life had slipped away, and long after emergency responders arrived to treat him. What happened is so painfully metaphoric for the treatment of people of colour around the world.
A day before Mr Floyd was brutally killed, in Australia mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed a site of incredible cultural significance to traditional owners dating back 46,000 years. Despite pleas to stop from the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation, who wanted to visit the rock shelters in Juukan Gorge for their NAIDOC week celebrations, the shelters were blown up so Rio Tinto could expand an iron ore mine. It is now clear that the PKKP made numerous attempts to alert Rio to the site’s cultural significance and have it preserved in the years leading up to its destruction.
The history of racial and cultural oppression in Australia and the United States has many differences. But here, there and everywhere, we see the same brutality, silencing or ignoring of black voices, and the denial of basic rights, freedoms or dignities. The same shunting to one side of people who matter to make way for somebody else’s short-term gain, at best being offered some scraps from the table as if it makes up the loss of land, cultural heritage or access to clean air or water that sustains life and culture.
We’re sick of it. We’re sick of being part of social, political and economic systems that entrench this insane inequality between people because of skin colour, ethnicity or cultural background.
Whether it’s being shown around ancient boreal forest in Canada by First Nations people, watching them cry their eyes out as they explain how tar sands companies are literally boiling their land for the oil. Or watching Traditional Owners in Australia beg the courts to be heard and recognized as they attempt to preserve sacred sites, without which their connection to land and culture would be literally bulldozed away. Or the fact that people of colour the world over are most exposed to polluted air, soil and water. Or learning about how communities have polluting industries foisted upon them without prior knowledge, or having been misinformed about what is to be built nearby and its risks. Or watching extreme weather events disproportionally impact people of colour, leaving them exposed to disease and destitution.
The knees are on the necks of black people and communities the world over, and have been for centuries.
We are sorry. So sorry. We stand with you but know that this isn’t enough. You have our solidarity but also our support, and whatever role we can play to help give you a voice or power, we will.
Black Lives Matter.