There are three ideas that have been circulating around in Aboriginal affairs for a long time that I believe are holding Aboriginal people back; sometimes putting them in an early grave. And as you might have guessed, these ideas are promoted as unquestionable truths by the culture vultures. You know what I mean when I talk about culture vultures: that man who discovers he as some Aboriginal ancestry and then decides to learn a few Aboriginal words, and then when filling out a form with the question “Other language spoken at home?” ticks ‘yes’. Or that person who isn’t quite sure what cultural safety means, but is sure that his has been violated and wants everyone to know. Or maybe that person who when they get on social media, chant “Sovereignty never ceded” or “Treaty now.” Anyway, here are the three killer ideas:
Blaming the victim
Mention a problem experienced by an individual or community and you are sure to be accused of ‘blaming the victim.’ Of course, this one isn’t just restricted to Aboriginal affairs; this is a favourite amongst keyboard warriors. Suggest how a person could avoid being the victim of a crime, like say not walking in a particular location after dark, and you will be accused of ‘blaming the victim.’ In Aboriginal affairs, simply mention that a person needs to play their part in improving their circumstances and you are sure to be accused of ‘blaming the victim.’ Mention that they can play a part to reduce community dysfunction and you will be accused of blaming the victim. The implied message in accusations of blaming the victim is generally “it’s white man’s fault.”
Let me be clear here, suggesting to an individual or group that they can have a part to play in solving the problems they face is in no way blaming the victim. Let’s suppose I am riding my bike and a car driving past knocks me over, hurting me badly. Let’s further suppose that I was completely in the right and the driver was wrong. The driver doesn’t hang around, so I’m left injured lying on the ground. Now I could sit there and hope that the driver does the right thing and come back to help, but I might be waiting a long time. He should come back, but the reality is, that he may not. To suggest: “Anthony, you need to get up and limp or signal another driver to stop and help” is not blaming the victim. It’s helping me to be proactive.
We can’t move forward until we acknowledge …
This is definitely one of the deadliest myths holding people back. When I hear this claim, I want to reach for the bucket. Usually it’s the past that the culture vultures believe must be acknowledged. I have said it many times before and will say it again: I have no problem acknowledging the past. What I do have a problem with is insisting that other people must acknowledge it. If I want to acknowledge the past I will, but as for other people, that is their business as to whether or not they acknowledge the past. Consider this quote:
“Australia must acknowledge its history, its true history … the massacres and the wars. If that were taught in schools, we might have one nation, where we are all together.”
It’s my understanding that these are already taught in school. But suppose they are not, I am still waiting for someone to tell me how such an acknowledgement embedded in the school curriculum will help Aboriginal people in any meaningful way.
This idea that some acknowledgement is needed, is clearly a myth as many Aboriginal people today are not only moving forward, they are doing so in huge leaps. To suggest to them that the past or some truth must be acknowledged in order to move forward is a smack in the face to the many fine Aboriginal people who make this country a better place. They don’t need any acknowledgement, they just want to get on with life.
If your great great grandfather hurt or even killed my great great grandfather, I don’t need you to acknowledge it in order for us to be friends. The only reason I would need you to acknowledge it would be if I wanted you to feel guilty.
Racism against Aboriginal people is rampant
This claim is rampant, but not the racism. I am not saying racism against Aboriginal people does not exist, I am just saying that it is not the big culprit holding Aboriginal people back. For many culture vultures and blactivists, chanting this one puts them on a high. Consider this recent article (May 2020) with Karla Grant interviewing Senator Pat Dodson (to their credit, both high achievers), the article commences with: “… racism. It’s called ignorance. It’s called fear.” This was Senator Dodson’s response to Karla’s words: “If it’s not a third chamber … nothing to be concerned about … why is there such fear … why can’t we see this happen within this term of this government?” Sorry Senator, that is not racism. And no Karla, just because some people oppose a proposed parliamentary voice, doesn’t mean they are fearful.
For many culture vultures, an Aboriginal death in custody is proof positive for them of Australia’s alleged racism against Aboriginal people. Try telling them that Aboriginal people in custody are NOT more likely to die than non-Aboriginal people in custody and see what response you get. Consider these words spoken by someone who should know better: “The deaths go on and on and on and our governments have not only failed dismally to stem the rate of black deaths in custody. but they haven’t even really tried to do so.” Misinformation like this does not help Aboriginal people.
As another example, consider this claim from a ‘peer-reviewed’ journal article: “Further, ambulance drivers’ resistance to pick up patients living in town camps or remote area communities depicted a strong example of institutionalised racism.” There’s that catchall phrase “institutionalised racism.” Here’s a short story an Aboriginal friend of mine told me about his sister. She lived in a town camp. She decided she wanted to leave the camp to escape the problems of town camp life. Her estranged (Aboriginal) husband wasn’t too happy about his, but believing she was his property, he decided to take matters into his own hands—he killed her. It took over an hour for the ambulance to arrive simply because ambulance drivers often will not go into some town camps without a police escort because they fear for their own safety. My friend does not blame racism or the ambulance drivers and neither do the young lady’s grandparents. They know of the danger in these communities. To them, the accusation of racism is just another smokescreen.
Go to many of those Indigenous-specific social media pages and you will find lots of stories of racism—sometimes real racism and other times wished-for racism. Such stories usually put the followers of these pages into a frenzy. It confirms their biased belief of “racism is rampant.”
All of us at one time or another have been in a difficult situation or had a major challenge or problem to face. To improve our situation usually means taking some initiative to implement a solution, even if it might seem unfair. It can mean removing yourself from a bad situation, adopting a more healthy lifestyle, or studying to get extra qualifications. Suggesting to someone to do these things is not blaming the victim. Acknowledging the past or the sins of our forefathers is fine. Saying sorry fine. But to tell people that they cannot move forward until they have received an acknowledgement or apology is cruel. It communicates to them their wellbeing is controlled by the one who must do the acknowledging. Finally, like the last point, telling Aboriginal people they are victims or racism also communicates the same poisonous message of “your wellbeing is controlled by others.”
Oh, and here’s another killer cliché: “connect with culture”. I’ll talk about that in my next essay.