There are a handful of trouble makers in Aboriginal affairs. That may seem like a bad thing, but we actually need the trouble makers. By ‘trouble makers’ (TMs) I mean those people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who are expressing opinions, making decisions, and taking actions that result in (not cause): outrage, complaints, offence, and hurt feelings amongst critics (more about the critics shortly). I specifically wrote ‘result in’ and not ‘cause’ in that last sentence because those who claim to be offended, have their feelings hurt etc., actually make a choice in how they feel (the hurt feelings are not caused).
History has been full of trouble makers (e.g., Galileo, Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Charlie Perkins) who dared to go against popular opinion. In Aboriginal affairs we know who the TMs are. I don’t need to name them, but if they are Aboriginal, they are regularly called ‘sellouts’ or ‘uncle Toms’ or ‘coconuts’ by other (mostly) ‘Aboriginal’ people, who surprisingly, after using such slanderous terms, have no hesitation in calling themselves ‘Aboriginal.’ Interestingly, while these Aboriginal critics (a polite term I’ll use for now) are constantly on the lookout for racism amongst white Australia, they have no hesitation in slandering other Aboriginal people. They are hypocrites!
I refer to these critics with the usual terms I have used in the past – whinja ninjas, blacktivists, or the convenient collective term of ‘victim brigade members’ (VBMs). I recently read where one of these VBMs referred to a young Aboriginal woman as an ‘assimilated Aboriginal.’ Of course no justification was given for the use of the term (there never is). And what was this Aboriginal woman’s ‘crime’? After a lifetime of seeing Aboriginal people abused and killed by ‘their own’ she wants to draw attention to it so it can be addressed (thanks Jacinta). I suppose this particular VBM felt she could use the term ‘assimilated Aboriginal’ as she was recognized as an ‘elder’ – a term much like ‘Aboriginal’ in the sense that it has become very elastic and stretched into something new that it was never meant to be. And I suspect that she is recognised as an elder only by fellow VBMs. When these slanderous terms are used on the TMs, it is simply the VBM’s way of saying “What you say is an inconvenient truth and I don’t want to hear it.”
The VBMs need the TMs. For without them, they would have to face the very real problems facing Aboriginal people like violence and child abuse. It is so much easier to shout ‘coconut’ to any Aboriginal person who is trying to make a difference than to actually do something that helps Aboriginal people in any meaningful way. And if they are not attacking the TMs, they are focusing on trivial issues like ‘sovereignty.’
I will finish by saying what I have said many times before: In addressing the wellbeing of Aboriginal people, I want to see issues like housing, health, education, employment, and safety prioritised. This means seeing energy directed into activities, services, and policies that result in Aboriginal people having access to fresh nutritious food each day in a safe and clean environment free of violence, where the children are in schools getting a world-class education, and adults are working in meaningful jobs. To achieve these changes, we need more TMs to keep the important issues on the agenda.
Now not everyone who makes trouble (that is, receives harsh criticism) is doing the right thing. But far too often, people who are trying to make a difference by focusing on the real problems (and not the emu-$hit distractions like Australia Day, banning golliwogs, forcing an acknowledgement of history/invasion, looking for racism under every gum leaf) are wrongly and severely criticised.
There is a constant cry of “we need more Aboriginal people in politics.” Well we already have a few, and that’s a good start. But given the nasty and slanderous criticisms these people get, I am surprised that we have as many Aboriginal politicians as we do. This I have written about before. The continued unjust attacks on the Aboriginal TMs, is likely to deter fine Aboriginal people from entering into politics and other positions of influence.