Saturday 24 May 2014

All the Answers

No, I don’t have them.   

But I hope nobody was seriously expecting I would.  And I want to dispel a myth that has been doing the rounds for some time now, and tends to take us all in at some point, but is ultimately holding us back from making real progress.

There is no Black Superman coming to save and unite us all who has all the answers.  

We don’t need an Aboriginal version of Malcolm X, or Nelson Mandela to lead us to the ‘promised land’ of a better tomorrow and unite us all for a common good.  It’s a popular thought, one I’ve even bought into at times myself, but it is holding us back from where we really need to be.  

Nelson Mandela was an amazing man in many respects, and whether you are a critic or an admirer, it is undeniable that he influenced many South Africans who believed him to be their hero.  The man who saved them from apartheid and promised them a better tomorrow.  The ANC today owe their position largely to the loyal voters who were Mandelas army, who have allowed their faith in one man to let them believe that they could close their eyes and relax.  He helped to establish the ANC, so it has his seal of approval and saintly touch, affording it an almost unquestioned morally superior status.  Superman had come to save the day and now, they could be free and relax their guards, content in the knowledge that their hero, Mandela, had ensured all would be well forevermore.

But it wasn’t to be.  Enter Jacob Zuma, now head of the ANC but probably more scandalously known as an alleged rapist and big time embezzler after his headline grabbing first term in power.  Despite his party claiming that they are dedicated to uplifting the  quality of life for the poor,  he installed a swimming pool at his luxurious compound while failing to achieve delivery of electricity or running water to the poorest of his people first .  

He has just been inaugurated for his second term.  

The problem with wanting to jump behind an icon, whether racial, religious or otherwise,  is that doing so is littered with pitfalls and hidden harms – and the fallout from these will be long, people will suffer, and as a country we will take years to recover from it.  Jim Jones wasn’t always offering after lecture refreshments of bitter tasting KoolAid  that knocked you down dead.  Nearly a thousand men, women and children did what the man they had followed unquestioningly, some for nearly a decade by then, had asked them to do.  Parents helped their children drink the foul liquid, then drank it themselves.   

They hadn’t all been unknowingly spiked the night before with mind altering drugs.  They hadn’t been mass hypnotised or told a lie about what flavour that KoolAid was.  Every adult knew that to drink it meant death.  And that is what they did.  Few people said no, and fewer still tried to run for their lives and hide. More than 95% of the followers at Jonestown went to their deaths on the panicked whim of their icon and nothing more. 
Icons and Idols have tremendous power to do great harm.  Whether it’s a religious figure, racial icon or representative of an ideology that is politically based or otherwise, they should not be free from scrutiny, and should never be believed to have all the answers.  If we allow ourselves to believe such a thing is possible, that one person can tell us all we need to know, and guide all our decisions, then we allow that person an opportunity to have complete control of our lives.   

Once you hand over that much power, it’s all up to luck whether you wake up in time not to drink that KoolAid.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Who's your mob?

If you’ve read any ‘Aboriginal’ media interviews, or watched NITV for longer than an hour, you’ve probably come across the question ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, and for those who never heard it, let me explain it to you, and for those who have – I want to tell you why I despise the term.

For those not in the know, or new to the term, ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, it is a term crafted and used originally by the Aboriginal Industry,  but now is creeping into the mainstream media,  to place a special label on a person and confirm their heritage.  Apparently, all Aboriginal people identify by their tribal groupings nowadays, and use this greeting to identify who they are to other Aboriginal people.  At least, that is the idea they’ve been promoting.  You can hear and see the term used often when someone wants to draw attention to the fact the person they are interviewing is ‘Indigenous’.  When asked the question ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, the answer is supposed to be a tribal name.  This allows you to then be referred to as a ‘(insert tribal name) man/woman’ thereafter.

Being ‘culturally aware’ is difficult.  Not just hard because the term is misleading, but difficult because a certain level of mental disconnect is required to achieve what stands for cultural awareness in this country.  ‘Who’s Your Mob?’ is a perfect example of this.  What may have been a common use greeting in one area, or one state, or amongst several family groups does not constitute an appropriate ideal for all.  But it has become almost standard use among several media outlets already. Despite the fact that we are striving for better educated Aboriginal adults and children, we are encouraging the use of little more than slang as a benchmark for our communications with one another. We should be aiming much, much higher than that.

Can anyone please explain to me how it is racist to say “All Aboriginal people are (insert derogatory stereotype of your choice)”, but not racist to think all Aboriginal people use poor grammar and are capable of speaking or understanding in only the most basic of English, or have only one way to ask one another where they are from, or who their family are.  I’m told only the first one is racist, the other, simply ‘cultural awareness’.  

If that is what passes as ‘cultural awareness’, you can take it and shove the whole idea.  I speak, read and understand English at a level you would hardly call remedial.  This is not a skill unheard of for an Aboriginal person to possess, in any location.

Because of the way I look, I am often approached by people for no other reason than the thought that we may share some relatives somewhere, or may have a common friend locally.  This exchange is usually instigated by a nod of the head and nothing more.  If I see someone I don’t know, but who looks obviously Aboriginal to me, one of us will inevitably nod in the direction of the other and a conversation will start.  Never once, in my many encounters, have I been asked ‘Who’s Your Mob?’.  Not once. When I talk about my family to others, I identify my links through missions, not tribal names or groups.  People will ask what my surname is, or ask for the location where I live or where extended family live, but never,  ever, do I get the NITV style ‘Who’s Your Mob?’
I am not a product of traditional people who stayed on their ancestral lands, but a child born from generations of native people to this land who were rounded up and placed on missions almost two centuries ago.  My brother, sister and I are the first generation of my family to not be born and raised on a mission, but who were born to two parents who lived that life, and whose grandparents were, and their great-grandparents before them…and on it goes.  My story is not unique, but neither is it a story that fits all Aboriginal people in this country.  In the seemingly endless obsession to classify and understand Aboriginal people as a race, whether through the misguided notion that by doing so, less racism will occur, or whether for some other less noble intent, we’ve made a messy and uncomfortable bed for ourselves.  To label ourselves brings the expectation we can be categorised and understood based on that label alone.  Nothing could be further from the truth.    

The culprits aren’t just evil whitey anymore.  Aboriginal people have to wake up and point the finger at ourselves here as well, because now that we’re a special race, with special rules, and unelected representatives who speak for us and decide the issues on our behalf, it’s all on us.  By saying we’re so different, and do things in a ‘special’ way, so unlike everyone else and so unique and, again, special, we’re forced to conform to an imperfect ideal that is supposed to speak for us all.  We lose the right to be unique individuals when we allow ourselves to believe that we can be defined so easily, and by something that matters so little when it comes to who and what we are as a human being.

Gap Year

It's been awhile, but I'm dusting off the keyboard.

Not that it ever gained a whole lot of dust.  I half started over a dozen pieces, even managed to finish one - but I was enjoying time away from the internet more the longer time went on, and my short break away wound up being a gap year (and then some).

I wasn't completely cut off in my absence.  I didn't miss the Adam Goodes/Eddie McGuire affair, the 18c repeal debate, or anything else that was reported via television news, so expect my 2c on those dated subjects in time as well. And if you can't wait until then for which side of the fence I am about the King Kong joke, I'll at least give you an answer to that - I think Eddie got a bum rap.  I'm not his biggest fan, but the guy wasn't being a racist.

Let the fun and games begin...