In societies where the people are exposed to relentless oppression, suicide is a normal response – the ultimate form of resistance to the prolonged violence of oppression. It is not the individual who takes her or his life who is responsible for this culmination but the act of relentless oppression that is responsible. The impacts of colonisation wherever in the world have come with dehumanisation, demonisation and repression of peoples, all in the name of justifying dispossession. In the last four years I have written more than 300 articles for the public domain on suicide and to the ways forward. In general, I have translated most of my research into easy consumption for the everyday reader. Engaging everyone on this issue is imperative if we are to drive significant positive changes. However, with this article I will stay closer to a more academic bent on ‘oppression’ as the historical and contemporary villain.

It should be a given that discrimination and racism lead many to suicide and when once this is better understood it should then point us to the right directions. To understand the extensiveness of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to understand the ways forward in ‘suicide prevention’ we must begin at the ‘oppression’ and its consequences, that unfairness and discrimination are responsible for the majority of the suicides. If this is not acknowledged then we are somewhere else altogether. Racism and discrimination are the direct result of the ruthless colonisation and they are impossible to separate.

Globally, in general, suicide takes more lives than all other forms of violence combined, including wars and civil strife. The underlying factors include a suite of psychosocial, psychological and psychiatric culminations and breakdowns, where the human will to survive and overwhelm imposts are finally whittled down to least resistance. Ultimately, it can be argued certain conditions, the relentless nature of these conditions, diminish the capacity or ability to resist. One rationalises the recourse to relief from the tumult of painful conditions – suicide.

However, the victims of colonisation and their descendants register the world’s highest suicide rates – from the Guarani peoples of the Amazon, to the Inuit and Lakota of North America, to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples of the Australian continent, and to the many other descendants of First Peoples of countries with relatively recent colonial oppressor histories. The colonisers ruthlessly exploited the planet – murdering large numbers of the rightful inhabitants of their lands, terrorising them, dispossessing them, brutally exploiting them, corralling them in apartheid, and relentlessly smashing into their historical and contemporary identities, demanding a remake of who they are and what they should be about. Assimilation is not just about social engineering madness driven by assimilatory bents but is more regularly a tool for exploitation. It is used by the oppressor to ensure the oppressed do not simmer and regulate resistance.

For many of the oppressed, suicide is an act of resistance. It is rationalised. It is natural to resist the impost of racism and fight daily against situational, multiple and composite traumas and the relentless impacts of colonisation. They fight against the ongoing impacts of colonisation – fight against the expectation that they should assimilate, fight against the implications of the demonisation of their identity – cultural and historical and fight against the attempts by the oppressor to make them feel lesser than, inferior and powerless.

Racism is also felt to varying extents by the waves of migrants from non-Anglocentric cultures that arrive to Australia. Multiculturalism, in terms of its cultural prowess and dignities, in terms of its exacting a real say, in terms of plurality, does not exist in Australia – it is a myth and if it is as I argue a myth therefore it is an indictment of the Anglocentric oppressor. Our federal parliaments comprise 226 parliamentarians – 213 are of Anglocentric origins, with the majority with more than 100 years of colonial ‘settler’ familial history. The stranglehold by the colonial oppressor is one of stricture. It is relentless because any respite will undermine the oppressor’s power. The oppressors are tied to their origins-of-thinking, one and two centuries old and this is reflected in their expectations, in policies of assimilation, the viciously punitive controls, and in their inherent bent to exploit. But let us understand what the colonisers were predominately about – to exploit. This bent for exploitation underwrites everyday laws and policies. Therefore the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy entrenched has offered only slivers of respite. The oppressor cannot allow any threat to their power. There has been only negotiated progress in unfolding social justice, equality and equity but limited to the oppressor’s terms; any respite is corralled within assimilation.

First Peoples, right throughout the world, resist. The culmination of this resistance can be suicide – the ultimate sacrifice – the ultimate act of resistance.

