Teela Reid Says We Can’t Discuss The Voice To Parliament Without Confronting Australia’s ‘Entrenched Racism’

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The referendum about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, Stan Grant's decision to leave the ABC's Q&A program due to racism from the public, and the upcoming National Reconciliation Week...plenty of First Nations issues have made headlines as of late. But lawyer and activist Teela Reid argues that Australia shouldn't only care about Indigenous issues when they're in the news.
"Blak matters should matter to every single one of us every single day," the Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman tells Refinery29 Australia. "It's not just a hip topic," she continues, explaining that we must centre "Blak issues and matters in our everyday lives, and not just when it makes headlines."
Earlier this month Reid launched a new podcast called Blak Matters, in which she and co-host Michael Christian discuss issues related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Christian isn't Indigenous himself, and Reid says this reinforces the importance of all Australians, whether Indigenous or not, actually learning about and elevating First Nations perspectives.
So often, the onus falls on First Nations people to educate others about the generational trauma and lingering impacts of colonisation. But as Reid says, "White people have to sit with the discomfort that comes with the truth-telling aspect of what their own ancestors did".
"Lots of people are having these yarns, but some people just don't feel brave enough to sit with the difficulty that comes with it. Even white people have to be centring First Nations issues for us to create real change."
Born and raised in Gilgandra, NSW, Reid is now a Sydney-based Senior Solicitor in Aboriginal Land Rights litigation, and the founder of Blackfulla Bookclub, an Instagram account that honours First Nations storytelling. Her lived experiences as an Indigenous woman have driven her towards activism and wanting to speak up for her community.
"I am a First Nations woman — very proud and foremost, Wiradjuri and Wailwan. And operating in so-called Australia can be quite complex to navigate," she reflects. "We do live in a world that is really built on whiteness and white privilege, and this is all around us."
Given the huge amount of public and political discourse around the Voice to Parliament referendum, Reid says that she and Christian will obviously touch on this. The Voice would be a permanent body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, advising government on Indigenous policy. Politicians, activists and community members have shared their opinions on it over the past few months. Whether it's on her podcast or on social media, Reid has unapologetically called out political spin or misleading statements.
"For First Nations peoples, [there's] the history of the way in which language has been weaponised against us. It's been one of the weapons of the colony," she explains.
The referendum is a contentious topic, and she simply wants Blak Matters to deliver accurate messaging to help Aussies "cut through the confusion".
"I'm doing what I've always done, which is being a reliable source of information at each stage in this quite difficult process for the nation," she says. "It's not lost on me how significant 2023 will be. History will really judge us for this."
While there's "the Yes camp, the No camp and the in between" when it comes to the Voice to Parliament, Reid says she's "never actually signed up to an official campaign".
"I come to this as a sovereign First Nations woman, and I truly believe Australians will make the right choice at the end of the day," she says.
"But how they choose to do that and what information that they absorb along the way, is going to be really crucial, especially in an era where we have such a public topic around the Voice and a referendum, and the capacity [for people] to spread information on social media."
Reid emphasises that other issues need to be addressed simultaneously with the conversation around the Voice to Parliament.
"I definitely think that Australia has to really grapple with the entrenched racism that we have to live with every day as Blak people in this place," she says. She adds that conversations can't be as constructive "unless we're actually dealing with the deeply embedded racism in our nation — where incarceration for Indigenous peoples is soaring — at the same time we're having a conversation about the Voice".
Ultimately, Reid hopes that millennial Australians not only listen to various perspectives, but feel confident that they can help create change — because it's everyone's responsibility, not just Indigenous people's.
"What I do hope to pitch to millennials is to realise our freaking power. We are a powerful group of voters, and we actually need to step up and exercise that power."
Whether it's climate justice or the cost of living, these issues impact us all according to Reid, and "we can only have the conversation through centring Blak matters".
Blak Matters is available now on LiSTNR or wherever you get your podcasts.
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