Wednesday 10 October 2012

Aborigines - according to Monash University

Monash University has embarked on a huge undertaking.  As of 2013, the School for Indigenous Health will be open for business, the first dedicated school for Indigenous Health at an Australian University.

Pretty impressive stuff?  Well, no.  Today, I had the pleasure of meeting Nola.  Nola is not real, but rather a fictional character created for medical students to use in role-playing by the magical minds in charge of cultural awareness at Monash University.  Nola even has a back story full of every stereotype of Aboriginal disadvantage you can imagine, in fact, it seems the only tragedy that didn't befall poor Nola was an addiction to sniffing petrol.

Nola has a hard life.  Her partner is of course a violent drunk who beats on her (twice in the short story no less!) and steals her money.  Initially, she is living in a home with 10 people, in an extended family situation, however she recently escaped the domestic violence with her three children.  The four of them are currently living in a two bedroom house, in fact, sharing it with two other people (more overcrowding, just in case you didn't pick up on it the first time).  Nola also unfortunately has Diabetes (type 2), but is eating a very poor diet and taking no medication.  She is unable to eat much fruit (attributed to the high cost and difficulty with transport) and instead her diet consists of bread, jam, tea and fast food.  Of course, adding to her health and domestic abuse woes, her fifteen year old daughter is also quite a handful.  To again pay homage to a myth, she has stopped going to school and is also smoking cigarettes.  Not to be outdone, the youngest daughter suffers from a chronic ear infection as well.  

What you might be surprised to learn about Nola, is that she did not escape from one remote community to another.  No, Nola went from Echuca to Preston. I kid you not.

For those not familiar with Victorian geography, Preston is less than 10 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD, and Echuca is on the Victorian side of the NSW Border.  Neither suffer from the perils of extreme remoteness, in fact both towns are lucky enough to be positioned on major carriageways for transportation of goods.  Echuca, being the far less populated town, even has an Aldi - the home of low low prices on everything.  However, it appears that in the halls of Monash, myth becomes fact - ALL Aboriginal people aren't able to buy affordable fruit and vegetables due to the exorbitant costs of transportation, location be damned.  Our budding medical students are asked to forgo common sense, logic and fact (the stuff we hope they ARE learning while they are in there) and accept any nonsensical statement as truth - as long as it comes under the Aboriginal banner.  Should a student dare to question any of the logic, or the offensiveness of such stereotyping, they will quickly be dismissed as being 'ignorant of Aboriginal culture' by their classmates, or worse, branded a racist.

This has to stop.

The new School for Indigenous Health is going to take current teaching practices (like the racist drivel in the fictional Nola patient story above) and make some alterations to form their new curriculum.  I was not surprised to see that the Director of Research on this new 'make it up as you go along' venture is none other than Kerry Arabena.

Kerry Arabena, co-chairwoman of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.

Seeing as Ms Arabena wouldn't know what it is like to be a black skinned Aboriginal man, I'll give her a bit of a heads up - we don't appreciate being painted as perpetrators of violence.  It shocks me to think that those people who have found it their duty to inform the rest of the country about our culture, and from the halls of academia no less, are churning out garbage like this.  It feels a little racist to be honest, and that is something that a University would normally frown upon - well, at least that is what I used to think, but it seems as long as you prefix your racial stereotyping and racism with the word 'Aboriginal' and do it under the guise of 'cultural awareness', anything goes.  And just for the record, in case you're dreaming up new fictional case studies over there at Monash, we're not all child predators either.  I'm glad you didn't add that one in on poor old Nola, I think it would have set me right off.

Just in case anyone from Monash is listening, I'd like you to do me a favour.  Several months ago, a family member contacted your Yulendj Indigenous Engagement people to ask you to remove a picture that includes my niece that you, to this day, continue to display on your Facebook page.   I'd like you to finally respect the wishes of a mother and her daughter and take the picture down.  It is dishonest to imply that the students pictured in your photo attend your institution.  My niece attended an Open Day that your University held, but is not and has not ever been an enrolled student at any of your campuses (in fact, she is still finishing high school), yet I notice that you've ensured she is wearing some of  your easily identifiable apparel and you've placed her front and centre. You were told politely that you did not have permission to display her image publicly, and no release was signed to allow you to do so.  