The higher the cultural content of a peoples, the greater the will to resist, the more powerful the acts of resistance, the more significant the fight, the anger and the displaced anger. Peoples who have only been relatively recently impacted by the colonisers or their descendants have higher rates of suicide than peoples say ten generations removed from the original impacts of colonisation.

In my view – estimations – the Kimberley is one of the world’s worst hit regions from the impacts of the colonisers. The majority of the Kimberley’s Aboriginal peoples have only had significant contact with non-Aboriginal peoples for less than a century – they remain high cultural content peoples with the centrality of culture and identity psychosocially imperative. They have among the world’s highest suicide rates. Nearly seven per cent of the Kimberley is homeless – 638 homeless per 10,000 population. Outside natural disasters and civil strife this is one of the world’s highest homeless rates. Nearly all this homelessness is comprised of the region’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples – and I have worked out that this translates to thereabouts 12 per cent of the Kimberley Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in some form of homelessness. The extreme poverty that many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples live in is an indictment of Australia, one of the world’s most affluent nations; the world’s 12th largest economy – a nation with the world’s highest median wages. Australia ranks 2nd for public health on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index but when I standalone Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders their equivalent ranking on the global scale would be 132nd. In my view, the racialised economic inequalities are racism – beginning and end of story – and to this we must stay solid-in-our-thinking or we will go backwards.

The racism must be addressed – the racialised economic inequalities must be addressed – the right to land, culture and identity in the realest of rightful ways must be responded to if the suicides, the attempted suicides, the acute and chronic depressions are to be reduced at least to parity between the two populations, that of the First Peoples and the rest. Till then the acts of resistance will continue. Right through humanity’s history wherever there has been oppression, wherever there has been discrimination, consequently there is the will to resist, the acts of resistance. The ultimate act of resistance for many oppressed individuals is that though you relentlessly punished my body you will not also take my soul.

Wherever the colonisers went in this world of ours, they sought to exploit. Wherever these exploiters found humankind was in their way they gilded a suite of justifications to underwrite the demonising and the apartheid. We are still parcelled the demonising – the racism – because it is the most powerful justification, the most powerful tool of the exploiter, the oppressor. As long as racism continues then the oppression is evidenced, the oppressor continues. In its crudest forms, racism sells people as uncivilised, heathen, stone-age like, child-like, inferior and incompatibly different.

Selling ideas is a dime a dozen. We are sold the idea of multiculturalism but which in Australia the multicultural heart in fact does not exist. The oppressor paints the picture of multiculturalism but does not allow multiculturalism. They control its public discourse, its messages, and they corral people with assimilation. The oppressor is bent on the selling of misoxeny. All lives should matter but do not matter to the oppressor. Power matters to the oppressor and everything that facilitates power. Assimilation is imperative. The act of resistance is treated as dangerous radicalism and portrayed as treachery.

The suicide rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are there for all the world to see. The suicide rates of non-Anglophile migrants are higher than White Australians. One in four of Australia’s homeless are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. One in three of Australia’s homeless are of people born overseas.

The colonisers were vicious, ruthless and murderous despite the onus by them to sanitise the annals of history, to fill the libraries of lands they barbarically dispossessed into their custody with barest comment about the rightful inhabitants and with one-sided vainglorious tales of themselves. The oppressor continues with the bent for zombie assimilation. In 2012, Professor Paul Gilroy of Kings College, London University, referred to zombie multiculturalism – where equality and cultural plurality are promoted but not effected, where the exact opposite occurs, a lie is sold while the oppressor denies the social equity to the oppressed and therefore disavows them from the equality that is touted. This may smack of institutionalised racism but it is a different form, however I will leave this for another article. The colonisers murdered, raped and pillaged. They created underclasses of extreme poverty and they were history’s greatest slum builders.

