The Black and White Brothers—Warnock and Ossoff

Warnock in August 2020 Jon Ossoff on Showtime.png

By Andris Heks

When I heard the two Georgian Democratic candidates for the Senate in the Georgian run-off Senate election, the Reverend Raphael Warnock, the eleventh of twelve children from a poor Afro-American family and Jon Ossoff, a white documentary maker from a refugee Jewish mother, introduce each other at Biden’s election rally as ‘black and white brothers’, tears came to my eyes as I had a flashback to my experience with a very different pair of ‘black and white brothers’ in Australia a long time ago!

I felt sad about ‘la miserablès’, those ‘black and white brothers’, who so generously gave us a lift from Alice Springs to Darwin nearly fifty years ago!

But I was also bursting with great joy, that these two American, new generation black and white brothers were able, in spite of all the deprivations of their past, to rise from ‘zero to hero’, in wrestling for themselves positions of power for the good of all, in becoming Senators in the US Congress and opening the door for the Democratic Party to rise to the occasion with them!

Back to May 1973. It has been the longest wait for a ride since we had begun hitchhiking around Australia from Sydney in January. Beside me sits my drawcard car stopper: this pretty, longhaired blond, blue-eyed, slim lady. (By 2021, my wife for fifty years.)
We have been waiting at the road-sign, ‘TO DARWIN’ at this junction in Alice Springs for hours, but few cars came by and none stopped.

We are tired and frustrated and for the first time during our hitchhiking, we begin to wonder: ‘Must we now book a coach?’ Our journey ahead of us is long: all the way from Alice Springs to Darwin. We are just about to give up waiting any longer when this beaten up, old Holden appears, chugging along slowly, swaying to the left and the right sides of the road. ‘Oh no’, I sigh, ‘the driver must be drunk’!

But drunk or not, the driver flings open the door of the car when he stops beside us and invites us into the car. ‘Are you going to Darwin?’ -hesitantly I ask the bleary-eyed driver, with a flagon of grog in his hand. ‘Ye’ he answers, as I am trying to endure the smell of sweat emanating from the car.

A black hand from the back seat reaches forward towards the white driver, fingers opening and closing, signaling that it was the back seat passenger’s turn to have a swig from the flagon. I look at my hitchhike partner gingerly as if asking? ‘What shall we do? Accept the lift or decline?’ Exasperated, we climb into the car. The white, disheveled driver introduces to us, himself and his Aboriginal partner at the back, as ‘black and white brothers.’

I shall never forget this moment. This title had a major impact on my life. It etched into my memory and has kept haunting me through the nearly 50 years that have passed since this encounter… As we travel from Alice Springs to Darwin with this lovely pair of down-and-out alcoholics for the next few hours, the words ‘black and white brothers’ take on a different, albeit sad meaning for me. It now means, the broken Aborigine finding his mate in a white hobo: an alliance of ‘la miserablés’!

After arrival in Darwin, I can’t help noticing drunken Aborigines everywhere! And lots of ‘black and white brothers!’ I am flabbergasted: Is this the self-determination that we so enthusiastically dreamed of, while I was a reporter on This Day Tonight ABC TV, finishing that job just before this hitchhiking?

Now that Gough Whitlam [the 21st Prime Minister of Australia] came to power, he became the architect of the new policy of self-determination for Aborigines. A seemingly unlimited amount of cash is being thrown at the Aborigines with the motto: do anything with it, now you are free! But we whites forgot to ask the question:

Are you equipped to be free now, when we have dispossessed, neglected, injured, disintegrated, and demoralized your people for generations? Is a pile of cash handouts a substitute for acknowledging that we have robbed you of your dignity and for coming to love and respect you as people and for genuinely trying to heal the past?

Well actually, the only people who tended to socialize with the Aborigines in droves then, were the down and outs of white society. And what many despairing Aborigines who came into contact with them learned was, that the way to ease their pain was to join in with them to drink themselves to death!

