Fears for Aboriginal Australia
This essay is a chapter from the book ‘Dissenters Project: The Price of Honest Dissent in Cancel Culture’
Who am I?
I grew up in a normal suburban home in Brisbane with an English-Australian mother and an Aboriginal father. Both parents had great extended families that loved me and shaped me into the person I am today. I was neither raised as an Aboriginal person nor a non-Aboriginal person—I was just raised as Anthony. Both families made equal contributions to who I am. Both taught me, through example and not lecturing, that to get on in life I had to treat others with respect, work hard, get an education, have goals, and honor all parts of my life—that is, the physical, spiritual, social, and emotional.
That’s a pretty good start to life. And it is because I feel a valued member of each family, that I call myself, a ‘part-Aboriginal Australian’—but more about this later. It is only at the point of writing this that I now realize that my families—the whitefella mob and the blackfella mob—both laid the most important foundation of my life: the realization that we are all one. And, in my opinion, I don’t know of a more fundamental spiritual truth than that, because if we are all one, then we all come from the one source.
In my early years, I did not pay any attention to Aboriginal affairs. I was too busy studying. It wasn’t until my early twenties, when I worked as a public servant for Queensland Health that I learnt about them. Most of my duties were centered on data collection and analysis. It was only after a few years in the public service that I was exposed indirectly to Aboriginal affairs. Even though I did not deal with Aboriginal data initially in any direct way, it was clear that Aboriginal health was an important issue for the department. But once I was exposed to Aboriginal health policy documents, I began to notice something that I thought was strange. Nobody whispered in my ear. What I learnt, I learnt from my own observations and curiosity. When reading about the strategies to help Aboriginal people, it seemed as if they were presented as a separate species to other Australians. More disturbingly, the policy writers strongly suggested that Aboriginal affairs was best looked after by Aboriginal people who were considered to be the experts. I remember being in meetings where the non-Aboriginal staff would sit back and not contribute as much, presumably because they could sense that their Aboriginal colleagues saw themselves as the experts. Frequent claims of “Let us take control of our own affairs,” “We know what we need” and “We take a holistic approach to health” were code for “This is our turf white man, and you should stay off it.” I wasn’t consciously aware of it then, but sometime later, I came to the realization that Aboriginal affairs is everybody’s business, and I still hold that view today.
With this conviction, I believed you didn’t have to be Aboriginal to be able to help or express an opinion on Aboriginal affairs. To me it did not, and does not, matter who was helping Aboriginal people so long as they were competent, committed, and cared. These three Cs were more important than that other C—color. My curiosity began to grow. I tie my curiosity back to my childhood and my two families. Each family had equal input and influence over me: My father’s family did not trump my mother’s family, because I had Aboriginal blood in my veins. Sadly, in care and protection issues today involving Aboriginal children, culture is heavily weighted. But, of course, not just any culture, only Aboriginal culture.
My early days in Queensland Health were at about the time when the internet was new and proving to be a great source of knowledge. With a few searches, I discovered that across government when dealing with Aboriginal affairs, difference was valued over commonalities, and very often differences were greatly exaggerated. For me, the default position was—and still is—that the commonalities between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people far outweigh the differences. And I have not seen evidence to refute this position.
At this stage, I had not heard of the term ‘political correctness’ but I look back and realize that this was what I was reacting to. It was also around this time that I started to learn that there were some people who objected to the term ‘part-Aboriginal’ on the grounds that it was somehow racist or offensive—so I’ve deliberately and unashamedly identified as a part-Aboriginal Australian ever since then. Simply because that is who I am. Up until that time it was not uncommon to hear the term (or similarly ‘part-Chinese’ or ‘part-German’ ….). The most common response to this from the ‘sheeple’ who objected was, “Well, which part of you is Aboriginal?” Even today the sheeple still regurgitate the same rubbish ‘riposte’. I guess that it was back then that I realized some people were keen to see racism wherever they could and even keener to claim to be a victim of it.