The racism will end when all this is addressed. Till such time the prisons will be filled, the acts of resistance will continue and many of these acts will translate as suicides. It should be understood, that this sense of racism and the culmination of suicide are never directly resultant from the victim but are incurred by the oppression, the relentless oppression, by the oppressor. The oppressed are never the problem. The oppressor is the problem, always. Where suicide rates between the descendants of the dispossessed and the rest of the population are dramatically disparate then in two words it is ‘structural racism’.

When we look through the cultural lens and see that people are committing suicide ten times the rate of the rest of their region’s population then there are racial divides but built on the oppressor and oppressed dichotomy.

Oppression causes suicide and the natural human response is to resist oppression. The normal human response is not to allow oneself to be broken, beaten or dominated by oppression. The significant consideration is that if oppression causes suicide is it then in fact suicide? Or is it murder? Does oppression enlist a genocidal nature? By definition, genocide is the systematic decimation of the cultural content of peoples and not necessarily the slaughter of peoples but throughout the human narrative this systematic decimation has been inherently resisted and intertwined with bloodshed, death. Oppression kills. In my view it is murder and until we focus on the oppressor and urge the ways forward, address the inequalities, end the oppression, then the murders will continue, tragically at the horrific rates that have been naturalised. To demand for people to leave their identities behind, to remake themselves is violence.

Violence comes in many forms. The way we think of others and then act towards them can be violent even if we never actually lay a hand on them. The violence of ignorance will continue these narratives – this is why I write articles such as this, to take on the negative social and political forces of these violently racist narratives. The thousands of emails and phone calls I have received over the years in response to these writings indicates that maybe the revolutionary conversations we so need are beginning.
–          Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention researcher, suicide prevention campaigner and human rights advocate with the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights.

 

Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14

Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636

 

Listen to: ABC interview with journalist Nadine Maloney – spreading the love

 

Other articles and media on the extensiveness of suicides and on suicide prevention by Gerry Georgatos:

Attawapiskat suicides are the tip of the iceberg

Kunoth-Monks, Sansbury, Muir, Bonson, Waters

Why a royal commission must happen

Catastrophic human rights failure in WA

National inquiry long overdue

Regional poverty and trauma

End the silences

Suicide

Black led, Black owned conference

You do listen

Three youth suicides, buried next to each other – we were not put on this earth to bury our children

From my father’s death bed to the must-do to end the suicides | The Stringer

Risk of death high after release from prison

Child suicides higher than reported

Recovery the focus

40 million life years lost to suicide

Hidden truths – it is worse, not better

Some want to portray things on the improve

Suicide in people numbers instead of comparative rates Oppression is the cause of the majority of the suicides

It is not a competition but suicide is the leading cause of death

Do not play with peoples’ lives

It is not like me to cry

Call for a national inquiry

Catastrophic suicide crisis will escalate “unless”…

One in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been to jail

An eleven year old suicides – nine months later his mother takes her life

Understanding the abominable jail and suicide rates

The issue of our time – 1 in 3 deaths by suicide

When the right people lead then lives will be saved

Truth, not lies on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention rates

A moral abomination – a narrative that is racialised; of human suffering and misery

Plato said engage with our politicians or risk being governed by the dumb – the suicide crises

Stop selling resilience 

Another misguided reductionist plan to reduce rates of suicide self-harm

The leading cause of death – for 15 to 44 year old Australians – is suicide | The Stringer

People strengthening people focus on suicide prevention

Understanding difference and unfairness is a first step in suicide prevention | The Stringer

Taboo, stigma and shame need to get out of the way for suicide prevention | The Stringer

Suicide is heading to a humanitarian crisis – it is a leading cause of death | The Stringer

Suicides are preventable – here is what we must begin to do | The Stringer

The extensiveness of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander suicides – 1 in 20 | The Stringer

Preventing suicide – “no greater legacy” | The Stringer

Understanding Australia’s suicide crises

Shame job Australia – they came through the gate with my boy’s body 

Suicides, high among overseas born and second generation Australians

Child suicidal ideation on the increase

It is racism killing our people – suicides born of racism

Kimberley suicide rate – one of the world’s highest – Yiriman is the way to go

My Country – But look how I am forced to live

What will it take to end Aboriginal disadvantage, the inequalities and the various crises?

