Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer is the Australian National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) Acting Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee, University of Queensland Branch Indigenous Representative, a lecturer in management at the University of Queensland Australia, and is from the Guringai, Gadigal, Wiradjuri and Darug peoples. Here, Dr Leroy-Dyer discusses the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of solidarity in the struggle against racism.
The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has never gone away. It has always been with us in one form or another. However, when the issue explodes on your television, as it did in the United States following the death of George Floyd, and with the public outcry that followed, it does make you reflect on what is happening in your own backyard.
As with the tragic death of Floyd, and others from the African American community, the deaths of Aboriginal peoples in custody highlight the systemic issues Indigenous and minority peoples face around the world.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in my country face many challenges and injustices. As is the case for Indigenous and minority peoples around the world, we are disproportinately incarcerated, with Indigenous adults in Australia 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous Australians, and with Indigenous juveniles 26 times more likely.
On the day of the first BLM protests in Australia last week, there were 432 reported deaths of Aboriginal people in custody since 1991. That figure increased to 437 within a week. That’s five Aboriginal lives lost. Five familes and communities devastated in less than a week.
Of course, the deaths of our people at the hands of the police and while in custody represent the ultimate form of violence. But violence, racism and discrimination is experienced much more broadly in society, and it manifests itself in how Indigenous peoples are treated in both our private and public lives. A recent report by the Australian National University, for example, found three in four people in Australia have an implicit negative bias against Indigenous Australians.
These reports, outlining systemic, explicit and implicit racism, highlight and expose the issues Indigenous, minority and marginalised peoples experience the world over. Faced with these entrenched attitudes, and systemic racism, increasingly global movements such as Black Lives Matter give the marginalised, discriminated and disenfranchised some hope that with greater awareness there may finally be some positive change.
In Brisbane over the weekend, there were an estimated 10,000 people who came out in support of Black and Indigenous Lives. In Newcastle, protestors came together, laid their bodies down, with hands on their heads as a sign of solidarity with the BLM movement in the US. These images are a powerful symbol of solidarity with Black Lives in the US, but also with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Māori and Pasifika lives.
At least 20,000 people came together in Sydney for the BLM protest. There have been acts of protest, of raising awareness, but also of kindness and solidarity. Importantly, there is also a new momentum.
There are those who tell us that ‘all lives matter’. We know, of course, that all lives matter. But statements such as this only serve to obfuscate the cause, and take the focus away from the racism and the many injustices disproportionately experienced by non-white and minority people.
It’s imperative that the BLM and anti-racist movements garner solidarity from a wide range of voices. The movement is not just for Black, Indigenous and minority peoples to stand up and be heard. It’s also for our allies and for people who want to see positive change that will improve the lives of everyone. It’s for people who want to see social and economic justice for Black, Aboriginal, Māori and Pasifika Peoples.
It’s vital to have those allies, and to bring them with us. The people who marched here in Australia, marched for justice and in solidarity with those impacted by racism in all its forms. They wanted to be seen and to be heard as saying ‘yes, black lives do matter’.
Last week, NTEU released a Statement on Racism expressing soildarity with Australia’s First Nation Peoples and in support of the Black Lives Matters protests. NTEU believes that no Australian should look to the BLM movement as an imported or distant cause.
As academics, educators and as union members, we are in a position to be an important part of this conversation. Unionists around the world, not only in tertiary education, but in all sectors, are standing up and saying ‘Black Lives Matter’, and acknowledging that the struggle against racism and injustice is in line with our shared values.
The NTEU stands in solidarity with our Māori sisters and brothers in Aotearoa, with our union whānau, and with those around the world who oppose racism and injustice. We must continue to stand up and keep fighting for our shared principles: the principles of equity, justice and of the union movement. We need to stand together as Indigenous Peoples, and as allies in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, and continue to help each other and be there for one another, in union.