The Plank in Australia's Eye

By Jarrod McKenna 11-09-2009

"F%*# OFF! WE'RE FULL!" read the bumper sticker I saw this morning, written within the outline of the Australian continent. The offense of the bumper stickers I felt twice as hard after hearing that another boat of people fleeing horrific circumstance had sunk off the Australian coast. This is the side of Australia you won't see advertised in our tourism campaigns. Beaches, barbecues, bronzed bodies, and beautiful sunsets are what we love to show the world. Yet the prophets' poetry draws our attention to what we want to ignore. What we hide. What we silence and long to keep a secret.

091106-we-are-all-boatpeopleWho wants to mess with the world's image of the sun-kissed, fun-loving, larrikin nation "Down Under"? I believe God does. Biblically our redemption is not found in hiding our shame but in letting the Spirit transform it. As Philip Berrigan would say, "The poor tell us who we are. The prophets tell us who we can be. So we hide the poor and kill the prophets." One of Australia's greatest shames is the way we imprison, ignore, silence, and hide [now offshore] refugees who tell us who we are, and who we can be.

Australia must face what Dr. Cornell West would call "the night side" of our national identity. Tied up in this 'night-side of Aussie pride' is the irrational xenophobia that makes it not just possible, but popular(!) for both sides of politics to use the plight of some of God's most vulnerable children seeking safety -- refugees -- as a political football. Tragically, how asylum seekers have been treated by Australia reads as a case study of anthropologist Rene Girard's theory of "scapegoating" as the glue of society. Power politics in this country are being held together by the hatred of this most defenseless 'other'.

A couple of years back while working with Aboriginal activist Uncle Kevin Buzzcott, he said to me, "When are you white fellas going to realize that you are all 'boatpeople'!?! If you are not going to let them [refugees] in, us black fellas should send you all home!"

Maybe deep in the white Australian psyche is the fear that just as the European colonisers stole the land from the indigenous peoples, so we might have the land stolen from us. Maybe what Uncle Kevin Buzzcott is pointing us to is the reality that what we fear is not "the other" but a projection of own worst selves. This would explain the both blatant and veiled history of legislated racism such as the "White Australia policy" and more recently, the supposedly overhauled "Pacific Solution." We Australians can be very quick to point out the racist histories of South Africa and the United States without removing the plank in our own eye.

[to be continued...]

portrait-jarrod-mckennaJarrod McKenna is seeking to live God's love as a dad, husband, brother, activist trainer and [eco]evangelist. He is a co-founder of the Peace Tree Community serving with the marginalised in one of the poorest of areas in his city, in Western Australia heads up an award winning multi-faith youth service initiative called Together for Humanity, and is the founder and creative director of Empowering Peacemakers (E.P.Y.C.), for which he has received an Australian peace award in his work for in empowering a generation of (eco)evangelists and peace prophets.

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