This statement was sent as an email to YWCA members and supporters on Friday 5 June 2020.
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned that following statement contains links to distressing information and images and names of people who have passed away
Firstly to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and People of Colour clients, students, tenants, colleagues, members, global YWCA sisters and loved ones, we acknowledge the impact of the pain and anguish that events over the last week have brought into focus, following the recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, US, by four policeman.
The reality and regularity of people being killed because of the colour of their skin, is horrific. Black lives matter to everyone here at YWCA Australia.
The parallels with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities being targeted and incarcerated as part of the ongoing experience of colonisation, are the reality of the Australian society we live in.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement calls us all to take action against police brutality, the murder of black people, the end of white supremacy and demand reflective race representation across positions of power.
Protests in the US and around the world have shone a light on an issue that has for too long been ignored.
Just this week we have seen footage of a Sydney police officer foot sweeping and brutally injuring a First Nations teenager while arresting him. This was referred to by the NSW Police Commissioner as this constable “having a bad day”. In reality, a bad day is possible every day for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person simply because of the colour of their skin.
However, the video depicts something far more sinister here in Australia; these events are not occurring in isolation, they are an accumulation of colonisation, systemic racism and police brutality.
432 known Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have died in custody since 1991.
In modern Australia, some 25 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, this is still happening without accountability.
It is critically important that we are supporting First Nations-led campaigns.
Tanya Day, a Yorta Yorta woman, was removed from a train for public drunkenness and taken into police custody, where she sustained injuries. She ended the day unconscious in hospital and never woke up.
As a women’s movement we recognise state sanctioned violence and police brutality as a feminist issue. First Nations women experience violence from the state and at the hands of police in a professional and personal way, particularly in relation to police perpetrators of domestic and family violence (DFV) and the associated misuse of official powers.
If you are able to do so, donate to families who have lost loved ones to deaths in custody:
- Justice for Tanya Day
- Justice for Yuendumu: Inquiry into Police Violence
- Justice for Joyce Clarke
- Justice for David Dungay Junior
Support and share campaigns like We are Done Dying, Change the Record and Deadly Connections, support your local Aboriginal Legal Service, find out more about organisations working with First Nations women, families and communities such as Sisters Inside, Djirra and Grandmothers Against Removals.
You can even donate if you have no money to give – Zoe Amira’s video project was created to offer people a way to donate and financially contribute to #BlackLivesMatter without having any actual money or going out to protest themselves. 100% of the advertisement revenue this video makes through AdSense gets donated to the associations that offer protester bail funds and help pay for family funerals and advocacy.
Look after yourself
Experiencing trauma can have physical and psychological impacts. Being First Nations and/or black can be inherently traumatic when you live in a society built upon white colonisation. If you’re feeling affected by any of this, please seek help. It is normal to be reacting to the visceral trauma surrounding our lives right now. Reach out to your local support networks and helplines.
Non-Indigenous people may be affected too. It may also make you feel uncomfortable, and this is something that pushes many people outside of their comfort zone. Murder, violence, white supremacy and the patriarchy are not comfortable topics. This is a normal reaction and you must prioritise your own self-care too.
YWCA Australia – our journey
We acknowledge that we live and work on stolen land and sovereignty was never ceded. It always was, always will be Aboriginal land.
In our journey as an evolving intersectional feminist organisation, we acknowledge there is a long road ahead, but we must remain committed to dismantling white privilege as well as the patriarchy and the systems they uphold, if we genuinely want to see a better world.
We have so much to do. Not just in society, but as a 140-year-old women’s organisation who have benefited from privilege. All non-Indigenous people must examine their own reinforcement of inequality, discrimination and oppression. We acknowledge that YWCA Australia has been largely run and led by white women, even today. As a feminist organisation working towards gender equality, we have a responsibility and the platform to do more and better. We exist to amplify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and gender diverse people’s voices, to challenge behaviours, structures and power imbalances and alongside our allies and stakeholders, collectively continue to influence others on rethinking what equity in Australia must look like. We commit to sincere and genuine Reconciliation. As an organisation that celebrates and supports young people, we must be held accountable. It is not as simple as not being a racist organisation, we must be thoroughly committed to anti-racism.
We have had plenty of opportunities to learn and unlearn and this is no time for excuses, but nor can we ignore the incredible work by YWCA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and allies throughout our history. There is no single path, and this honest reflection should not detract from the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and People of Colour who are calling us to make more than just a statement.
