Monday, June 15, 2020

Culture and Racism

My previous post generated some interesting discussion elsewhere about being disconnected from culture and racism. My response:

In an interview with Leonard Cohen not long before he died the interviewer was trying to get Cohen to state which side of the fence he was on in relation to a number of issues but Cohen would not be drawn. He said that he had learned for people to outline their points of view and present them as an alternative and better option wasn’t very helpful. Better he said to learn what we have in common and enquire of the other how they’re feeling about things!
When I was a teacher at Marymount an invited Aboriginal speaker looked out the window of the school hall and told the kids, “See that tree out there? That tree and me are the same thing. There is  no difference between that tree and me. I am that tree.”  We all thought he was quaintly mad of course. But I have heard similar sentiments from and about Aboriginal people many times since over the years and I have learnt to accept that I can and never will understand the deep spiritual connection Aboriginal people have with land. Their own patch of land. Remove an Aboriginal person from that land and you remove that person’s reason for existence.
But we as non-Aboriginal people just have to accept that we cannot and never will understand this. Our culture and world view is just too different.
When I studied Aboriginal culture as part of my Masters years ago Stephen Harris, an Australian researcher into Aboriginal culture, said that if  you searched the world for 2 groups of people who were the most different from each other you would choose white and black Australians. He thought it was a cruel irony that two peoples so different from each other ended up having to share the same piece of land!
As for racism, I’ve come to believe that my opinions about racism as a privileged white person are largely irrelevant. Only the opinions of people on the receiving end of racism count.


Nina Liakos said...

I think one could say something similar about European-Americans and Native Americans. For them to see the land (which they did not see as "belonging" to anyone) being desecrated as the European conquerors moved westward must have been really terrible. Sometimes I wish I could travel back in time and see the cities and suburbs as they were before the forests were cleared. I grieve for what was and will never be again.

We have a redwood picnic table which we bought maybe 30 years ago. Now that I realize that 97 percent of California Redwoods have been cut down for just such frivolous uses, I feel awful every time I look at it. But throwing it out would be worse, wouldn't it? Maybe.

Read The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston, for amazing info about the redwoods and other really tall trees (in Australia too) .

Michael said...

I was thinking the same thing Nina. And the self-identification as an intrinsic part of nature may have been commonplace among many peoples in pre-colonial times.

I'm already reading 2 books at the moment - most unusual for me (there's the COVID effect again) - but I'll keep Richard Preston in mind. Found this interesting tree comparison site today -

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