What sort of Australia is this? Seven homeless children in an asbestos slum

Six homeless children fighting for a better tomorrow

Quality of life for Australians 2nd only to Norway but for Aboriginal Peoples 122nd

Dumbartung convenes suicide crisis summit

Suicide attempts among women on the rise

Australia’s Aboriginal children detained at the world’s highest rates

Culture should not be denied – change needs unfolding, not impost

Everyone in the Territory doing well, except for Aboriginal Peoples

Australia’s Aboriginal children, the world’s highest suicide rate

Wes Morris slams government suicide prevention programs

How many more suicides will it take? How many more deaths?

Hopelessness in suicide riddled communities

More government neglect of Aboriginal children

In identity lay the answers – ATSI suicides

$25.4 billion spent on Aboriginal disadvantage is a lie

Beagle Bay to State Parliament – Farrer speaks out on suicides

Government to address Aboriginal suicides

Empowerment

996 Aboriginal deaths by suicide – another shameful Australian record

996 deaths by suicide – one in 24 die by suicide

Australia’s Aboriginal suicide epidemic – whose child will be the next to die?

77 Aboriginal suicides in South Australia alone

Kimberley’s Aboriginal peoples old at 45 years

Australia, the mother of all jailers of Aboriginal people

Close the gap failed

Despite what’s being reported, life expectancy not improving for ATSI peoples – 1 in 3 dead by 45 years of age

Tumult of death – 400 suicides in last three years

30 suicides in the last three months as we wait for promises to be kept

Suicide crisis – genocidal numbers

Suicide crisis – from tragic to catastrophic

Suicide crisis needs real funding and actions

Hundreds more will suicide if we wait for 2015

Nothing will be done about suicides crisis

Scullion bent on saving lives

Elders across Australia say governments need to listen to them on how to address youth suicide

Suicides – western society and ancient cultures clash

If we are serious about suicide prevention

Australia’s suicide crisis should not be played down – the media must highlight it

From my father’s death bed to the must-do to end the suicides

Governments promise on ending suicides must come good now

More confirmation of what everyone knows, was suicide prevention inadequate

The must-do need to listen and trust if suicides crisis is to end

Working together – mental health and suicide prevention roundtable

Break the taboo around suicides, we reduce suicides

Suicide crises born of Australia’s inhumanity

Suicides – children

Suicides crisis linked to incarceration

Wes Morris urges funding for cultural methodologies

The betrayal of our children – the Northern Territory

New project offers hope to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides

Depression and suicide prevention must be top of the agenda this century

World Suicide Prevention Day – suicide takes more lives than war

Western Australia – 1 in 13 in a jail, a bullshit state of affairs

Forgotten children of the promised land – the fight to save rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Yiriman saving lives in the midst of the Kimberley’s suicide crises

Healing Halls Creek

The smaller a community, the less likely a suicide

Overcoming disadvantage report shows disadvantage not overcome

600 Black deaths in custody by 2025 – jail numbers to soar

Get out of the way – Aboriginal suicide rates will drop

A nation shamed when the solution for its children is homelessness

Christmas, a period of vulnerability for many

Stop peddling lies $30 billion spent on Indigenous disadvantage is a lie

To end our trauma government must stop the assault on our people and our culture

In Australia there is the Aboriginal rights struggle

Kirstie Parker, Mick Gooda say enough of fine words – close the gap a big fat lie

Highest child removal rates in the world worse than Stolen Generations

Stop examining the oppressed – instead examine the oppressor 

CAAMA Radio – Speaking out on Aboriginal suicide

CAAMA Radio – We need to be there for them 

ABC News Breakfast – Suicide prevention – Christmas period a vulnerable time