Racism, Trust and Mistrust in Organisations
Ross Williams – GRA Member and Lighthouse Foundation Senior Clinician
The Lighthouse Foundation is a therapeutic care organisation helping young people with abusive and traumatic backgrounds to deal with their trauma and to learn basic living skills.
Most Lighthouse clients have experienced complex childhood trauma in families disrupted by drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other factors leading to neglect and physical or sexual abuse of the child. One or more of these factors are often present in the history of Aboriginal young people entering Lighthouse.
Families fall apart for many reasons, but troubled Aboriginal families are substantially a product of generations of government policies attacking Aboriginal society through child removal, displacement from the land, persecutory policing practices – the originating traumas.
Historically, indigenous people and their communities have little reason to trust the institutions of the Settler culture, governmental and non-governmental.
The familiar issues that arise when a young person enters out-of-home care are exacerbated when they occur in the context of the long history of cold and cruel bureaucratic assaults on the indigenous family.
Lighthouse has worked with many Aboriginal young people. Given the historical context of forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families, Lighthouse seeks to maintain contact between the young people and their families and also relevant Aboriginal institutions, such as the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency. This can become complicated when the young person has experienced significant abuse in their family of origin, prompting the involvement of government departments and Aboriginal agencies.
Producing a good outcome for the Aboriginal client depends on the prolonged collaboration of several stakeholders, only possible with a reasonable level of mutual trust. Discussing the role of trust in organisational life, Sievers (2003) observes that “trust is a double-edged sword”, and although trust is generally a good thing, in much of the current literature, “instead of acknowledging the lack of trust as a significant reality and contemporary problem, trust is propagated as an external entity and a needed solution.” Ergo, mistrust is a bad thing.
Settler organisations and individuals, governmental and private, may declare their opposition to racism, but a long history of genocidal assault on Aboriginal peoples and cultures and the regular betrayal of promises cannot be denied. The work of helping Aboriginal clients, young children and adults, to deal with their trauma and learn to live a life worth living in the larger society, must take account of the historical context of systemic racism and of a deserved lack of trust in institutions.