Sunday, November 23, 2014
Why I Burned My ''Proof of Aboriginality'' Papers -- Kerryn Pholi
If you are an Aboriginal person with the literacy and media access to be reading this, you are not 'disadvantaged'. After a career spent in jobs reserved for Indigenous Australians, Kerryn Pholi has had enough of being a "professional Aborigine". Far from closing the gap, she now believes these
strategies are racist.
I am a person of Aboriginal descent. This is nothing special; all it means is that I could trace my ancestry back to a stone-age way of life more easily, with far fewer steps, than most readers. When I think about my Aboriginal ancestry, I feel gratitude. I feel gratitude because modernity has given me a life of ease, pleasure and privilege beyond anything an Aboriginal woman in pre-invasion Australia could possibly imagine. As a person of Aboriginal descent, and a female at that, I am grateful that I had the good fortune to be born here in Australia in 1975, and not here in say, 1775.
Perhaps life for my Aboriginal ancestors (the Bundjalung people of what is now northern NSW) had its good points prior to invasion, just as European life around 5,000 BC couldn't have been all bad ... though nobody seems to miss that particular lifestyle much or yearn to have it back.
Perhaps some readers are disgusted that a person with Aboriginal ancestry would be grateful to the 'white invaders', given the historical horrors they brought upon 'my people'. Nonsense; I can feel
gratitude for my personal good fortune without needing to be grateful to anyone in particular.
I don't feel particularly proud to be Aboriginal. No-one likes to see a skinhead thumping his chest and saying he is proud to be white; how is pride in an Aboriginal racial identity any different? And yet in a way I am proud of my Aboriginal ancestors. Some Aboriginal people say they are proud to be members of a (somewhat nebulous) racial/cultural group that has survived (sort of) for sixty thousands of years.
I don't share that perspective, but I have my own version of 'survivor pride'. The fact that I am here,
I used to identify as Aboriginal, and I have worked in 'identified' government positions only open to Aboriginal people. As a professional Aborigine, I could harangue a room full of people with real qualifications and decades of experience with whatever self-serving, uninformed drivel that happened to pop into my head. For this nonsense I would be rapturously applauded, never questioned, and paid well above my qualifications and experience.
I worked in excellent organisations that devoted resources to recruiting, elevating and generally indulging people like me, simply because other people like me told these organisations that's what they needed to do to 'overcome Indigenous disadvantage'. In these organisations I worked alongside dedicated, talented and highly skilled people - and there may have been room for one more dedicated, talented and highly skilled person if I hadn't been there occupying a position designated for someone of my 'race'.
In my years of working as a professional Aborigine, I don't think I did anything that really helped anybody much at all, and I know that I was a party to unfairness, abuses of power, wastefulness and the plain silliness in the name of 'reconciliation' and 'cultural sensitivity'. I had a nagging sense of feeling like a complete fraud, things were reasonably OK until I made the mistake of reading Thomas Sowell's ''Affirmative action around the World: an empirical study''.
After that, I could no longer ignore the fact that my career was built on racism. Not 'reverse racism' or 'positive discrimination' - just plain racism, of benefit to nobody except a select gang of privileged people with the right genes and a piece of paper to prove it. In other words, of benefit only to people like me.
About 18 months ago I burned my 'Proof of Aboriginality' documentation (a letter from the NSW Department of Education acknowledging that I was Aboriginal, on the basis that my local Aboriginal Lands Council at that time, circa 1990, had said so). I walked away from the Aboriginal Industry for good. It hasn't been easy, and I am still working out what to do with myself from here, but it has been rewarding. I feel Andrew Bolt was unfairly pilloried in court by a Jew lawyer and a Jew judge
It feels great to simply identify as a human being, and to work alongside colleagues that only know me as another ordinary wage-slave, and not as a pampered mascot with the power to ruin a career with an accusation of 'insensitivity'. It also feels good to do proper work; sitting around a government office essentially being paid to be Aboriginal is both undignified and boring. I miss the money of course, but I don't miss the racism.
If you are an Aboriginal person with the literacy and media access to be reading this, you are not 'disadvantaged'; you are one of the most fortunate people on the planet. You don't need special assistance because you are Aboriginal, you are not owed recompense because you are Aboriginal, nor do you possess special powers to perform tasks that others could not.
To accept preferential treatment on the basis of one's race - in employment, academe, the arts, the media - is to participate in racism. It does not 'close the gap', promote role-models or let you 'challenge the system from within'. To genuinely challenge racism we need to stop rationalising our individual self-interest, reject preferential treatment, compete in the open market for jobs, grants and audiences, and accept the financial and career consequences of refusing to be bought.
I realize when an Aboriginal person speaks out in criticism of the Aboriginal Industry, or speaks in favour of policies that are unpopular with the industry, it is almost inevitable that at some point a venerable Aboriginal spokesperson will declare—more in sorrow than in anger—that the dissident has “lost her culture” or “turned her back on her culture” or is “ignorant of her culture”. The superficial attractions of “whitefella” culture has led the Aboriginal dissident to stray from the guiding wisdom of Aboriginal culture, which would have prevented her from forming such foolish ideas and voicing such dangerously naive opinions. In this particularly effective form of silencing and shaming, Aboriginal dissenters are simply ignorant, pitiable, uninitiated children—which means there is no need to engage critically with anything they say about Aboriginal policy but they'll go back to getting drunk.
This form of silencing suggests that if I had more “cultural” authenticity I would be disinclined to question or critically reflect on policies that provide preferential treatment to Aboriginal people. Or perhaps I might still reflect on the issue, but I would not be very concerned by the problems I see—or my special cultural knowledge would allow me to see justifications for this approach that I simply do not see from my present, culturally bereft standpoint. Or perhaps I would simply refrain from voicing any concerns out of loyalty to my “culture”.
NOTE: Kerryn Pholi is a light-skinned Aborigine and has worked in Indigenous research and policy in various government agencies and NGOs.
The Way I See It.......I love Aborigines and their culture, I agree with Kerryn, I’m over this racist nonsense that is acceptable from one side only. But the historic reality is that Australia was always going to be colonised, if not by the Brits then by the Dutch or Portuguese, and I doubt either would have been less brutal. Aboriginal leaders took offence when Prime Minister Tony Abbott said last month that when the British First Fleet landed they found nothing but bushland...which was true!
Okay, so this is where I get into trouble for telling the truth: For 60,000 years Aborigines did not attempt to improve this land and it was begging to be colonised by someone. They planted no seeds, although there were plenty. They did not invent the wheel, neither did the Incas but look what they accomplished! They both walked huge distances but one made roads and organised an empire under one language while the other didn't make any effort to consolidate 510 separate languages. They did not discover numbers, although trade is a tribal imperative. Metallurgy alluded them. They remained nomadic, although a protein-rich 10,000-mile coastline was begging for permanent settlement.
And we wonder why voluminous amounts of money have not succeeded in “closing the gap”.
The “gap” will remain for generations to come because Aboriginal tribes were the least developed of any indigenes on earth. The “gap” was actually a grand canyon and we have never understood it.
We were as ruthlessly cruel to Aborigines as the Plymouth pilgrims were to the more developed American Indians and the Chinese are to the developed Tibetans, but it’s a price that is always paid by those with less sophisticated weapons, so get over it! Burning the Australian flag last week isn't going to win you any friends either. Like Kerryn says, ''Stop whinging and become something!''