In the time you spent removing comments questioning your actions from public view, you could have just taken down the photo and done the right thing.  Instead, you now come across as exploitative, and unashamedly so.  

Thursday 4 October 2012

That article on The Drum

Several people have sent me links and asked me to read a recent article posted on The Drum by Kerryn Pholi and I'm happy to say that last night I finally got there - and there I stayed until the early hours.

It was an interesting article, and I also tried to read some of the comments to it, but I got something much bigger from it than I expected - I am now a fan of Thomas Sowell.  I had never heard of him until I started reading the article and clicked on that link, but, as soon as I did I became hooked.  He challenges the thinking on race based privilege without any emotion or personal issues clouding the facts, and I only wish I'd been given the chance to read some of his works in high school.  

But, back to the article.

I'm glad Ms Pholi made the decision to write her piece, but happier still that she allowed it to become part of the public debate.   One of the most important things we need to do as a country is to have an open and uncensored dialogue going around the issues that we have with regard to race-based legislation, preferences and funding.  We need to be real about the outcomes we've achieved, be honest with ourselves, and not be afraid to talk about the problems we have created.

Of the negative Drum comments on the article, I found a couple of recurring 'themes' that I want to talk about a little more.  First, the notion that the article and its contents somehow labels all Aboriginal people who identify as such as 'only in it for the money and the benefits'.

Welcome to the blowback of affirmative action.

You see, simply by virtue of creating a stream of opportunities available to only a small minority of the population - you breed resentment in those who are excluded from taking up those opportunities.  You don't have to participate in the largesse to feel the blowback, rather, simply because of physical identity or how you identify yourself to others, you are forever guilty by association.  That is the price we will continue to pay for as long as there is preferential treatment for Aboriginal people and benefits for a select few based solely on racial identity alone.

Most Aboriginal people have probably experienced that annoying situation where your pride in an achievement, or possession of something you have worked hard to own has been dismissed as 'trappings of the freebies for Aboriginals' or similar.  Been there, done that a million times over.  Why any Aboriginal person would want their child to go through high school being taunted about the extra money they don't get from Abstudy is beyond me, but as long as we demand that Abstudy exist, our kids will spend another generation having their hard work and achievements dismissed at a time when we need them to find self-esteem and build pride in their abilities the most.

The other troubling notion I came across was the barely concealed outrage that someone would dare to burn their 'Certificate of Aboriginality'.   I don't know if people are looking to feel or be offended but please, don't give such a divisive document any credibility.  As someone who went through quite a struggle to get that same piece of paper, I support Ms Pholi in her action.  We are not talking about a sacred document here, in fact, quite the opposite.  Mine you hold on a slight angle for the best reading - a document that, like a piece of art, tells a story all in itself.  Not a story of my family, or ties to my culture, but another kind of story.  One where the issuing authority runs out of blank forms and seemingly cannot locate the master copy.  They decide to take one they prepared earlier, and with the help of a 12 year old work experience boy and a bottle of liquid paper, they create the new master copy.  Once the liquid paper is dried, it is simply a matter of holding the document in a photocopier on a 45 degree angle and bingo.  The mystical magical production line of blank Aboriginality application forms is revealed. 

Most people are aware that an Aboriginal child is not given a special certificate at birth that confirms their identity, rather, Confirmations of Aboriginality are applied for and granted in a way that is not regulated, and often arbitrary.  I feel more pride in my Medicare card than I do my Certificate of Aboriginality - and I say that to be factual, not inflammatory.  A Certificate of Aboriginality does not mean you are Aboriginal.  All it means is that some people signed off to say it is so.  Similarly, being denied that same certificate does mean you are not Aboriginal.  There is no oversight that ensures that the applications granted or denied hold up to any scrutiny, so it is a process that is ultimately without respect.  Over the years we've had our scandals with the system.  Rather than address the shortcomings - that to all but the most heavily invested are apparent - we've decided to pretend none exist.   We've allowed the certification process to become the great joke that it is.  And that is the continuing price we pay for keeping our heads in the sand and demanding we know better. 

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Catching up - it may take awhile

My apologies first to anyone who is waiting on an email back.  I have quite a few sitting backed up and lots to go over so it may take a little while.

