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Little Seahorse

last night i had the strangest dream...i sailed away to china/

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On being black and not existing

There are some things i've said to people over the years, about being Aboriginal, and growing up in a racist country where leading academics assert that I don't exist. I wanted to put those things down here with my thoughts.

I've recently been hugely inspired by the incredible neo_prodigy , who blogs with fantastic passion, and anger about racism, and furiously and eloquently (and sometimes hilariously) attacks homophobia and ignorance. He fights the good fight.

I love this anger and fire. I was raised by a strong, passionate, independant woman who has fought against prejudice and ignorance and abuse all her life.
She taught me, and my brother and sister, to stand up and to speak our minds, to refuse to tolerate racism, and prejudice. To have respect for our elders, and to teach others about our culture, our history, to try and get rid of some of the eyewatering ignorance around us.

It's easy to become complacent, and to be gradually numbed to just how fucked some people are, the backwards-ass views and hate spewed by so many. Sometimes, it's just easier to sit down and shut up.

When I was in primary school, around seven or eight years old, a girl called Melissa called me an 'abbo.' This was a girl who i'd considered my best friend. Her parents were racists, and she'd clearly learned the word from being around them. Maybe she didn't realise how offensive the word is, or maybe she didn't know what the word really meant.

For me, 'abbo' is up there with 'coon' and 'nigger' on the list of words that make me flip my lid.
It was the first time somebody called me that name, at eight years old, and it wasn't the last.

The really fucked up thing is, i've been called derogatory names by other Indigenous people. In high school I was rejected and shunned by the Koori kids (Koori is for Victorian blackfellas), because of the colour of my skin.

This is the thing, I am black and I have white skin. I'm black on the inside, heart, mind, genes and spirit.

But my skin is white.  So they called me 'gubba' which means 'White grub.' And is pretty fucking insulting, a big gob of spit in the face, pretty much.

At thirteen I got into an argument with my teacher in the middle of class. The class was SOSE, Study of Societies and Environment. The syllabus briefly touched on Aboriginal Australians.

The first thing that got my back up was the constant use of the word 'Settled.'  

This land was not 'Settled.' It was invaded. Oh I'm sorry, Mr So and So text-book writer, is that word offensive?
Does the thought of your precious children learning about the way millions of people were massacred, raped, imprisoned, forced into slavery, put into reserves, taken from their land and the lands of their ancestors, specially-bred to force the colour from their skin, stolen,  make you uncomfortable?

It makes me sick. It made me furious then, and it angers me still. Australia was not settled. It was invaded.
But settled, settled, settled and that other word 'colonised' was all over the textbooks, and in all the articles, and on all the assignment sheets.

So I argued with the teacher, about the word and about its meaning, that it suggested some peaceful 'handing over' of this country.

It didn't matter what I said in that classroom. No sooner do you say 'invasion,' the words 'black arm-band' are thrown back at you, and from that teacher, 'Reconciliation.' As far as I was concerned, she needed to reconcile her fairy tale text-book history with reality.

The second thing that had my thirteen year old self enraged was the way that Indigenous culture was constantly written about in past tense. Never a word said about what endures, and what languages remain, what history, what achievements are made by black Australians today.

Third, and this one was most personal, and hit so close. The myth, repeated in journals and texts, that ALL THE TASMANIAN ABORIGINALS ARE GONE.


I'm sorry, what?

What does this make me then? Chopped liver??

I know my roots, and I know my ancestry. My people are the Moon Bird people, whose totems are the crow and the emu.
I am three generations from full-blooded Tasmanian aborigines. I am descended from a great man called Manalagana, who fought alongside Truganini to try to protect their people. People know about Truganini, the so-called last Tasmanian aborigine. They don't know about him, and how upon his death, a tobacco pouch was made from his scrotum.

He exchanged his freedom on the promise that his people would not be moved from their land. He travelled to England and displayed, and the promise that was made to him was broken.

I don't care how many letters and titles you have after your name, if you perpetuate the lie that all the Tasmanian Aborigines were wiped out, you are a Class A Moron.

The genocide committed on the indigenous Tasmanians, my ancestors included, was thorough. It's true that the last full-blooded Aboriginal woman was Truganini.

It does not make her the last Aboriginal woman of Tasmania.

It seems to be a white obsession, the one with blood. This bullshit half-blood, full-blood, quarter-caste, half-caste.

