When the Prime Minister said "Sorry", were all black and white people in Australia reconciled? Not likely. Real reconciliation will not happen until black and white are no longer different, and because blacks and whites are fundamentally different, this will never happen. Or are they? Some don’t act that way.
For people who think in black or white terms, it must be confronting when some black people are white, or should I say when some white people are black.
When Kyle Van Derkuyp, the product of an Aboriginal mother and an Irish father, said he wanted to carry the Aboriginal flag at the Sydney Olympics, my first reaction was, "Will he carry an Irish flag in the other hand? After all, he’s no more Aboriginal than Irish.”
Many non-indigenous Australians express annoyance, or even disgust, at white-skinned people claiming to be black. Their various opinions are summed up by the question, ‘Why don't they go with their three parts white rather than their one part black?’
Although some are annoyed by it, the fact that white can be black is an indication that real reconciliation is possible because it moves us away from physical differences being the focus of racism. If physical difference is not the problem, spiritual difference must be.
The previous paragraph may seem contradictory because the spiritual is as fundamental as you can get and surely the more fundamental the difference, the harder it is for reconciliation to occur.
Popular white perception of the spiritual connection indigenous people have with the earth seems to be based on indigenous spirituality being somehow different to non-indigenous spirituality. This perception is the actual root of racism, since 'different' quickly leads to judgements of better/worse, superior/inferior.
There is a perception of difference at the most basic (spiritual) level without there being any actual difference. All people are made of the same ‘stuff’, which means, at the most fundamental level, indigenous and non-indigenous people are equal. The actual difference is in the awareness of our spirituality, and in the way of expressing that awareness; not in the spirituality itself.
In countries where there is a separation of Church and State, ‘religion’ refers to how a group of people traditionally express their awareness of human spirituality within a culture, but where there is no such division the culture itself is the expression of spirituality. Old Testament Israel and pre-1788 aboriginal Australia would be examples of the latter.
As a culture, indigenous people have enjoyed their spiritual connection with Australia much longer than non-indigenous people but it would be quite wrong to now attribute that spiritual connection only to indigenous people. And, in every day life, it is difficult to assess the relative strength of that connection in individual Australians, indigenous or non-indigenous.
Conflicts in relationships, in the home, between religions, cultures or nations are difficult to resolve when people act from positions of perceived difference. Those same conflicts become much easier to resolve when the people involved are aware of starting from common ground: equality.
There is no difference between Aboriginal spirituality or Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Taoist, or Atheist spirituality. Those terms indicate how members of each group satisfy the need to express human spirituality, as they gather to meet the need to belong.
Acceptance of the oneness of human spirituality would make efforts at reconciliation real rather than cosmetic and unite Australians of all backgrounds in the struggle to gain respect for each other's way of expressing spiritual awareness.
Applying the concept of ‘a fair go’ to spiritual expression demands that each person has the opportunity to develop their own identity. Many studies have found that having a strong sense of spirituality or ‘being religious’ is a protective factor against depression and suicide.
The way spirituality is expressed is part of a person’s identity and is evident in how they relate to other people. Kyle Van Derkuyp was not denying his Irish heritage, which had been expressed for many years, he just wanted to also express himself through his aboriginality, and that’s cool.