As the gods of technology would have it, my laptop is finally back in action at the same time as school holidays are going on here, so please bear with me.  Family always comes first and despite how exciting it is to have the internet at my fingertips again, I did make promises that I have every intention of keeping - even if one of them requires me wearing boardshorts in public and braving the questionable waters of the local pool. 

Monday 13 August 2012

Insight - that Aboriginality show

Now that the dust has settled a little after the airing of the show, I'm ready to once again throw my 2c into the mix.

When I was approached to do the piece with Insight, what initially made the offer attractive was the chance to have an open debate on the issue.  The part that sealed the deal was knowing I would get to hear arguments on both sides.  For so long now I've been waiting for that opinion or some wise words that will let me finally understand where 'the other side' is coming from.  I've heard it all from the 'coffee in a cup' argument to the 'it's a spiritual thing' spin.  Unfortunately, nothing I heard that night changed my mind.

What I did witness was an amazing display.  I watched young, white identifiers roundly proclaim their connection to, and knowledge of, their 'culture', then turn around not five minutes later and abuse Aboriginal culture by speaking over an Elder.   I don't know what this mystical 'culture' is that these identifiers are on about, but if they were hoping to display an innate understanding of Aboriginal culture that night, then they missed the mark by a mile.

Once upon a time, the paler activists were an asset to the Aboriginal cause.  Now, they have become a liability.  Sprouting bullshit such as 'our white skin is a result of the rape of the colonisers', they are no longer laughable and tolerable in small doses - they are promoting a view of life that just continues to perpetuate the victim mentality and does their cause no favours.  When you point out to them that their identifying side of the family have continued to choose to marry white people willingly for longer than their living lifetime, and not as part of some forced assimilation program, you will be met with astonishment or indignation.  They don't like the facts getting in the way of a good catchphrase, and it is this sort of lazy indignation that has to go. 

The other reason the pale activists are well past their use-by-date is their lack of caring for the big issues.  Where once upon a time they used their skills to assist at the grassroots and their voices to advocate and agitate through media for equality and basic human rights for suffering blacks, their voices have now become self serving and narrow to their own interests - be it Native Title, Arts Funding or whatever their pet passion is in the Industry.  It was hard not to become enraged when bringing up the living conditions of some of the children on missions or in remote communities, only to have the subject changed time and time again to a pet passion topic.  I thought people would say 'oh my god, I had no idea this was going on'.  I mean, the reason they've ignored it so long in favour of things like Treaties and Land Rights was surely because they were just unaware, right?  Turns out instead, they don't want to hear about it.  Their racial identity and support of that is far more important than some kids, far away from their circle in a place like the N.T having a sexually transmitted disease at 5. 

Over and over again in the last few weeks I've heard so many people asking the same question.  Where are these so-called benefits?  As if their ignorance of the facts or reluctance to take up said benefits is proof absolute that there is no so called 'benefits in identifying'.  While it is true that simply being granted your Proof of Aboriginality does not give you immediate financial benefits or access to a magical payment stream, that does not take away from the fact that every year, $3.5 billion in Government funding is disappearing under the guise of race based benefits available only to Aboriginal people.  That doesn't include the privately funded Scholarships or initiatives that target race specific disadvantage, which I won't even attempt to put a dollar figure on.  Where are the benefits?  Everywhere.  If you want to paint a picture or write a book or travel to somewhere arty, try the various race specific awards, or the Arts Council for big chunks of money like Anita got for her book.  Don't stress about some poor black from out bush coming in to steal away a share of it either.  The Industry has done a brilliant job of keeping the poor ones poor and out of sight, mostly illiterate and uninterested in what they are missing out on, so it is exceptionally rare for someone like that to even attempt to get in on the goodies.  What they all learnt a long time ago is that for the funding tap to stay on, a certain number of Aboriginal people have to be suffering.  Nothing turns the tap on harder than starving or dying kids, so each year, we have to make sure that there is another sad story to achieve our goals.  We don't ask that your family suffer, only those already doing it tough.

