“The problem with today’s media attention is that it’s all about political correctness. You can hashtag ‘BLM’ all you want, but unless you put one foot in front of the other to make a change, you’re not making a difference to the world we live in.” 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has gained support in the United States, bringing together activists and ordinary people as they share their experiences of racial discrimination. The discussion around racial relations in the US peaked after repeated incidents of police brutality towards young black men, with the most recent BLM protests sparked by the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

The BLM movement has quickly expanded beyond just a US campaign, highlighting the global nature of racial abuse that transcends national boundaries. Thousands of people gathered at a BLM rally in Perth, Western Australia, on 16 July to demonstrate that experiences of oppression are a reality for black people in Australia as well, with a particular focus on the country’s indigenous community.

To find out more about the growing BLM movement in Australia, the IPF spoke to Ella Bodekar, one of the organisers of the BLM rally in Perth. As an indigenous Australian herself, Ella brought out the subtleties of the movement and how it strikes a chord with thousands in Australia.

Discrimination towards Australia’s aboriginals

Ella told the IPF: “There is a need for [the BLM movement] because the mistreatment and disregard for the indigenous Australians is so obvious and abundant.

“There is very little respect for us. We are either too ‘dumb and helpless’ to be helped, or too ‘successful’ to be paid proper attention to.”

Statistics have shown that while indigenous Australians only represent 3% of the population, more than 28% of Australia’s prison population are aboriginals. Ella notes that the disproportionate number of aboriginals behind bars, in comparison to white people, is “frustrating”.

“Hands up, don’t shoot!”

The popular and powerful BLM slogans, “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “No justice, no peace“, have initiated a powerful conversation with police and law enforcement officials. Ella recalls an incident relating to BLM Perth’s campaign speaker, Shaun, whose niece tragically died “due to neglect” while in police custody.

“Without even speaking, we all felt his pain,” Ella said.

“Every one of us knows someone who has been mistreated by law enforcers. We chant slogans to put across that we mean no harm to the police, we simply beg mercy and justice for our people.”

Apart from the prejudice that is associated with the colour of one’s skin, Ella also spoke about the larger social conditioning that normalises various forms of discrimination. She explained how she fused her family’s past experiences of racial discrimination with the present activities of the BLM movement, saying that she experiences prejudice despite her skin being paler than her family’s.

She said that she empathised with darker people of colour after having seen her grandmother, a dark indigenous Australian, being put under great strain simply because of her skin colour. She described how BLM in Perth is tackling this:

“We’ve got a few activities lined up, including a ‘curl picnic’ for men and women with naturally curly and frizzy hair to come together and celebrate their heritage.”

Double discrimination

Ella explains how social discrimination based on race is not an isolated event, but is equally connected to other identity markers, including gender and sexuality. As a white person of colour (WPOC), a woman and gay, Ella is part of a “small minority.” She said:

“I definitely think the double discrimination is abundant. Women who are indigenous Australian are more likely to be sexually assaulted, we are perceived as ‘easy’ and ‘cheap’ simply because of how our ancestors were treated – as objects that could be sold, traded and raped.”

Ella continued: “I can’t talk on behalf of indigenous Australian men as I identify as female, but I imagine they experience more violence from others in comparison to the sexual assaults women experience in everyday life.”

Bringing real change

Australia’s BLM movement doesn’t only highlight social discrimination against the indigenous community, but also addresses past experiences of abuse that demand reconciliation. While Ella recognises that the movement is able to symbolically gather support from those in power, she believes that media sensationalism only offers a “lip service” to the cause, without bringing about any real change.

“Baby steps are needed, especially by those in power,” Ella said. “They’re the ones who hold influence over others. [However], the problem with today’s media attention is that it’s all about political correctness. You can hashtag ‘BLM’ all you want, but unless you put one foot in front of the other to make a change, you’re not making a difference to the world we live in.”

She added:

“Some people put a lot of effort into appearing politically correct to their peers online and otherwise, but can’t be bothered going to a rally or signing a petition even.”

Despite this, Ella told the IPF about some of the incredible responses they have had to the BLM movement in Australia and has vowed to continue fighting for the rights of indigenous people.

 “We will keep fighting, keep holding rallies in relation to BLM, until we feel we have achieved and satisfied the needs of those that need it. It’s ridiculous we need to do it, but here we are. All lives will matter when black lives matter.”