Like many Australians, I have been very stirred up by the events of the week. A man asks a question on Q and A that thousands if not millions of Australians have asked themselves. Then a well intended fellow does what many of us thought was a nice thing, without questioning his right to put this man at centre stage. The paternalism and missionary zeal at rescuing the poor savage is so transparently present in our present from our ancestors DNA that many good people forget to question such a pull to action. Indeed they felt it themselves and then found relief in giving to this cause that spoke to them.
I had a moment where I thought we might actually get some real debate, from real Australians not filtered through media self interests. And then the tribalism began. “The he said, she said” The trial by fire. The guilty until proven innocent. Another primal aspect of our humanity fanned into flame. Fanned into flame, in this case by the media self interests. And the tall poppy falls.
All human endeavors through history that fight for human rights have not been without casualties. The suffragettes were blamed and demonized and many saw that only violence was a language that could be understood. The oppressed, violently pushed down, often violently retaliated. And some didn’t. Gandhi grew the power of non-violent non cooperation, but even he couldn’t stop the Civil war that slaughtered innocents even when their victory was at hand.
In Australia, women have had the vote since 1908, though not yet equal pay. Indigenous people did not get the same voting rights as other Australians until 1965, but still have inequality in all Western standards of health and wellbeing. Nelson Mandella got the right to vote for the first time in 1994 in the election that made him president. Imagine that! Yet still, if an indigenous man had asked this same question in Q&A would anyone have wanted to buy him a toaster? What if a woman had asked?
Under all of this lies the last frontier. The child who lives in poverty. Third or fourth generation of poverty and concomitant mental ill health. We all see them. We watch them grow their own mental ill health. From beautiful baby to harried toddler. It’s such a complex story that it’s hard to know how to speak it. For me, as a young GP, more than 2 decades ago, I saw these babies and their young parents as the great Aussie battlers. Against all odds. Blamed more than they were helped. I have worked in General Practices that would refuse to see, even mothers and toddlers because they had missed appointments, with no understanding that they were punishing them for a symptom of the problem for which they so needed help. After attending a talk by our human rights commissioner I now have the tools to advocate for such a person, but to have to advocate to doctors for basic human rights is not something I ever envisaged. So often when seeing such patients I found myself thinking that if I had had to endure what they had had to endure I would not have been doing so well.
25 years on and nothing has changed for this minority, and again we see a lonely voice shredded. And where are the Gandhi’s, Mandellas, Martin Luther King Jr’s, who know how to make visible the inconvenient and generate a mood of public debate that grows solutions and change?
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you feel moved to speak, please leave a comment.