I believe that today, while most Australians want to see all Aboriginal people live long, happy, healthy lives, there is a critical mass of people who do not wish for this to happen. Their motivations are more about their own ‘win’, or personal kudos—not for the good of the people whom they claim to be caring about. The derived personal ‘win’ is not always financial; it may be gaining the status of ‘expert’, ‘savior’, or ‘moral crusader’. Or the ‘buzz’ of virtue signaling. Or it may even be the feeling of a temporary righteous superiority that arises from making others, such as the descendants of the colonizers, feel guilty. To progress with fulfilling their own desires, they have ‘donned—clothed themselves in’ a set of beliefs, which gives the illusion that they are primarily interested in the well-being of Aboriginal people. They are reluctant to let go of their ingrained and cherished beliefs and will defend them fiercely, typically by attacking those who would question or challenge them. These beliefs—or prejudices—which I mention shortly, must be addressed if a solution to the problems facing Aboriginal people is to ever emerge.
This situation is well summed up by a man I recently met, who lives in a small community with a significant Aboriginal population. He gave me his opinion of the people in his community who were responsible for, and jealously guarded all Aboriginal matters: “If they did their job, they’d be out of a job.” Such people are like the unscrupulous butcher with his hands on the scales when weighing your meat; how could you possibly trust him?
Those who oppose their beliefs being challenged are often busy marching in protests, producing reports, attending conferences, writing blogs, pounding keyboards, proclaiming their Aboriginality and insisting that others recognize it, or shouting “racism” (or “invasion” or “colonization” or “genocide”) from the rooftops as being the main cause of the deep problems facing many Aboriginal people today. None of these activities are inherently bad or useless. Indeed, they have the potential to prompt more effective action. However, their effectiveness will ultimately depend less upon emotive displays of indignation and more upon cool-headed approaches motivated less by self-interested virtue signaling and more by unbiased analyses and solutions.
So what are some of these cherished beliefs? Amongst others, and in no particular order, they include:
1. only Aboriginal people can understand or help other Aboriginal people;
2. Aboriginal people are a vastly different race of people from other Australians;
3. Aboriginal people are likely to thrive on their ‘Homelands’ and ‘on Country’ and should be kept there;
4. embracing modernity, i.e. Australian life, is assimilation;
5. the (white) government is the problem;
6. those Aboriginal people who suffer today do so because they are victims of colonization (not to mention massacres and historical trauma—as we are constantly reminded);
7. discrimination and racism are rampant;
8. more emphasis on cultural specialness and difference is the solution; and
9. focusing any attention upon personal responsibility is ‘blaming the victim’.
I guess that it is my opposition to these ideas that has earnt me the title of ‘dissenter’—a title I’m happy to have.
The common thread running through these fixed ideas is that of ‘specialness.’ And one can only be special if there are others who are ‘nonspecial.’ This immediately sets up an us-vs-them scenario. Specialness quickly morphs into separateness and separatism—an ideology I cannot abide. I agree with former Aboriginal politician, Alison Anderson (2013, p. 339), who has said: “I see people. Not categories, divisions, or races.’’ And in my own words, “Aboriginal people are people first, Aboriginal second.” And Australians above all.
On a practical level, some degree of separateness is useful for any group of humans. For example, in most societies there are obvious gender differences that warrant some services that cater to each different gender. Some societies can take this too far, but I think on balance Australia has it right (at least in 2019). But this belief that Aboriginal people are substantively different from non-Aboriginal people has not been helpful to Aboriginal people.
I am of the opinion that nearly every problem facing Aboriginal people today is infinitely exacerbated by the persistent us-them mentality, that is the ‘separatism’ paradigm. It is not the past (i.e., invasion, colonization, etc.), the government, or racism that aggravates the problems facing so many Aboriginal people today. Rather it is that they have been encouraged to see themselves as separate (and special). Now for the Aboriginal people living in a remote part of Australia with no access to a job and living in appalling conditions or are urban-based and lack the experience to gain a decent job, then I am not suggesting that their plight is caused by their own separatist thinking. They are mostly trapped in these conditions, because typically their privileged cousins (who have never had to endure such appalling conditions) push the separatist agenda.
According to one of the twentieth century’s outstanding theoretical physicists, David Bohm, much of the world’s problems came from the perception that people are separate from each other, which results in us wanting to defend ourselves against perceived ‘others’ (Butler-Bowdon, 2013). Compare the ideas of a physicist with what Australian social scientist Hugh Mackay (2013, p. 127) has stated: “The starting point [for a good life] is the recognition that we are all inseparably part of each other and that our human destiny is to accept and nurture our connection.” I don’t believe that the connections we have with others at the level of the spirit can ever be severed. However, people, to their own detriment, can act as if they are not connected with others.
