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Why Aren't we Seeing Enough Aboriginal Leaders?

By Anthony Dillon

The problem of violence in Aboriginal communities is well known to anyone with an interest in Aboriginal affairs. But there is another type of violence some Aboriginal people face that is almost invisible to the public, or at least not spoken about. I’m referring to those Aboriginal people who strive to make a difference, a real difference, in the lives of the most disadvantaged Aboriginal people, yet they are hated and publicly slandered for doing so. Some may read that last sentence and think “Yes, I know the racism Aboriginal people face is bad.” However, the hate and slander I’m talking about here is that which they receive from other Aboriginal people, and therefore, is not considered racism.

People like Jacinta and Bess Price, and Warren Mundine are trying to make a real difference, yet the vitriol each of these fine Australians have received from ‘their own’ is far more severe than any hate they have received from non-Aboriginal Australians. So why are they hated? Because each of them has dared to discuss problems like child abuse and violence in Aboriginal communities, and dared to suggest that the people themselves must play a role in combating these problems. An Aboriginal person mentioning that Aboriginal people need to take some responsibility is sure to be despised by the ‘blacktivists.’

The slanders these people cop either in person and on social media would be grounds for a claim of racial abuse if the perpetrators were non-Aboriginal. Society are quick to call out racism when they see it (and often even when they don’t see it), but are relatively silent on the black-on-black hate. I believe this sad state is allowed to continue partly because of identity politics. A non-Aboriginal person probably fears, and rightly so in my opinion, that if they voice their concern at the black-on-black hate, they will be told “F*** off white fella, this is none of your business!” Sorry, but it is their business because Aboriginal affairs is everyone’s business.

The other reason why I think black-on-black hate continues unchallenged is because we have been brainwashed into thinking that racism is the biggest problem facing Aboriginal people. Though academics and activist groups want you to think that racism is the big culprit affecting Aboriginal people, it is not. Aboriginal people are far more likely to be physically and verbally abused by other Aboriginal people than they are from non-Aboriginal people.

Consider the efforts of SBS to promote their 'racism is everywhere' message. And of course, SBS's promotion has to include Dr Soutphommasane stating: “We also know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people with an African background experience extremely high levels of racial discrimination.” Of course Dr S doesn't bother to provide the evidence to support his claim. Where is he to talk about the extremely high rates of discrimination from Aboriginal people against other Aboriginal people?

Ian Trust, who has backed the cashless welfare card in his hometown of Kununurra, Western Australia, has received much criticism from his own people. He has seen the havoc wreaked when welfare recipients are unable to manage their money either through poor budgeting skills or family members taking from them what they believe is rightfully theirs, leaving them penniless and unable to purchase essentials. He told me “I’ve got more boomerang holes in my back than bullet holes.” But like those other Aboriginal leaders, he continues to do what he does because he is tired of seeing Aboriginal people suffer. Introduction of the card has made a positive difference. However, there has been resistance from some sectors of the Aboriginal community. Such resistance is to be expected when those endorsing the card, such as Ian, are portrayed as sellouts by some of their own people.

My father is the nation’s first Aboriginal police officer, an achievement he is proud of, though not a title he flaunts. He did not see colour, but only saw people. In the 80s, the Fitzgerald Inquiry gave him the opportunity to speak about the stand he took against corruption in the Queensland Police Force. While praised by public, he was despised by crooked police, but of course was not surprised by this. However, in his final job as a police officer (having earned the rank of inspector) he was put in charge of the cultural advisory unit. In his book Code of Silence, he describes that this appointment “wasn’t at all favourably received by the indigenous community, many of whom accused me of being a traitor and of selling out my own race … I was as hated as much for my efforts to improve relations between indigenous people and the police as I had been for taking a stand against corruption in the Licensing Branch.” After a stellar career serving the people of Queensland, that is how ‘his people’ responded.

If we are not seeing as many Aboriginal Australians rise to the position of leadership as we would like, then perhaps it’s because many of them decide that it just isn’t worth it. Why bust your guts in trying to help the most disadvantaged Aboriginal people only to be slandered and hated by other Aboriginal people. For those who have stepped forward, you are to be applauded. Not only are you trying to solve complex problems like violence, unemployment, and crime, but you are doing it while being opposed by those who should be supporting you. You are great role models.

For those Aboriginal people who delight in sitting back and criticising those who are trying to make a difference, perhaps you might like to consider getting out of your comfortable lounge chair and offering some genuine solutions. Breaking the cycles of generational disadvantage will mean making tough decisions. Protest marches and walks across the country or rhetoric like 'sovereignty never ceded' just won’t cut it. Real problems require real solutions, and Aboriginal leaders require the support of other Aboriginal people.

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