There’s nothing like a little ‘sorry’ debate to get white Australia all red and puffy. Here’s a punter’s guide to exploding 10 of the more virulent myths surrounding a national apology to members of the Stolen Generations:
It was done by a previous generation.
Not correct. Of all the Stolen Generations myths, this is the biggest. If it were “previous generations”, then surely there’d be no-one left to apologize to? The facts are that the removal of Aboriginal children continued well into the 1960s and early 1970s. It’s worth noting it was absolutely raging during the late 1950s, when a small, lispy man named John Howard was serving as president of the NSW Young Liberals.
Saying sorry won’t deliver better results in health, housing or education.
Here’s a surprising revelation for you — saying sorry is not supposed to deliver health, housing and education. Equally, saying sorry won’t prevent governments from delivering health, housing and education. This particular objection is perhaps the dumbest of them all and is run by conservatives like Warren Mundine, Noel Pearson and The Australian. Its fundamental flaw is that it relies on the premise that Australia is so backward as a nation we can’t deliver practical outcomes while simultaneously delivering symbolic gestures. In other words, we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
I will not be made to feel guilt and shame for something I didn’t do.
In the case of younger Australians who were not alive during the removal practices, the word ‘Sorry’ does not have to be an expression of shame or guilt. It can be an expression of empathy, as in ‘I’m sorry to hear your mum died’ or ‘I’m sorry you got hurt in that car accident’. Personally, I was born in 1972 when government started to abandon the removal policies. I don’t feel shame at my personal actions, but I do feel shame at the actions of my country. As for older Australians, many claim ‘I had nothing to do with it’. Well, that’s part of the problem – bad things happen when good people stay silent. The point is not that older Australians participated in the removal process, but that they did nothing to stop it. Saying ‘But I didn’t know it was happening’ is certainly more than sufficient to keep you out of a court of law, but it’s not enough to excuse you from a collective national apology. If you’re still confused on this front, you might recall that several years ago, John Howard apologized to Vietnam Veterans for their treatment when they returned from the war. Again, having been born in 1972, I didn’t mistreat Vietnam Veterans. But I had absolutely no problem with the PM saying sorry to them on my behalf, because I am sorry (and I ashamed for my nation) that they were treated so poorly.
Some Aboriginal leaders have said an apology is not important.
Sure, but almost every one of them (hi Warren, hi Noel!) are not members of the Stolen Generations. Their views on whether or not an apology is warranted are no more or less relevant than your or my view… because none of us are victims.
Aboriginal people can’t even agree on an apology.
Wow, Aboriginal people have this amazing thing called ‘independent thought’. The facts are that some members of the Stolen Generations don’t want an apology. That’s their right. But the overwhelming majority do. That’s also their right.
It costs us nothing.
Contrary to popular opinion, a national apology will have no legal affect on the capacity of members of the Stolen Generations to seek compensation. As a nation, an apology costs us nothing. Period.
I didn’t do it!
No, you didn’t. But you certainly benefited from it. Just as all Australians today, even some black Australians (hi Noel, hi Warren!) have directly benefited from the theft of Aboriginal land, all Australians have benefited from the removal of Aboriginal children. Why? Because almost all children who were removed to government institutions were then forced to work for the government or private citizens for little or no pay. In America, they called that process slavery. In Australia, we called it ‘apprenticeships’.
In December 2006, both the federal parliament released a report supported by the ALP and the Liberals acknowledging the stolen wages scandal.
The people who performed the removals were good people who did a bad thing.
Big f-cking deal. Good people do bad things all the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re excused from apologising.
It won’t affect white Australia, so why worry?
The removals practice AND the use of this issue by John Howard as a race wedge is a stain on white Australia’s recent past. Just as Aboriginal people need an apology to move on, white Australia needs to apologise to move on.
Saying sorry won’t change the past.
Sadly, it won’t. But it will have a massive impact on the future. That’s the whole point. A real apology will mean an enormous amount to Aboriginal people. I still can’t fathom what sort of a nation would deny them one.