Friday, February 3, 2012

Who's driving this thing anyway?

An interesting aspect of the media circus that has ensued following the 40th anniversary of the Tent Embassy last week is all this talk of 'setting the Aboriginal cause back 20 years' and 'you can forget about Constitutional changes if that's how you are going to behave'. It reminds me of being a kid sitting in the back seat on our way to a family holiday and having my parents tell me and my brothers that if we don't behave ourselves that they will turn the car around, or that we won't get to stop for a treat, or that they might even take away our Nintendo for a week...

"Is that what you want? 'Cause that's what'll bloody happen!"

Except I'm not a child, and it's not my parents telling me that I won't get my treats if I don't behave right, and we sure as hell aren't on our way to Luna Park. It is a group of non-Aboriginal people I don't know and who sure as hell don't know me (although I'm sure some of their best friends are Aboriginal), talking not just to me but to all Aboriginal people. Telling us how we have to behave if we want to move forward...

As though sitting quietly in the back seat has been working wonders for people so far!

'You can forget about a Constitutional referendum now...'

'You have set the Aboriginal cause back 20 years...'

'You've only got yourselves to blame...'

Without wanting to regress to my youth too much I can't resist asking the age old question:

"Are we there yet?!"

and an equally relevant, and more adult question:

"Who's driving this thing anyway?"

and while I've got the chance to ask a few questions, I can't help but wonder:

Are our freedoms really at the discretion of a few non-Indigenous Australians in the media with an axe to grind?

Sadly, it is looking like the answer might be 'yes'.

So, does this mean that we should be content with ever increasing over representation in all the negatives and a perpetual under representation in all that is positive? Again, the implication seems to be a resounding 'yes'... we need to move on from these realities and share in the fiction that Aboriginal people are not just equal in society, but are in fact an over privileged group.

Should we be content that a handful of Aboriginal people have been selected to speak on behalf of all of us on every single issue? ... Looks like I won myself a third 'yes!'.

Should we be content that every bit of progress made in the past 50 years is constantly being attacked, undermined and threatened by the likes of Professor Gary Johns and Andrew Bolt? Should I just sit quietly in the back seat and hope against hope that I am given permission from these nobodies to keep being Aboriginal? Yes?! Except of course for the small problem that it is impossible for me to not be Aboriginal, it is a part of my identity and cannot be seperated from any other part of who I am. Despite the ongoing claims of Professor Gary Johns that Aboriginal culture is violent and needs to disappear, and that most Aboriginal people are simply jumping on the 'bandwagon'... (I wonder if the Australian Catholic Uni has that in their course info?!).

What about incarceration rates? child removal rates? Juvenile detention rates? Suicide rates? School suspension and expulsion rates? Government representation rates? How about the racism and ignorance that is rife in our media? How about a government that denies that racism even exists in this country? Should we be satisfied with all of this too? 

What about the Intervention - the so-called "Stronger Futures" legislation? (FYI: this is a HUGELY important issue, if you aren't up to speed with it please check out the Stop the Intervention website)

What about Self-Determination?

What about culture and identity?

Should I accept that these things don't matter? Or that they only matter when a non-Indigenous person puts them on the agenda for me?
If I'm in the backseat of that car then you can pull over and let me out... I'll walk.

At least then I know I'll be going in a direction of my own choosing.

And if you don't believe what I have said here, then just ask Hugh Jackman, or whatever non-Indigenous celebrity you need to validate my existence as an Aboriginal person.

And if you don't WANT to believe me I'm sure you can find an Aboriginal person who will disagree with me too, there are half a million or so of us after all. Just make sure you only ask people who you know will give you an answer you want to hear, and definitely don't ask too many Aboriginal people, or then you might have to deal with the fact that a lot of people feel like I do, or even worse, that there are actually more than two opposing opinions that exist... and definitely don't mention the fact that Torres Strait Islanders are Indigenous Australians as well, and might just bring even more perspectives to the discussion... I don't think Australia is at all ready to hear things as shocking as that!

How audacious it is to suggest that Aboriginal people might be able to determine our own futures... to take the steering wheel. A concept that should be obvious to any person with a sense of justice is instead an inflammatory idea, one that generates anger and fear.

Whether it scares you or not, every Aboriginal person must have the opportunities needed to achieve a sense of self-determination, and not just as an amorphous collective but as individuals, families and communities, all deciding their own futures with safety, confidence, humanity and dignity...

This includes the right to be angry that this is not already a reality in 2012; four years after the Apology; two decades after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing Them Home Report; four decades after the establishment of the Tent Embassy; 45 years after the last Constitutional Referendum that was meant to bring about equal rights for Aboriginal people... 

How audacious it is...

People who know me through this blog, on twitter, or in real life will likely know that my favourite quote is: "If you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." I am starting to feel that in 2012 we need a final line added to that quote: "If you have come to attack my people, if you have come to take our identity, or want to deny our right to speak our individual minds, then you will have a fight on your hands..."

This is not just about Aboriginal vs non-Aboriginal - and it never has been. As Malcolm X said: I for one will join in with anyone, I don't care what colour you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this Earth. Thank you.