Here and now, we commit to being explicit in our actions that mirror our passion and dedication to intersectionality, one area that young people throughout our movement are raising the bar on.
You cannot achieve gender justice without racial justice.
Racial justice in Australia will require listening to, and solidarity with First Nations people and People of Colour.
We must dismantle systemic racism together and accelerate Australia’s long journey towards justice.
What our people have to say
YWCA Australia Board Member
“When will it end for Black People, you ask?
I am a woman of colour, married to a man of colour, mother of 3 stunning adult children of colour, and an Aunt to a lot of nieces and nephews of colour.
I am a Black African woman whose people seem to be marked for the worst treatment that can be wantonly and inhumanely meted out to humans.
Incidents like that of George Floyd’s murder makes my blood curdle; I am scared, I get scared when my son and husband drive out of home to go about their daily business or choose to go for a walk or a run when it gets dark. This murder, this demonstration of insanity has highlighted the intense systemic racism that Black People live under but mind you, not only in the USA.
This has been a difficult week and it’s amazing that hardly any people stopped to acknowledge the possible impact this must be having on First Nations people and other people of colour who are in contact with them as colleagues, clients and contact people.
My pain is palpable as a Black African woman, but I will not take away from the pain of the First Nations people. I bend my pain and bring myself to walk in solidarity with Australia’s First Nations.
I acknowledge that this society was born in dispossession of Australia’s First Nations and our current privileges are at the expense of the dispossession and colonisation of the First Nations, and for that reason, as I walk on this stolen land, this unceded land, I do it with care and tread with absolute respect. I raise the banner of #BlackLivesMatter and fall behind the leadership of First Nation led Campaigns: “Stop Black Deaths in Custody”, and get your organisation to respectfully develop a Reconciliation Action Plan that has in-built accountability mechanisms and support a push for the implementation of the recommendations in the “Change the Record” document. I do so by instilling respect for Australia’s First Nations people into my community and show them that our strength, our dignity comes from respectfully standing with Australia’s First Nations.
RACISM STEALS, KILLS and DESTROYS. LET US NOT TOLERATE IT, CALL IT OUT!
Black Lives are not for SPORT!”
Northern NSW Team, YWCA Australia
“We pay tribute to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities, the injustices, and struggles. The systems and actions of oppression that continue to uphold systemic racism and dis-empowerment of First Nations sovereignty on this continent and all people of colour across the world. We acknowledge the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the hands of white privilege, abuse of power and colonisation. We can and we will support, listen and advocate for and with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities, and people of colour, paying respect to their journey, their pain, their stories, and demanding that their voices, and truths be heard and told.”
Regional Manager, Northern NSW, YWCA Australia
“Too many times my people have been at the hands of failed systems and policies, and cried ourselves to sleep for the deaths, pain and suffering of our families and loved ones. Never able to feel safe, in any space, for my colour, my sovereignty and existence is a ‘threat’. Challenging inequality; labelled as an angry and ungrateful black. Generations of oppression, stories of survival… it is time we control the narrative of our culture, stories, history and future. It’s time to pay the rent.”
Director, National Service Development and Delivery, YWCA Australia
“As a mother of adult children of colour, every time a description and age is mentioned when there is an incident of brutality on the news or the radio I think… that could be one of my kids.
My sons do not get the privilege to walk late at night as their own person. They are not free to be alone in the dark. In the world we live in, the only way they can travel safe from racial violence at night is as a Father with their children, as a man walking a dog with his girlfriend or as part of a group with white people in it as well. If he is with other men of colour they are regarded in their entirety as a threat.
It’s a horrific reality that as a person of colour, you know you will be targeted by the police and the justice system. It keeps me awake at night.”
A proud Bundjalung young woman and YWCA Australia Member
“I truly struggle to comprehend the hate and warped realities some people live in to think that their life has more value than another’s. I don’t understand why and how people can discriminate based on the colour of one’s skin. There are so many things I question when I hear about another black person dying at the hands of a racist, uneducated, close minded individual. My heart aches each time I read the statistics of First Nation incarceration and the abuse especially involving young people – it’s unfair and it’s preventable. We need to remember that racism is taught, we need to spend time educating ourselves and helping others learn about the systematic oppression that creates such ingrained hate and divisiveness within the single human race.”