Friday, 11 September 2009

Andrew Bolt's take on the Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards

Andrew Bolt is known for his strong opinions, well here is his unique point of view regarding the recent Telstra Aboriginal Art award winner and the the Fulbright Indigenous Scholarship winner.

Let me know what you think :)

White fellas in the black

Danie Mellor

Danie Mellor and Mark McMillan Source: Herald Sun

AS you see, the two men on the right are from a tribe of people who face terrible racism just because of the colour of their skin.

So you'll be thrilled that both have won a rare opportunity - one offered to their race alone to end such injustice.

The man to the right, Sydney arts academic Danie Mellor, this week won our richest prize for Aboriginal artists - the $40,000 Telstra Award.

Have your say at Andrew's blog

And the man to the left, Sydney law academic Mark McMillan, has won one of our richest prizes for Aboriginal students - the Fulbright Indigenous Scholarship.

If, studying the faces of these two "Aboriginal" men you think this is surely the most amazing stretch of definition, you're wrong.

McMillan has gone one better still: he's also won the Black Women's Action in Education Foundation Scholarship, originally intended to help educate black women, not white men.

But that's modern race politics at our universities and anywhere else where grants and privileges are now doled out.

Hear that scuffling at the trough? That's the sound of black people being elbowed out by white people shouting "but I'm Aboriginal, too". Hark! - is that a man's voice I now hear bellowing: "And I'm an Aboriginal woman."

You see, Mellor and McMillan are representatives of a booming new class of victim you'd never have imagined we'd have to support with special prizes and jobs.

They are "white Aborigines" - people who, out of their multi-stranded but largely European genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands, and the one that's contributed least to their looks. Yes, the Aboriginal one now so fashionable among artists and academics.

Let McMillan himself describe the torture he's faced as a result - the shocking pain of having not been discriminated against for being black.

"I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Aboriginal Australian . . .

"As a child, I grew up expecting everyone to be like me, to look like me - with the blonde hair and blue eyes.

"Clearly, my naive ideas about how Aboriginal people were 'supposed' to look were wrong. But being Aboriginal and fair and blonde was normal to me and I grew up in a world where I was treated 'normally' . . .

"Impeding my growth from that young person into the adult I wanted to become was the profound issue of identity. I was a white black man . . . I was becoming a victim."

You'd swear this was from a satire -- a local version of Sasha Baron Cohen's jive-talking routine as the fashionably aggrieved white rapper Ali G, complaining: "Is it cos I is black?"

But no, this is meant seriously, and serious perks and Aboriginal-only benefits flow as a consequence.

McMillan - whose confusion about his identity leads him also to declare he's both a "proud gay" and a "proud father" - has received all the special help you once thought, when writing the taxman another cheque, would at least go to people who looked Aboriginal, but which is increasingly lavished on folk as pink in face as they are in politics.

This trained lawyer has not just won several prizes intended for Aborigines, but has worked for Aboriginal groups such as ATSIC, and is the Aboriginal representative on several boards, including that of a local land council.

Now he's a researcher at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney - an "indigenous" outfit run by the very pale Prof Larissa Behrendt, who may have been raised by her white mother but today, as a professional Aborigine, is chairman of our biggest taxpayer-funded Aboriginal television service.

The blue-eyed and ginger-haired Mellor has been similarly privileged, despite having an "American-Australian" father and a mother with only part-Aboriginal ancestry in her otherwise Irish-Australian past.

He now lectures on "Indigenous and Western perspectives of culture and history" at Sydney University and his indigenous art now hangs in most of our national and state art collections.

Nor are Mellor, McMillan and Behrendt atypical or even rare as "white Aborigines".

St Kilda artist Bindi Cole, raised by her English mother, explored her own pain at being too white in a Next Wave Festival show, Not Really Aboriginal, for which she photographed herself with black powder all over her distressingly white face.

Blond Annette Sax, daughter of a Swiss immigrant, also identified herself as a "white Koori", which fortuitously allowed her to make the shortlist for the Victorian Indigenous Art Award, alongside other Aboriginal artists as pale as a blank canvas.

T HE auburn-haired Tara Jane Winch was just as lucky. She needed to write just one book -- and say her dad had Afghan-Aboriginal ancestry - for the Australia Council to snap her up as its Indigenous Literacy Project ambassador.

I've written before of a dozen similar cases, several even more incongruous.

For instance, how can Graham Atkinson be co-chair of the Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group when his right to call himself Aboriginal rests on little more than the fact that his Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman?

Yes, yes, I know. What business is it of anyone else how we identify ourselves? In fact, we're so refreshingly non-judgmental these days - so big-hugs-for-all - that the federal Human Rights Commission wants our laws changed so a man can even call himself a woman, should he feel like it.

Hear it from the HRC itself: "The evidentiary requirements for the legal recognition of sex should be relaxed by . . . making greater allowance for people to self-identify their sex."

Lovely! Soon there'll be no end of white men claiming prizes meant for black women. And don't dare then tell the HRC's anti-discrimination police you object.

Yet I do object, and not just because I refuse to surrender my reason and pretend white really is black, just to aid some artist's self-actualisation therapy.

That way lies madness, where truth is just a whim and words mean nothing.

I refuse also for two other reasons that should be important to us all.

First, of course, is that the special encouragements and prizes we set aside for Aborigines are actually meant for . . . well, Aborigines. You know, the ones we fear would get nothing, if we didn't offer a bit extra, just for them.

So when a privileged white Aborigine then snaffles that extra, odds are that an underprivileged black Aborigine misses out on the very things we hoped would help them most.