Scholarship discussion on the show was where things became quite interesting.  I had one very educated fellow pointing out the extreme disadvantage of some of the people he had worked with on Aboriginal scholarships.  They had suffered such horrendous race based disadvantage like - coming from a single parent family, or living in a small outback town - such discrimination based on their race meant that these opportunities given to them were well deserved, and without question, they are the most needy of Aboriginal children.  The other great thing about so many of these scholarship recipients, we were told, was the fact that such a high percentage of them go back and work in the community.  How great does that sound?  Pretty good, until you realise that what you're thinking a 'community' is - well, that's not really what they had in mind.  I mean, Liverpool is a community, right?  Canberra is also a community isn't it?  Maybe not ones full of black Aboriginal kids with bloated stomachs and weeks old sores on their arms and legs, but it is a community.  Not the progress we were all thinking of, but nevermind.  The only ones we're ripping off are the kids who live in conditions not fit for a dog, and since they aren't getting on social media sites to tell their stories, they apparently don't exist and therefore are not worthy of attention, discussion or adequate funding.

I remember Bess Price once saying 'I want what she has for my children' with regard to Larissa Behrendt and her life of comparable privilege.  Instead of people reaching out and offering help, or asking why it is that her children have a life that is polar opposite to someone like Larissa, people instead chose to vilify Bess for her words.  They took that very privilege they have been given, their superior educations given to them in the name of progress for the very people Bess represents, and used it to try to rip her to shreds in the media.  Labelled in this last week or so as a 'grub' by one, a 'simple minded blackfella' by another, time and time again I watched as people who demanded respect for their identity resorted to shameful personal attacks on a woman whose only crime was to speak her mind and disagree with their point of view.   It came as no surprise that Chris Graham, of the 'grub' comment fame, was not only spared negative widespread coverage of his behaviour, but in addition, at no point was his job working for a publication of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council ever under threat because he expressed such an opinion. It's no wonder so many people are confused about what they can and can't say these days. 

For anyone who was wondering, I did get a cab that night in the end.  SBS had some really great staff who made sure that I'd have to eat my words on that one - they even managed to get a driver who didn't take the long way when he knew I hadn't been to Sydney in 15 years, turned out to be a really top bloke too.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Conflict of interest? Only for the whites...

Meet Mick. 

Two participants at the Summit

If you've read any of my previous posts, you'll know he's the pale fellow on the left.

A man of many talents, Mick is an Aboriginal Elder, Traditional Owner, Business Owner and also holds several important positions the Indigenous Industry.  He is on the Board at Mt Buller, the Board of Native Title Services Victoria (NTSV), and a Council Member of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (VAHC).

Not bad for a man who didn't find out he had Aboriginal heritage until he was 25.
Since 2006, groups all over the state of Victoria have been scrambling to achieve what is known as 'RAP' status  (which stands for Registered Aboriginal Party).  Having RAP status is a pretty big deal.  It allows the group granted RAP status the right to be involved in Cultural Heritage Management of a particular area.

So what is this Cultural Heritage Management?

Well, let's pretend for a moment that we're a Property Developer.  We purchase a large parcel of land on which to build a housing estate, and begin the necessary steps to get approval.  Part of this approvals process involves getting a CHMP (Cultural Heritage Management Plan), and for this, we need to approach the local group who have RAP status.  They will in turn, send out someone to come and assess the land, and prepare a report.  If any Aboriginal 'artefacts' are found on the land, a CHMP sets out how these 'artefacts' are to be managed.  This can involve anything from having to pay site supervisors (from the RAP) to come and oversee the work while it takes place, to moving them to a local museum, to just ignoring them - and everything in between.  It can be a long, often expensive process or alternatively, it can be a joke.  Sometimes, it's both.

The original promise of the Aboriginal Heritage Act of 2006 was to allow Aboriginal people to be involved in preserving their heritage and culture, to provide protection to our most sacred sites.  The reality is, in most cases, it has done completely the opposite. 

To apply for RAP status, you will need to engage the assistance of two specific groups.  Native Title Services (for help getting the claim off the ground) and second, the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (who make the decision on who does, and does not, get RAP status).   You may be surprised to know that many of the successful RAP applications that have gone through to date have come from 'Traditional Owners' who serve on the boards of one or both of these organisations.  Conflict of interest?  Ah, thems just whitefella words.

Is it any wonder so many of our pale-skinned, so called 'Elders' or 'Traditional Owners' also classify themselves as experts in Cultural Heritage, and often have side businesses that are dedicated to managing it for a hefty fee?

