Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When it's OK to be 'Part Aboriginal'

From the moment White people enforced the control and regulation over the lives of Aboriginal people, they also made great effort to define us. Categorise us. Study us. Dissect us. Reshape us in their own image of who and what we should be.

And from nine months after the first White men used and abused Aboriginal women, White Australia has worried about the 'Halfcaste Problem'.

"What are we going to do with all these Halfcastes?"

A line from an article in The Abo Call in 1938 sums up the history of the Halfcaste experience quite well. It is titled "Halfcastes - By one of them.'

'It is said that God made the white man, and God also made the black woman, but the Devil made the Halfcaste. This is why Halfcastes have such a Devil of a time.'   

We have had countless laws and limitations imposed on our status as Aboriginal people, our status as non-Aboriginal people, and even our status as human beings. Laws that did not simply determine what we were called, but that determined all aspects over our life and death. Even as late as 1980s powerful White men were advocating for the incarceration of mass sterilisation of halfcastes (Lang Hancock in 1984). In 1988 the Victorian State president of the RSL, Mr Bruce Ruxton, called on the Federal Government "to amend the definition of Aborigine to eliminate the part-whites who are making a racket out of being so-called Aborigines at enormous cost to the taxpayers".

And of course, Bolt brainfarts the greatest hits list of stupid imaginary racist shit over the past 200 years and pretends to pass it off as 'original thought' or 'opinion'.

One particular aspect of these most recent brainfarts was chorused by an individual who chooses to identify as 'part-Aboriginal', as is his right and is something I do not care about in terms of his personal identity.  It's his identity, he can do whatever he wants with it. What does annoy me though, is the mock superiority when asking why the rest of us don't follow his lead. Why is it that we are all so ashamed of our White heritage? Why do we reject and deny it by choosing to identify ourselves as simply 'Aboriginal' and not 'Part White and part Aboriginal', or as Bolt occasionally likes to pretend to care about, just as 'Australians'.

The reason, for me at least, is not that I so reject my White heritage, so much as it is the knowledge that after generation after generation has been rejected, mistreated, ridiculed, tormented, regulated and abused by White society, so my opinion became: 'Well fuck you too then, I never wanted to play on your Team Australia anyway!'

You read articles in old publications like The Abo Call (1938) and you see regular attempts to leverage the fact that many Aboriginal people had White fathers in an attempt to justify why they deserved basic human rights. There is talk of a willingness to learn White ways as well as to retain our own. To have the basic freedoms to choose our own futures, and our own identities. Spoiler alert: it didn't work too well, not for another 50 years or so at least, and since then every step forward in this regard has been staunchly undermined by White power structures, often resulting in two steps back.  

For many it was more about getting basic human rights than labels or wanting to 'feel special, including the right of a mother to be with her child. These rights, in their absence, were often deemed more important than whether or not that parent or that child was defined as White or Aboriginal. So when kids were being taken to be with White families, it was 'Fuck You, these kids are Aboriginal!'. When kids were being denied safety, schooling, medical treatment, blankets etc on Missions and Reserves it was 'Fuck You, many of these kids were fathered by White men'. These were responsive arguments designed to try and appeal to White hearts and minds, and to those within the power structures enforcing these Draconian measures against us. They were not always sincere reflections on how we saw ourselves, or how we wanted to be identified on even terms, but how these labels of identity would influence the way in which we were treated. Treatment which could literally determine life or death for you and your family.

I'm not remotely ashamed to admit that I'll sign a bit of paper saying that I am whatever you want me to be, if you torture me long enough or if you sincerely threaten my family. That's how torture and blackmail work.

By the 70s though, you see much less of these arguments being made and more and more efforts being put into the rights of Aboriginal people ourselves to be in control of these definitions, criteria and labels, and abandon what was never anything more than quantification by White outsiders through visible identification/guesstimation anyway.The shift towards the capacity to demand our rights, rather than having to plead and cajole for them.

So by the time I was kid in NSW in the 1980s, anyone who said 'I am half Aboriginal' or 'I am part Aboriginal' would invariably be told by someone older and wiser, 'No. You are Aboriginal or you are not. There are no parts", or the classic "Really, which part, your leg?" or something else designed to highlight and to ridicule the pointlessness of such a qualification.

This was the atmosphere of identification which I was raised within, so it is little surprise to me that such a profound concept at an early age has left a permanent mark on the way I see myself, the world around me, and my place in it. Just as I was once firmly, and falsely, believed that it was impossible to have a word with a 'q' not followed by a 'u', I likewise have expanded and adapted my earlier views to be more accepting of the fact that there are people who legitimately identify as 'part-Aboriginal' or as a 'halfcaste', or even as 'part-White'. And not all of them do it for a non-competitive easy payday in the right wing public speaking circles either. Some people legitimately choose to identify this way, for reasons which are entirely their own business, and they have every right to do so. Just as I have every right not to.

One group of 'part-Aboriginal' people who have been largely exempt from this though, at least within my own observations and experiences, are those who, like me, are technically 'part-Aboriginal', but significantly, the other 'parts' aren't White.

I have plenty of mates who freely and happily assert 'I am half-Aboriginal and half-Tongan'. 'I am a mix of Aboriginal, Chinese, and Fijian' or whatever combination of non-White heritages they come from.

The reason that such people get a pass, and I and others do not, is quite a simple one really: Tongans never tried to commit genocide against us. The Chinese never tried to commit genocide against us. No one in the thousands of years of outsiders visiting Australia (Muslims included) who weren't White tried to regulate, control, dismantle, define, redefine and destroy us with such fervour. All the while stealing our land, our resources, our wages, our women, our children, and our very lives while telling us to be thankful, to smile more, to stop being so damn lazy, and to stop picking on poor defenseless White victims like Andrew Bolt.    

So if I can only be who I am on other people's terms, and must smile politely and respectfully at the ignorant and hate filled demonisation of who I am, then I'm not coming to your party... and you can get fucked.

I am Aboriginal. My skin is white and my eyes are blue. My mum is White (and I love her to bits). My heritage is mixed. Whiteness permeates by being, my language, and my thinking as I was raised within this White dominated colonial society, but my identity has always been Aboriginal. For as long as I can remember I have never been anything else. For as long as I live I will never be anything else.

But since the other 'part' to my heritage IS White, I will probably be retelling this story in various forms, and refightng this fight well into my old age. Just like many other 'part-White' Aboriginal people before me for the past 200 years. This will happen regardless of what I choose to call myself, because the problem is not and has never really been with our label, but with our very existence. The original plan did not include Aboriginal people ('part', 'half', or 'full') still existing by now, and we will never be forgiven for refusing to go quietly into extinction.

But whatever...

It is what it is.

I am who I am, and I'll do what I have to do.

Deal with it.