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The horrible images of unjust killings and brutal policing that have come out of the USA in recent weeks reflects a culture of haves and have-nots. Having lived in both South Africa during the era of apartheid and the USA – in both the north and south, midwest, east and west coasts – I am perhaps more than sensitive to these news items.
It took remarkable people to begin the process of reconciliation and a changing of attitudes in South Africa. Not only Nelson Mandela, who must surely be one of the great men of the 20th century, but also the then premier and soon to become Nobel prize winner, F.W. De Clerk who had the compassion, faith and vision to release Mandela and support subsequent changes. Yes, South Africa is still a very troubled nation, but at least people are free to choose their own course now.
It’s a sad thing to say, but I don’t see people of this calibre in USA politics today. And, with the underlying gun culture and a certain “wild West” macho environment stoked by the NRA and the current President, even though we may see some changes as a result of the BLM protests, I am pessimistic. I do not expect to see a systematic or fundamental change in attitudes or practices unfortunately.
But of course this is not new. Much of what I write about and think about it shaped by history. Whether it is black and white or immigrant and native or poor and rich or aristocrat and peasant, history is a continuous tapestry of conflict and struggle between haves and have-nots, between one culture and another.
In the Helots’ Tale, Mary Ann and Robert would know exactly what I’m talking about. Born into an underclass in England at the beginning of the 19th century they had no education, no privileges, no votes, no money, no prospects. Indeed, it is a wonder that England didn’t fall prey to the same revolution that saw heads fall to the guillotine across the channel in the previous century.
As my research led me on, I could see the changing circumstances of these two souls. From a desperate situation in England under the heel of the privileged they were able to fight through the system and build a better life in a new land, creating the foundation for subsequent generations to take their places in a new society where they were no longer the underclass. Indeed, within two generations their family had taken their places in a new world society.
Now Australia is not a utopia where there is no prejudice. It existed in the 1800s and exists now unfortunately. Knowing the human psyche, it will always exist. But to my eye the Australian people by and large have risen a long way above the struggle that is still being played out in the USA. And perhaps part of the reason is that the original 160,000 convicts transported here, like Robert and Mary Ann, were mixed into the founding gene pool of the country. They were all slaves too and they too were emancipated.
Perhaps with this came an intimate understanding of the need to rid themselves of the evils that come with unearned privilege, unjust officialdom, blind prejudice. I guess history shows us that there is hope yet.