Mick, as we discovered earlier, is part of the NTSV and VAHC cheer squad.  His 'Taungurung' people received RAP status for a large area, originally applying for land from just outside Healesville, all the way across to Euroa and taking in places like Mansfield, Broadford, Lancefield, Kilmore and Heathcote. Mick has claimed often and with great passion about his strong connection to country and has spoken emotionally about the dispossession of his ancestors from their 'cultural home'.  Surprisingly, it is a place he today, chooses not to live.  Instead, you will find him living in Gippsland,  far away from his 'stolen land'. 

If you have a spare few minutes, I highly recommend this video interview by Mick:-

Don't be fooled by the Message Stick in his hand.  Like most Fauxborigines, he's using it wrong and paying it no respect.  It is in his hand not for some deeper spiritual or cultural reason, but, as a prop to fool unwitting watchers into believing this guy knows his stuff.  Cultural credibility that he manufactured in his own workshop, no doubt.

Note also the Possum Skin Cloak draped across his knee.  While happy to crap on about the patterns on the cloak, Mick is not so forthcoming in this particular interview about the ancient techniques used to create such a piece of art. Luckily for us, his clan were more than happy to oblige:-

(I can't be sure, the picture is just a little unclear to make out, but, I believe what we are seeing here is the use of the electrical burning device, made famous by I believe Ngyumbanirr Pyrographic  back in the 1400's.  Again, to ensure cultural authenticity, just like we used to do in the old days, the skins are from NZ possums)

I remember an Elder once sitting down with me, many years ago, and talking about a possum expedition they made in her youth.  In their bark canoe, they travelled for 40 days and 40 nights until they finally reached Auckland, surviving on what little rainwater they caught along the way and the meagre rations of berries and nuts they took with them.

Once in Auckland, they spent a full week hunting and gathering skins into the night and early hours of the following day - each of them sleeping only four hours before resuming the difficult and laborious job as soon as first light would hit.

When they had 40 skins, they rested.  The following day, they loaded up their canoe and attempted to set off with their haul into the wide blue expanse.  They got no more than a few feet out when their canoe began to take in alarming amounts of water.  Again and again they tried, always with the same result.  Furrowed brows ensued and debate raged about how best to get the precious bounty back home.  That is, until one of the Elders stepped forward and proclaimed 'Let's just take a fucking plane back!'.

See how easy it is to spin a little cultural bullshit?  All you have to do is waffle. 

I like how Mick waffles.  Most Fauxborigines, when talking about their heritage or culture, will often resort to this very same trick.   They talk in circles, often spending an inordinate amount of time describing small, inconsequential things.  Like a shield they once saw, or an Elder they spoke to.  Often, they'll use a small smattering of an Aboriginal language they've revived in a windowless room in a University to punctuate their speech with more credibility.  It is quite an art form, but ultimately, they do horrendous damage to a culture they have no right to speak of. 

How much are you truly honouring a culture when you step on tradition to make a buck?

For all those Elders out there, who stay on their country, devote their lives to making their communities a better place, who worry endlessly about their people who are suffering, I take my hat off to you and offer nothing but my respect and support.  For too long you have sat unnoticed, uncared for, and unrecognised while self-appointed opportunists claim you don't exist and step in to take your place.  It is time to say, no more.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Peddling the easy answers

Remember Brad Goodman?

Brad was a self-help guru, who found fortune and fame peddling a bunch of easy answers to a gullible people.  Although simply a character in The Simpsons, like many other characters from that beloved cartoon, it is not hard to find people in real life who could play that same part.

Like Jack. 

After his recent appearance on Australian Story, Jack Manning Bancroft is riding a wave of public adoration.  Touted as everything from a future Indigenous leader, to an Aussie inspiration, overwhelmingly, the feedback coming in from his TV appearance has been extremely positive.  If you listen to the viewers, he's achieving huge success with Indigenous youth, turning the tide of low expectations and bringing high profile supporters and donations to disadvantaged Aboriginal kids.

At least, that's what Australian Story told them to swallow. 

Jack runs an outfit called AIME - Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience.  He teams Uni students (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) up with Indigenous students, to mentor them through High School, for around an hour a week (it must be an action packed hour..).  It is supposed to assist with raising the rates of Indigenous students finishing Year 12, and encourage more Indigenous students to go on further, to University studies and a brighter future.

