Thursday, January 27, 2022

BLACK ARMBANDS AND WHITE BLINDFOLDS



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Yesterday being Australia Day, I posted some facts and trivia about Australia, which many (myself included) regard as “the best country in the world, no risk.”

I mentioned in that post that I did not propose to enter into the debate about the day being regarded as Invasion Day by many, both indigenous and non-indigenous, or about shifting the date.

These aspects were however discussed with some family members on Oz Day, during which I raised the concept of the black armband view of history.

It occurred to me that some brief comments on the black armband view of history might be worth sharing.
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“The black armband view of our past reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.”

- John Howard, 1996
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In Western culture, a black armband signifies that the wearer is in mourning or wishes to identify with the commemoration of a family friend, comrade or team member who has died.
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The phrase "black armband view of history" was first used by conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey in 1993 in his Sir John Latham Memorial Lecture, which was later published in the magazine Quadrant.

Blainey used the expression o describe views of history which, he believed, posited that "much of [pre-multicultural] Australian history had been a disgrace" and which focused mainly on the treatment of minority groups (especially Aboriginal people).
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Blainey contrasted the above with the Three Cheers view, according to which: "nearly everything that came after [the convict era] was believed to be pretty good".
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Blainey argued that both such accounts of Australian history were inaccurate: "The Black Armband view of history might well represent the swing of the pendulum from a position that had been too favourable, too self-congratulatory, to an opposite extreme that is even more unreal and decidedly jaundiced."
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The phrase was used by some in describing historians considered to be writing excessively critical Australian history "while wearing a black armband" of "mourning and grieving, or shame".
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In the 1996 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture, Prim\e Minister John Howard stated:
The 'black armband' view of our history reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. ... I believe that the balance sheet of our history is one of heroic achievement and that we have achieved much more as a nation of which we can be proud than of which we should be ashamed. In saying that I do not exclude or ignore specific aspects of our past where we are rightly held to account. Injustices were done in Australia and no-one should obscure or minimise them. ... But ... our priority should ... [be] to commit to a practical program of action that will remove the enduring legacies of disadvantage.
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In 2009, Howard's successor Kevin Rudd also called for moving away from a black-arm view:
Time to leave behind us the polarisation that began to infect our every discussion of our nation's past. To go beyond the so-called "black arm" view that refused to confront some hard truths about our past, as if our forebears were all men and women of absolute nobility, without spot or blemish. But time, too, to go beyond the view that we should only celebrate the reformers, the renegades and revolutionaries, thus neglecting or even deriding the great stories of our explorers, of our pioneers, and of our entrepreneurs. Any truthful reflection of our nation's past is that these are all part of the rich fabric of our remarkable story ...
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In opposition to the concept of the black armband view of history, there has developed the counter proposition of the white blindfold view of history, a view of Australian history that emphasizes the achievements of white society and ignores issues such as the dispossession and ill-treatment of Aboriginal people.
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“ . . . in designing the Australian curriculum. . . it is neither black armband nor white blindfold.”

Education Minister (later Deputy PM and then PM) Julia Gillard, announcing a new national schools curriculum, 2010
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So what is the answer?

Up to you to make up your own mind and come to your own conclusions.

Or maybe just be aware.

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