Take Mellor's art prize. This white university lecturer, with his nice Canberra studio, has by winning pushed aside real draw-in-the-dirt Aboriginal artists such as Dorothy Napangardi, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson and Walangkura Napanangka, who'd also entered and could really have used that cash and recognition.

DOES this make sense? What's an Aboriginal art prize for, if a man as white and cosseted as Mellor can win it, and with a work that shows no real Aboriginal techniques or traditions?

What's a black Aboriginal artist from the bush to think, seeing yet another white man lope back to the city with the goodies?

Same with McMillan. When a man as white as I, already a lawyer with a job, wins a prize meant to encourage and inspire hard-struggle black students, what must those Aborigines conclude?

And here's my other objection.

Seeking power and reassurance in a racial identity is not just weak - a surrendering of your individuality, and a borrowing of other people's glories.

It's also exactly what we have too much of already.

The noble ideal of Australia, that we judge each other by our character and deeds, and not our faith, fortune or fatherland, is breaking down. We're not yet a nation of tribes, but that's sure the way we're heading.

I've never before seen so many Australian-born people identify themselves by their ethnicity, whether by joining ethnic gangs, living in ethnic enclaves, forming ethnic clubs, demanding ethnic television, playing in ethnic sports clubs, or grabbing ethnic prizes and grants.

Why is that a problem? Because people who feel they owe most to their tribe tend to feel they owe less to the rest. At its worst, it's them against us.

Feel that fracturing yourself?

So when even academics and artists now spurn the chance to be people of our better future - people of every ethnicity but none - and sign up instead as white Aborigines, insisting on differences invisible to the eye, how much is there left to hold us together?


David on Sunday, September 13, 2009 7:07:00 pm said...

I think as an Aboriginal man to hear of this is an insult to us all to see these so called 'white Aboriginals' taking this award from those who deserve it the most with their proven Identity.

There are more and more claiming to be of Aboriginal heritage these days! We shouldnt judge on clour of the skin but on how we are bought up in the Aboriginal way!

To be Indigenous isnt proven by clour but by how your bought up, your country, culture, being accpeted by your community etc..

I am sick of these people popping up claiming this and having nothing to prove it!

Are we to be a culture where these people are watering down our culture! dont they have to have some kind of documented proof from their communities where they come from?

I have some family members who are fairer but they are bought up in our way how we think...

We need to put a stop to these people coming out of the woodwork!

David, Ngarrindjeri nation SA

Anonymous said...

What is a "part aboringine"?

I have never met my birth parents, however, the records of my adoption describe my father as having 'black skin, black eyes, and black hair' and that he was Aboringinal (not sure if this was just one part, like a big toe perhaps) and lived at a location that was a well known Aboriginal camp in the 1960s. The description of my birth mother is of a 'fair skinned, blonde haired, blue eyed' woman - an 'english rose' complexion.

My adoptive paternal grandmother told me of her Aboringinal ancestry when I was a kid. I always thought she must have been a Russian princess with her dark deep set sparkling eyes and olive complexion. However, Gran, and my Dad and his 3 sisters denied this side of their identity to be able to make it in a racist world.

Now, I want to celebrate my Aboriginal ancestry (both by birth and adoption) and raise my kids to be proud of their identity.

To be denied this - by people of whatever cultural belonging - is as unfair as the old assimilation policies.

I have never benefited financially from identifying as Koori, Nevertheless, I do a lot of voluntary work on committees aimed at bridging the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and to increase understanding and awareness of Aboriginal culture and Australia's black history.

I'm a white blackfella - people constantly feel the need to tell me how the bloody Abo's get everything for free... until I tell them that I'm Aboriginal. I'm an Aussie, a Koori and whatever else. But, I cant say that I am divided into a part that's black (the part that tans well at the beach?) and another part white.

As more people are ABLE to reveal the secret of their identity the more white blackfellas there will be. Not all awards are designed for the "authentic" desert black, if such a person even exists! Programs that aim to 'close the gap' have very stringent rules for participants, someone like me would NEVER qualify, I'm not poor, stolen nor did I miss out on a decent education. But, perhaps on day I'll get some funding, but it will not be for me, it will be to the further research of Aboringinality &/or reducing the apalling human rights record regarding Aboriginal & TI people.

Whatever happened to multicultural harmony through embracing diversity?


Jake lara on Tuesday, February 16, 2010 9:58:00 pm said...

No wonder people think their culture is threatened when your genetic appearance and your way of doing things is all you have. You need some sovereign claim over the land to give you security. England is an open society because we have a strong sovereign claim to the land. You could come here, become British and have your own expat Aboriginal community as do the Moroccan and Polish expats here in my town. Aboriginal culture is about lots of knowledge and few possessions and that is exactly where the world is headed with universal net access and very cheap notebooks or ipads, so if you hang in there for a mere 10 or 15 years I think you'll prevail and everyone will understand what your about. what is 10 or 15 years against over 50,000 years of cultural history. Yeah I think you need a good sovereign land claim with power sharing as in Northern Ireland, so that Alice Springs would be in both the Northern Territory and Arrente. Then I think you can be happy as a dual an open society.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. I think people need to open their minds to identity...and really think about what it entails. If you are adopted into an Aboriginal home, do you not become Aboriginal even if your genetics are "non-Aboriginal". Can an Aboriginal person have light skin? Is being Aboriginal a result of being raised "Aboriginal" or does it mean being of genetic Aboriginal ancestry, or both? What does this mean for the majority of Aboriginal people (at least in Canada) now living in the cities, no longer, for the most part, living as their ancestors did? Where does one draw the arbitrary line, and who decides?

I write this post as a person of Aboriginal heritage (from Canada) with light skin.

Malcolm P. MacPherson


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