The outfit is funded by both Universities and corporate sponsors (such as Rio Tinto & Google), no doubt as they feel it is a worthwhile cause.  Even Thorpey is on board, and he's putting his money (well, to be technically correct, the money of his donors) where his mouth is. 

But I can still hear that nagging little cartoon voice of Lisa Simpson.  You see, like Brad Goodman, Jack Manning Bancroft and AIME are peddling a bunch of easy answers.

In operation for almost 8 years now, you may be surprised to know that AIME does not operate in a single remote area.  Heck, they don't even operate in the Northern Territory, Western Australia or South Australia.  You may be surprised to find that in Victoria, they've chosen to work with schools that not only have some of the lowest percentages of Indigenous students in the state, but, they've also chosen schools that are some of the most expensive and prestigious.  Schools like Scotch College (who do give two scholarships a year to boys from the N.T), Trinity College and Xavier College.  Melbourne Grammar School is also on their list, as is Parade College.  Looking at the list of public schools that they work with, it appears the maps past Hampton Park are not in existence.  A shame really, as if they were to talk with the Principal at say, Bairnsdale Secondary College in Gippsland, they would find that not only are there schools with a high percentage of Indigenous students, but, that those same students would benefit from any help on offer, as they are some of  the neediest and lowest performing in the state.

It is much easier to mentor a young affluent white boy from Scotch, who identifies as Indigenous, than a struggling black kid from the sticks who doesn't dare dream as big as finishing High School with a passing grade.  It is much nicer to sit down and discuss the merits of various Universities and the trivialities of campus life with a young kid in a crisp, smart uniform than to try to elevate the aspirations of a child whose parents don't care enough to ensure he is well fed, let alone well dressed and bathed.

For eight years, it appears Jack has deceived himself, and, the rest of us.  He's told us he's making a change, and, more importantly, he's Closing the Gap.

He is not.

Instead, he has created a divide.  Widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  While the wealthy Identifiers are improving their outcomes from good or great, to fantastic, the neediest have lost ground.  Hell bent on convincing ourselves that things are improving, we place people like Jack on a pedestal.  He tells people what they want to hear, and asks only that you throw money his way in return for his good deeds and innovative ideas.  Like the citizens of Springfield, we can't get enough of our Brad Goodman and his easy answers.

I don't doubt that there have been some hard luck kids who have been helped by AIME.  I also don't doubt that they've done some good work as a result of their programs.  Heck, I don't even doubt that some of the kids they've helped have had dark skin.  What I do take issue with, is allowing what appears to be a genuine fear of failure to dictate your policy and programs, resulting in the help again going not to those most in need. 

Let's say Joe Average decides to start an organisation to help Aboriginal children.  Joe wants to be able to get donations coming in by the bucketload, so, he looks around the other organisations who claim to do the same thing as him, and makes his pitch even better than theirs.  Red Cross say they will lift literacy rates by 10%  among 5-12 year old Aboriginal children by 2015.  To get more donations than Red Cross, Joe markets his organisation to potential donors as being ready, willing and able to take that number to 25%.

This is where things get tricky.  Instead of working harder or smarter with old theory, or implementing some new, previously untried revolutionary program to work with struggling kids, Joe simply takes his half-baked organisation to selected areas, excluding any schools with kids that have consistently poor outcomes or a high percentage of low-income earners as residents.  He works with a small group of children who identify as Indigenous (often several generations removed from a single full-blood ancestor), offering nothing new or exciting, but, simply uses their natural progress to fiddle with the averages and achieve his goals on paper.

We're a nation that likes facts and figures, but, we're a population that likes them spoon-fed to us.  We certainly seem to prefer it when someone else tells us what conclusion we are meant to draw from statistics and percentages, if our current mindset is anything to go by.  Indigenous specific statistics are no exception.  In the twenty years from 1986 to 2006, the Indigenous population doubled.  While part of this is attributed to natural rates of procreation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that this staggering increase is also due in part to people identifying as Indigenous where in previous counts, they did not.

The boom in our numbers has been great for those trying to 'Close the Gap'.  All of a sudden, gains can be made, by little more than a tick in the box.  We can all reassure ourselves that we're going forward, not backwards, because the statistics don't lie.  As a percentage, we have more middle income and high income Indigenous households than ever before.  As a nation, we've made serious ground when it comes to preventable childhood diseases ravaging Indigenous youngsters.