Now some of the politically correct critics are going to reply with “But Aboriginal people are special” and then tell us something about being the oldest living culture. I am not dismissing claims about culture, but I like to think that everyone is special, and if everyone is special then none of us are special.
What has been the response?
I will be honest and upfront in stating that the negative consequences of being a dissenter have generally been mild. Paradoxically, the responses I receive, although I consider them mild in their actual effects, would not be considered mild by those who give them if they were on the receiving end of similar criticisms (it’s funny how those who need to throw stones live in glass houses). However for me, they have been water off a duck’s back. They are simply slander and silly accusations. My opinion of me is more important than their opinion of me, so mostly I just laugh. As you might expect, most of the hate has come from Aboriginal-identifying people (some of whom are just about as white as the paper this book is printed on) and generally not from non-Aboriginal people. These are the people who believe the white man is oppressing them, that racism is rampant and holding them back, who are easily upset at the sight of black face paint or feel that any Australia Day celebration is upsetting them. Because I don’t stand in solidarity with them as a victim, they attack me. There are of course a significant number of whitefella ‘fellow-travelers’ who support the blactivist hardliners who attack me as well.
It would seem that if you are not feeling oppressed or a victim of racism then you are, in their eyes, a sellout. To be called a ‘coconut’ (someone who is brown on the outside but white …) or a ‘lapdog’ is common.
I can honestly say that the praise I have earned from being a ‘dissenter’ totally outweighs any negatives. I have met some wonderful people who are tired of being portrayed as a racist, of being accused of having ‘white privilege,’ who have felt unable to express an opinion on Aboriginal affairs, unless of course it is the ‘right’ one, that is, the view that conforms with the cherished beliefs mentioned earlier. There is one example of this support I have received that I would like to share: Many years ago, I taught a first-year psychology class on ‘Aboriginal psychology.’ Universities have lots of lectures devoted to understanding ‘Aboriginal culture.’ Students are taught the same old rhetoric— “Aboriginal people are victims of colonization and white Australians.” I try to keep it real. During the break, one young lady came up and said, “Thank you so much for teaching in a way that didn’t make me feel like a racist simply because I’m white.” That made it all worth it for me.
So why do I continue to be a dissenter?
I believe the aforementioned “cherished beliefs” are holding Aboriginal people back. I oppose those beliefs and so I am called a dissenter. I want to see Aboriginal people be all that they can be, but far too many are living in deplorable conditions, have little chance of gaining a meaningful job, and will die an early death. And for as long as there are blactivists and so-called social justice warriors to promote their cherished beliefs, far too many Aboriginal people will continue to suffer and miss out on being all that they can be. But imagine if those cherished beliefs were replaced with more rational understandings. The table below gives an indication of how better the lives of Aboriginal people could be.
The problems facing so many Aboriginal Australians, and here I mean the real problems, not the fake pretend problems, but problems like high rates of suicide, violence, child abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, feelings of hopelessness, unemployment, and more, can only be solved when Aboriginal Australians and non-Aboriginal Australians see each other as Australians first and foremost. A Buddhist quote I am fond of is worth mentioning here. It goes something like “If you want peace, joy, and happiness, give up the need to feel special. There can be no unity when some are seen as special and others are not.” I should add that I believe it is a minority of Aboriginal people who hold the view that they are special and separate from non-Aboriginal people. The majority I believe, just want to get on with life, and do get on with life. Many of them are our neighbors, colleagues, and friends—they are just like you and me. I was lucky enough for some of them to be my father, grandparents, uncles, and aunties.
Many of us are moving forward together. Let’s continue to do so. Let’s not be conned by the myth that some great national acknowledgement of the past, or a new apology, or changing of the anthem, or a changing of the date for Australia Day, or a treaty, or some other great distraction is a prerequisite for the continued walk together—just do it!
Anderson, A. (2013). Real education, real jobs. In In black & white: Australians All at the crossroads, edited by Rhonda Craven, Anthony Dillon and Nigel Parbury. Ballan, Vic.: Connor Court.
Butler-Bowden, T. (2013). 50 Philosophy classics. London: Nicholas Brealey. Mackay, H. (2013). “The good life: What makes a life worth living?” Sydney: Macmillan.