Michelle Deshong. Townsville hosted a Black Lives Matter rally at Strand Park, despite Covid-19 regulations advising against large gatherings. Hundreds showed up for the moving, peaceful protest. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.
Michelle Deshong. Townsville hosted a Black Lives Matter rally at Strand Park, despite Covid-19 regulations advising against large gatherings. Hundreds showed up for the moving, peaceful protest. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.

‘Problem is not black vs white, it’s us vs racism’

The Black Lives Matter movement sweeping Australia this weekend are not about black vs white but rather a case of society standing up against systematic racism, according to one indigenous leader.

Addressing hundreds at the Townsville rally, Michelle Deshong said Systemic and institutional racism continues to disadvantage aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, and people of colour.

"The systems and processes that continue to marginalise and oppress us are the reason we are here today and it's all of our responsibility to see it, call it out and to do something about it," she said.

"Black fellas are tired, our voices are weary.

"But with your support and empathy perhaps the voices get louder, perhaps the level of influence changes and we do see a country that really is about full equality for everybody."

Ms Deshong applauded the "amazing" turnout and show of solidarity in Townsville where hundreds filled The Strand Park to support the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Townsville hosted a Black Lives Matter rally at Strand Park, despite Covid-19 regulations advising against large gatherings. Hundreds showed up for the moving, peaceful protest. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.
Townsville hosted a Black Lives Matter rally at Strand Park, despite Covid-19 regulations advising against large gatherings. Hundreds showed up for the moving, peaceful protest. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.

The event was originally planned for earlier in the week but had been cancelled, and was only rescheduled with 24 hours notice.

Mrs Deshong said the rally was a significant show of support amid growing opposition.

"As black fellas, we know not to read the (social media) comments," she said.

"Many of those comments said 'go on then, you are easy targets, we'll come down, we'll make shame, we'll do all these things'.

"And yet we showed up and I think that's a really important message, if you tell us we can't then we will. You will only energise us that little bit more.

"We wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to come out and hear people and to learn, but more importantly to have conversations with other people, and to be in a place that is safe and respectful that wants to educate."

She went on to say the killing of George Floyd in the United States is the "straw that broke the camel's back," providing an opportunity for Australia to have an important conversation with itself.

Townsville hosted a Black Lives Matter rally at Strand Park, despite Covid-19 regulations advising against large gatherings. Hundreds showed up for the moving, peaceful protest. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.
Townsville hosted a Black Lives Matter rally at Strand Park, despite Covid-19 regulations advising against large gatherings. Hundreds showed up for the moving, peaceful protest. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.

Ms Deshong said the issues seen overseas are the same as those that continue to plague indigenous people in Australia.

"The truth is there's been a problem about race relations in this country for generations, for decades, and centuries, it's not new to us," she said.

"The royal commission into aboriginal deaths in custody handed down a report in 1991, so that means it was here.

"98 deaths were investigated as part of that, and as a 16-year-old going to school here in Townsville I was writing projects about black deaths in custody because that was something on our doorstep.

"Too many people continue to lose their lives as a result of being in custody and the poor treatment of people of colour."

In an emotional moment, Ms Deshong read out the names of a number of indigenous Australians who had lost their lives in police custody to highlight that they were more than just names, but mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

Townsville hosted a Black Lives Matter rally at Strand Park, despite Covid-19 regulations advising against large gatherings. Hundreds showed up for the moving, peaceful protest. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.
Townsville hosted a Black Lives Matter rally at Strand Park, despite Covid-19 regulations advising against large gatherings. Hundreds showed up for the moving, peaceful protest. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.

She called on the system to be held accountable.

"We are frustrated that no police officer has ever been convicted in this country for the poor treatment and the death of an indigenous person in custody," she said.

"We need things to change, we need our voices to be heard, we need this country to step up and we need to change the institutions and processes that discriminate against us.

"Quite frankly, our black lives depend on it."

Originally published as 'Problem is not black vs white, it's us vs racism'



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