But that's when you look at the nation as a whole.  When you take the statistics and break them down, you see the real picture.  Urban Indigenous populations are making all the gains.  The remote communities make little gain, none, or in some cases, are going backwards.  While their often fair-skinned, urban counterparts are achieving on par in almost all areas with their non-identifying peers (the gold standard we apply when we speak of a Gap), the improvements of which we so often speak and celebrate are just not being delivered to those who need it the most.  Those who were struggling then, are most likely to still be struggling now.  My experiences with remote communities have done nothing but strengthen this conviction.  The overwhelming poverty, dysfunction and suffering remains at the same levels year after year for many remote communities, but to hear the city slicker fauxborigines speak, we're doin' fine.  We hear self-appointed Elders constantly tell us the importance of Welcome to Country ceremonies and demand their performance as a mark of 'respect', yet never think to question why they have placed so much focus on a shallow tokenism, when children are being abused and neglected. 

Instead of helping their poorer, blacker cousins, often, the fauxborigine exploits them for their own gain. 

We are allowed to get upset when intellectually impaired children are excluded from across the board testing (Naplan) in an effort for a school to post an artificially inflated score.  It is unquestionably wrong for a school to discriminate against disabled children in order to appear as though their students are outperforming their expectations. Why are we so afraid to apply the same logic when discussing Aboriginal students?  At present, should you dare to point out that disadvantaged, dark skinned Aboriginal children are being excluded in much the same way from programs such as AIME to keep their success rates high, you will be denounced loudly by every fauxborigine with a Twitter account.  Accusations of racism if you admit to being non-Indigenous, and, a perpetrator of lateral violence if you happen to be black like I am.  Personally, I despise a term like lateral violence being levelled at me by someone with pale skin.  The term implies that the accuser and myself are on an equal footing, when clearly, we are not.  I cannot hide what I am, they can and do.  Even if they have 'identified with their culture practically from birth' (a readily coined phrase by many in the 'Industry'), it makes no difference.  They demand every Caucasian person in Australia admit that they are the beneficiaries of White Privilege, yet refuse to accept that simply by virtue of their own pale skin, they too are the recipients of this very same Privilege.  Hypocrisy at its finest.

During his TV appearance, Jack compares himself to an Undercover Cop, with regards to his Aboriginality.  He explains that people cannot tell he is Aboriginal just by looking at him (just as one cannot tell an Undercover Cop in plain clothes is a Police Officer), and because of this unique position he holds, he is able to permeate the various layers of society and discover racism across all walks of life (and of course, is personally offended by it - give me a break).  Lucky him.  I don't know a single black skinned and obviously Aboriginal person who wouldn't mind trading skins for a day so he can really learn what it's like.  Perhaps then he will stop making ridiculous and insulting statements and realise just how good he has it.

Overhearing a racist joke or comment is so far removed from being rejected dozens of times for rental properties or jobs for no other reason than the way you look.  Seeing an Aboriginal person be refused service by someone who just served you without problem is light years away from being the person denied that simple courtesy again and again.   Having two people in primary school call you a name after you told them you are Aboriginal is a walk in the park compared to having that label applied to you almost every day, and that label sticking with you long past the days of the schoolyard, without having to utter a word about your heritage to anyone.

I hope Jack will decide to prove me wrong and start working with impoverished and remote Aboriginal communities.  It will be much harder than working with the kids from a private school, but I can promise you that it is infinitely more rewarding, and I warn you that it will at times, break your heart. 

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Money well spent

After all the publicity surrounding the decision of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts to award Anita Heiss $90,000 to write two published novels, I wanted to have a look at other lucky recipients, and follow up on money that we're all sure is well spent.

Case Study One:

In addition to being Aboriginal, Jacob Boehme (pictured below) has a both a Post Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Puppetry.  I am not kidding. 

In the twelve months from February 2011, to February 2012, Jacob has been showered with more than $51,000 from the same Board.  $45,000 for his new company (IDJA) to put on a play described as amateurish by the SMH, $5,549 to attend a Copenhagen performing arts get-together, and $900 to go to the Performing Arts Market at the Adelaide Festival.  

Case Study Two

Stephen Gilchrist (pictured below), began his career as a Trainee Assistant Curator for the National Gallery of Australia in their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Department.