January 26 is a fraught day for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Whether you know it as Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Australia Day, January 26 is increasingly becoming a point of tension about Australia’s history and how insensitive Australia is. (Spoiler: heaps.)
For some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it also marks a noted uptick of interest. And that can be exhausting. Talking about your experience of structural racism, intergenerational trauma, and identity isn’t a walk in the park; even if the person asking is well-meaning.
I spoke to Olivia Williams, the 23-year-old Koori woman who runs the wildly popular Blak Business Instagram account, about how allies can put good intentions into practice in the lead-up to, on, and following January 26. Want to be a better ally? Read on!
First of all, understand why it’s exhausting
The lead-up to January 26 can be exhausting for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, no matter what the conversation is like.
“It’s the huge influx of interest and push to answer people’s questions that is overwhelming,” Olivia told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“You go, okay, how do I have this conversation again, how do I not miss parts in the conversation so we don’t have to keep having it again?”
And then with more conversations, there’s more opportunities for everyone from your average Facebook commenter to the Prime Minister to spout offensive and/or ill-informed statements.
“It’s also exhausting when you deal with comments like from our Prime Minister,” Olivia said, referring to Scott Morrison‘s quip that January 26, 1788 wasn’t too crash hot for the First Fleet passengers, either. Jfc.
Do your own research
This doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions – it just means to do a 30 second Google search before you turn to your nearest First Nations person and ask them why people want to abolish / change the date of Australia Day.
“You can consume that information in any style media you like. A. B. Original‘s song January 26 is three minutes. That’s three minutes of knowledge you can take in. So, do it yourself before turning to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples around you,” Olivia said.
“You’re taking the burden off someone else to educate you.”
And if you do want to have conversations, ask for consent
Just a simple, ‘Hey, is it okay if I asked your thoughts on January 26?’ will do here.
“Be aware that we’re a bit tired, and a bit sensitive – firstly ask for consent to have those conversations,” Olivia said.
Show up for events
There’s heaps of events happening around Australia, from dawn services to marches and festivals. If you can, show up! (But be safe, especially during COVID – here’s some tips.)
“They’re easy to find on Facebook or Google, and if you live in a town where there isn’t an event happening, you can share social media content showing your support,” Olivia said.
Here’s a run-down of some of the big events happening on January 26 to get you started.
Shop from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-owned businesses
Like most things to do with being a good ally, this one rings true for every day of the year. A great way to show your support is to put your money where your mouth is and buy from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander-owned businesses.
To get you started, here’s seven businesses owned by Indigenous women, selling everything from jewellery to skincare and art.
Share messages on Instagram
This can be a contentious one, because there’s an element of ‘lazy activism’ to it. It can feel a bit disingenuous to share a pretty tile on Instagram but not show up in any other way.
However, Olivia is all for it, and says it’s one of the key reasons her page has grown to almost 100,000 followers in a little over a year.
“Social media solidarity is so important,” she said.
“If you have 10 followers or 10,000 followers, or somewhere in between – anyone has a platform to invite more people into the conversation.
“My platform hasn’t grown just because of me creating content, it’s because people share it. Then more people become interested in the conversation.
“The only thing is you have to make sure your social media posting reflects in your real life. Are you practising what you preach offline?”
What not to do: celebrate Australia Day uncritically
Again, this is a really contentious one – and particularly for migrants who became Australian citizens on January 26, it’s an important day in their history.
However, when I asked Olivia what was something well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful, it was joining in the celebrations without putting any thought behind it.
“I’ve had messages from people saying, ‘I have mates celebrating January 26 as Australia Day and they’re going to the beach. I don’t support it, but can I still go to the beach with them?'” she said.
“I can’t give you answers for that, but I think you need to be critical of what you’re doing, and just be really aware of what you’re celebrating and why.”
One thing you can do right now that’s super easy – go follow Olivia’s page and learn something new.