I certainly found this out, when on arrival to Darwin, depressed by my experience with that pair of black and white brothers, I began to pay attention to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Alcoholism in the Northern Territory in 1973, which was in session at that time. I joined the Northern Australian Aboriginal Legal Service then as a volunteer for six months.

Fast forward to now. Slowly but surely, enough new generation of Aborigines eventually has gained the education to be able to lead their people as teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and politicians. And in spite of some racism, that seems to be still persisting in Australian society, we have come much closer now to the ideal of becoming truer black and white brothers and sisters. The likes of Charlie Perkins, Adam Goods, and Stan Grant, the US Civil Rights Movement, followed by the Black Lives Matter movement now, may have helped us to wake up and be counted!

So as I hear the black Rev. Rafa, a kind of re-incarnation of Martin Luther King and the white practical idealist, and Jon Ossoff declare passionately that they are ‘black and white brothers’ and that they are determined to bring love for all into politics, I can only cry with joy:

‘Yes! Maybe, in spite of the still existing shocking divisions and hatreds and perhaps because of them, particularly in the US, the time may have arrived for us all, Black and White, Brown, Yellow and for all shades of humanity, to genuinely do our best, to bring about healing and at long last, become one another’s brothers and sisters!’

Now that the Reverend and Ossoff won the two Georgian Senate seats and broke the Republican gridlock over Biden in the Senate, it may be time for the Democrats, the Republicans, the whole US, and the world, to step up and to support these two remarkable Georgian Senators to ensure that love is confirmed as the lasting foundation for politics.

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Andris Heks is a former journalist, working on ‘This Day Tonight’ and ‘Four Corners’ — ABC television’s top rating current affairs programs. He welcomes feedback and comments on his opinion pieces published at Starts at 60. He lives in Australia.

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4 thoughts on “The Black and White Brothers—Warnock and Ossoff

  1. I enjoyed the piece, Andris! One of the remarkable things about Ossoff’s and Warnock’s characterization of themselves as “black and white brothers” is that it comes in a period of increased racial animus in the US. Trump came into the White House stoking racist fears with the birtherism lie. Not only were tens of millions receptive to the birtherist lie, they were also receptive to talk of Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” and talk of very different kinds of Muslim and Chinese threats. Precisely this worked with many of the white Americans who are living in the most precarious situations in the country. Of the ten poorest states in the US even in 2020 Trump won all but New Mexico.

    Your story relates how those down and out whites in Australia were able to find some common sensibilities with the Aborigines, no matter how sad or broken the context. That sometimes can happen spontaneously. But that is also something that can be politically forged or politically broken. Trump never ceased to invoke divisive rhetoric. But he did so while acknowledging the pain, frustration and insecurity of white America. His appeal was and is populist. Of the Democrats, only Sanders has had a similar populist appeal. I hope our junior senators, Warnock and Ossoff, are able to affect a sensibility of unity that speaks to widespread concerns of African Americans, whites, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans. I hope Biden is able to make some populist appeal by speaking to the needs of all these groups.

    The US needs unity — just not the unity that the Republicans are calling for, not the unity that amounts to a call for clemency. It needs the unity of political purpose that acknowledges the common struggles of the many diverse races in this country, now affected by covid deaths, economic worries and heightened concerns not just of violence, but of politically motivated and racist violence. Here’s to our opportunity to meet those challenges! Here’s to the opportunity for acknowledging our brother- and sisterhood!

  2. Please please advise Biden NOT to throw cash at the problems of “social and economic” inequities. If we have learned anything over the last century, is that laws and cash, wars and riots, are only cosmetic. To achieve social justice we need less authoritarianism and more embracing of the issue at birth, in family, at community. We need to personalize not nationalize the issues.

  3. The administration to be sworn in, only two days from now, can only do better, in the matter of race relations.

    Plus, the new administration could set an example for the nations Down Under, and elsewhere. A small improvement could be made during the next few years.

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