The surge in sales of Indigenous books is heartening but education takes many forms

Aboriginal people have been inundated with questions about how to be a better ally. It gives us hope but it’s absolutely exhausting

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter and Aboriginal Lives Matter movements, many of my friends and colleagues have been inundated with requests – how to be a better ally, where to donate, what to read, who to listen to … the requests stop short of asking us, “what should I think?”

This increase in passion, in the desire to learn, to understand, to be part of the necessary process of change that requires ALL of society’s citizens to participate – that passion is needed, it is inspiring, it is helpful, and it gives hope. But it doesn’t come without a lot of extra work on the part of Indigenous people, and an enormous amount of handholding. And all of it is tiring, because we have been sharing the information forever, but it has not been heard.

So we answer the emails and the DMs and the tweets (most of the time, and sometimes begrudgingly), because we want people to learn.

It is heartening then to see that so many people have turned to the books written by Aboriginal people to fulfil their desire to learn about Aboriginal cultures, history and experiences. Booksellers such as Readings, Avid Reader, Booktopia and Dymocks have all created reading lists on race to assist readers too.

We want Australians to have the knowledge and the education they have been denied through centuries of schooling and tertiary degrees that have removed or papered over Indigenous history.

We want the history of invasion and the effects of colonisation, of removing children, of Aboriginal people dying in police custody to be understood. To be owned. And we want Australians to feel it in their hearts as we do. And we want Australians to step up, armed with that knowledge to be confident in saying, The time is up. We are with you.

And so, my friends and I and countless others take the baby steps with those starting to walk with us for the first time.

As an author, I have been inundated with requests on every social media platform and via email, from teachers, parents, students all asking for reading recommendations. There are numerous lists to be found, and many more being created on a regular basis. But people read differently and audiences are as diverse as the authors, so there are a few key places I direct inquiries first.

BlackWords Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers research community is a one-stop shop for everything published by our mob. There are nearly 24,000 indexed works (poetry, plays, novels, critical work, non-fiction, children’s books etc), by just under 7,000 authors and organisations. There’s a wealth of teaching and learning resources including Literary Trails via subject headings, from the “Stolen Generations” to “Language and Country” to “Indigenous Identity”. These trails provide reading and viewing recommendations too.

I’ve also personally created Black Book Reading Challenges that take in the backlist of our works across genres. You can find them here. And in case you or someone you know still needs convincing, here’s a list of 20 Reasons You Should Read Blak.

But storytelling and education takes many forms, and social media has become a platform for many to share resources, recommendations and content for broader audiences. The #Sharethemic social media campaign that began in the US on 10 June with the goal to amplify Black women’s voices and the important work they do to create change, has found its way to Australia on Instagram. At the request of author Tara June Winch, I curated a group of deadly tiddas across sectors. They included Terri Janke, Shelley Ware, Kirli Saunders, Melanie Mununggurr-Williams, Sharon Winsor and Leesa Watego, who for 24 hours “took the mic” from white influencer hosts, sharing their stories, dropping their truth bombs, opening the minds of many who “had never heard”, or didn’t know where to go to listen.

Antoinette Braybrook, the CEO of Aboriginal women’s support service Djirra, shared some statistics about disproportionate rates of violence against our women, the high rates of Aboriginal child removal and the fact that Aboriginal women are the fastest growing prison population in our country today. She said of sharing that information on Sigourney Cantelo’s page: “I am always shocked by how many people have heard these statistics for the first time. I say them several times a day.”

Comedian, writer and actor Elizabeth Wymarra was paired with writer and podcaster Rosie Waterland. Wymarra said it was “important for allies to realise that the movement also involves resilience. They need to do the hard work and not give up when it gets harder or they feel exhausted. Coz Black people been tired for hundreds of years and we still get up and show up. So now it’s their turn.” Meanwhile, actor and comedian Elaine Crombie – who will be following up her connection with media talent Tanya Hennessy in the weeks to come – said: “Taking part in online actions like #ShareTheMicNowAustralia remind me that when I’m on the frontline, in the streets, screaming ‘Too many coppers, not enough justice’ I MEAN THAT S**T!”

The final words I offer today come from the CEO of advocacy organisation Culture is Life, Belinda Duarte, who said: “Thanks for #sharingthemic. Imagine if others did daily … They might just hear what’s in our hearts.”

• Dr Anita Heiss is an author and professor of communications at the University of Queensland. She has written about her #sharethemicnowaustralia experience here

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Anita Heiss

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