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.