Book Review: Beyond White Guilt


What a disappointment. I really like Sarah Maddison’s work (well, the Activist Wisdom thing, and stuff about feminism and movements), and so thought her take on what practical reconciliation would look like would be worth pondering. Sorry, but the blurb makes promises the book just doesn’t keep. After a promising start (the intro is good),

Letting go of the idea that we might ever achieve ‘moral’ purity – because history does not allow us this luxury – might be a useful starting point. Once we let go of purity, accept our ‘moral stain’ as US legal scholar David Williams describes it, then guilt may no longer be unbearable. If we accept that we are guilty then we can ask the really difficult questions – about sovereignty, about national identity – without constantly having to defend our honour. Acknowledging our collective guilt can be a useful starting point for the hard work that is still to be done.
Page 20-1

it’s kinda all downhill. What can well-meaning non-Indigenous people DO? Should they be denouncing the Intervention? Who to? Should they be educating themselves? If so, what books and resources does Maddison recommend? Should they be practically involved in grass-roots organisations? If so, which ones, and what kind of behaviours should they NOT be undertaking (Maddison is good on not asking for individual absolution because it’s really tiring to the indigenous folks). What are the pros and cons of Constitutional Recognition? What are the dangers and opportunities ahead in the coming five years?

Instead we get history lessons (and not at the level of detail of say Henry Reynolds) and a certain amount of hand-wringing and theorising. Sarah Maddison is way smarter than this, and I hope she takes another bite at the cherry.


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