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Aboriginal Affairs is Everyone's Business

While many Aboriginal people in this country are doing well, there are still too many who suffer from problems that disproportionately affect the Aboriginal population as a whole. These problems need to be discussed openly, but often there is a strong censorship preventing any open discussion. This was most evident when three ‘white’ people spoke about the care of Aboriginal children on Channel 7’s Sunrise. This Sunrise segment was in response to the alleged recent rape of a two year old Aboriginal girl in Tennant Creek.

I used to think that the censorship arose because it was asserted that only Aboriginal people have the necessary experience and qualifications for speaking about Aboriginal issues – an assertion that lacks any hard evidence, but rests on strong emotional conviction. This reasoning often finds expression in well-worn rhetoric like: ‘Let Aboriginal people take control of their own lives.’ While this logic is still often used for silencing debate, it’s not a clear ‘black and white’ matter, as there are some problems facing Aboriginal people that non-Aboriginal Australians are allowed to discuss and some problems that Aboriginal people are not allowed to discuss.

This is confusing, so I’m going to tease out the source of confusion.

First consider those problems affecting Aboriginal people that non-Aboriginal people are allowed to discuss. For example, diabetes is a major problem for Aboriginal people. Best estimates are that they are four times more likely than non-Aboriginal Australians to be burdened with type 2 diabetes. The problem of diabetes in the Aboriginal population has been discussed many times by non-Aboriginal people without any objection.

In contrast, consider the response when discussing other problems that disproportionately affect Aboriginal people, such as violence and child abuse. Typical responses include: “Yeah, but it’s in every community” or “Stop stereotyping us” or “That’s racist.” Perhaps the all-time classic response is: “All our men feel demonised when you say that.” For the record, I have not met one person, non-Aboriginal or otherwise, who has ever indicated that they believe the majority of Aboriginal men are abusers of their children.” This accusation is simply a ploy by the Aboriginal offenderati to silence discussion on a serious problem some refuse to acknowledge.

One might conclude therefore, that only Aboriginal people are allowed to talk about these sensitive topics. However, the reality is, that some Aboriginal people discussing these problems openly will be attacked with far more hate from the Aboriginal ‘offenderati’ than non-Aboriginal people. Why is this?

The Aboriginal offenderati, whinja ninjas, and gatekeepers are happy for problems like violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities to be discussed if Aboriginal perpetrators can be excused and the white man blamed. Mention that violence and child abuse are the results of colonisation, ‘transgenerational trauma’ or cutbacks in funding to Aboriginal programs and you will be cheered. However, if a non-Aboriginal person suggests that the Aboriginal perpetrators of these crimes are totally responsible for their crimes, there will be shouts of racism. When an Aboriginal person makes the same claims against Aboriginal perpetrators, they are called racist terms such as ‘coconut’ (brown on the outside …) and a sellout; and make no mistake, these are racist terms even when spoken by other Aboriginal people.

It is important to discuss why there is censoring on these topics, because until there can be open discussion, not only will they continue, they will get worse.

The short answer to why we are forbidden to discuss problems like violence and child abuse where Aboriginal people are the perpetrators, is because it is inconvenient and embarrassing to some members of the Aboriginal population. Mention these problems and lay direct responsibilityon the perpetrator and many Aboriginal people claim to get hurt feelings; and it seems that hurt feelings trump hurt children and victims of physical violence. But why would a person feel embarrassed or hurt for a crime they personally did not commit, but was committed only by someone of their race?

The answer becomes apparent when we understand identity politics. Identifying with a group has its advantages: it can enable people with a common cause to develop strategies that best meet their goals and needs that they could not do as individuals. However, there is a danger when group membership is used to promote one’s prestige and sense of self-worth. If self-worth is dependent on one’s race, then any negative stories involving that race are a threat to self-worth. I am a Queenslander, male, heterosexual, with Aboriginal and English ancestry. But I do not base my sense of self-worth on any of these attributes. They are simply a part of who I am but they do not define me. I am happy to hear about problems among members of any of these groups to which I belong. The truth should always be spoken.

So what is the solution when it comes to discussing problems that disproportionality affect the Aboriginal population? Simple; let’s recognise that those Aboriginal Australians who suffer needlessly are Australian citizens, and therefore are entitled to the same rights and opportunities that most of us take for granted. And if they are Australian citizens, then every Australian has a right to voice their opinion on the problems affecting their fellow Australians. It has been the insistence that those Australians with Aboriginal ancestry be seen as another race separate to other Australians that has contributed to the deplorable state far too many Aboriginal Australians are in today. Change the rules and we will change the outcomes. Fail to do that and the next ten

Closing the Gap reports will be like the last ten.

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