Letter From Australia (About Racism)

Recovering Self-Respect

In New Zealand we are afflicted with a form of gross institutionalised racism.  Maori are legally and societally a privileged, higher class position.  Of course this does not mean they are superior in socio-economic terms, nor moral terms, nor in terms of family structures, or compliance with the law.  Rather, it means that as far as the government and the Commentariat are confirmed they are in a position of privilege, far beyond any other people or race.

Imagine two counters before which people line up to secure favours, handouts, support, special consideration, and institutionalised respect from the government and its mammoth tax-extorted, redistributive money spigot.  Each counter has a sign up: the first says “Maori Only”; the second says “All Others”.  Discrimination pure and simple.

The “Maori narrative” where Maori are considered a specially privileged people in all things touched by the Crown and government (which covers just about every human activity except what is performed by the rear end) is universally accepted now in law, education, the courts, the welfare machine, local and central government, offices of state, media, and the Commentariat.  The worst feature of all in this racist narrative and its fruits is the long term damage it does to Maori, let alone to the meaning of fundamental concepts like justice upon which society is constructed. 

Here is an Aboriginal voice from Australia telling it like it is in that country.

27 September 2012 If you are an Aboriginal person with the literacy and media access to be reading this, you are not 'disadvantaged'

Why I burned my ‘Proof of Aboriginality’

Kerryn PholiAfter 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 survivors. They are proud to be members of a (somewhat nebulous) racial/cultural group that has survived (sort of) for thousands of years.

I don’t share that perspective, but I have my own version of ‘survivor pride’. The fact that I am here, with a bit of Aboriginal in my genetic mix, means that at some point my Aboriginal ancestors had the wit to take advantage of what was on offer, and so they survived where others did not. I feel pride that my forbears had the sense to discard unhelpful traditions and cultural attitudes, and make the best of their lot for themselves and their offspring.

Unfortunately for me, I did not inherit the smarts of my Aboriginal ancestors. While they were obviously willing to do what they could to make the best of their situation, I simply can’t do it anymore.

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 plain silliness in the name of ‘reconciliation’ and ‘cultural sensitivity’.

Aside from a nagging sense of feeling like a complete fraud, things were reasonably OK until I made the mistake of reading works by Kwame Anthony Appiah, Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence and Thomas Sowell’s Affirmative action around the world: an empirical study. (Please – stop reading what I have to say right now. Go and read this instead).

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. 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.

Kerryn Pholi has worked in Indigenous research and policy in various government agencies and NGOs. View her full profile here.

Hat Tip: Whaleoil

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