My Mum despises the word half-caste, and so do I. It's so fucking demeaning. What does it mean? You're less than whole, essentially.

When my mother was born in 1966, she was not a citizen of her own country. Aboriginal people were still protected under the Flora and Fauna act. You read that correctly. She was not a citizen, she was 'fauna.'

Are you kidding me? 1966? The act was ammended that year, i'm glad to say. But it's disgusting to read that fact and know the date is not so long in this country's past.

When she was growing up, her and her younger brother, they were the youngest of eight siblings, were chased constantly by government agencies. Because my mother and her baby brother had the fairest skin among their siblings, they were considered prime candidates for adoption. Nevermind the fact that both their parents were alive. They could be put into care homes, and fostered out to nice White families.

Thankfully, they were not stolen. The same can't be said for thousands others. So this was still happening in the seventies, only forty years ago.

It's not ancient history.

So, Mum grew up like I grew up. Bullied, taunted, put down.

It didn't defeat her. At fifteen she started volunteering, and at sixteen she learned how to use a radio panel. She was in radio for several decades, worked for local and national stations, organised concerts and benefits, and cultural events. She worked her ass off, and she raised three kids alone while she did it.

She taught me respect for my elders, that those I deferred to and cared for were Aunties and Uncles, cuz, and sis, and bruz.
She taught me protocol. When I spoke at school assemblies, and when I made a speech on 'Reconciliation' to WWII veterans of the 2nd/14th Battalion, I asked permission from an Elder of the Wurrundjeri people first. Because this isn't my land, and I must be welcomed by Elders past and present before I speak here.

She taught me how to choose gumleaves for a smoking ceremony, for welcoming, and for cleansing and healing,  and she taught me how to perform the latter.

 I wouldn't be alive as the person I am if Australia had not been invaded. My aboriginality comes through my mother's line. From my father, and grandfather come my anglo, Scottish, French ancestry. But this isn't the ancestry I feel when I set foot in Launceston, where my aboriginal ancestors lived and died. That's my home, and where my spirit came from, and where it will go

As for blood. When somebody asks me what nationality I am, because they can't guess it, I feel disappointment.

I want to scream at them, that it's right there in my face. My nose, my jaw, my eyes, the line of my brow. When I tell them i'm aboriginal, after they've guessed Italian, or Greek usually, they reply - "but you don't look aboriginal."

I want to throw things, and I want to ask, "What does an aboriginal person look like? Should I stand on one leg? Wear possum skins? Find you some water in the desert?"

But they don't mean that. They mean, I don't look aboriginal because my skin isn't black. That's it.
I struggled with this in my early teens. The bullshit rejection by other aboriginal kids didn't help.

Could I really call myself a blackfella when my skin was so clearly not-black?
I struggled with this question for years. It hurt. I thought I knew who I was, but I must have been wrong.

Working with Mum on our family tree helped. She'd gotten hold of an academic document with pages and pages of names, birthdates, deathdates and marriage details. We pieced together our tree, and traced it all the way back to Manalagana, and the time when he fought for peace for his people.

Of course i'm a blackfella. I've come to terms with the colour of my skin, and to some extent, learned to speak with people rather than seething internally when I hear their response to my saying "i'm aboriginal."

Another thing people will say after that is "so you're half-aboriginal?" This still does make me see red.
I wonder what half of me is the aboriginal half? Is it my left arm, leg, brain-hemisphere, breast, ovary etc?
Or is the top half of me white, and from the sternum down, i'm aboriginal.
What the fuck kind of a question is that??

If you call me half-blood, or quarter-blooded, I want to scream and cry "is the blood currently pumping to my furiously red face and eyeballs aboriginal?? What about the blood around my brain? White or black? My heart? You tell me, mister/missus Biological Scientist."

I'm aboriginal. I will never call myself half-Aboriginal, because I am not. I won't call myself half-blooded because it's just the simplest way for an ignorant white person to classify me.

I won't apologise for saying words like invasion, or genocide, or stolen. Never.

If I hear a person say "Aboriginal people should get over it. It happened a long time ago" I will roundhouse kick that ignorant shit, and ask how long they would take to 'get over' the murder of their family, and the systematic seperation of their children, and the purging of their language and the destruction of 40,000 years of their history, art, culture, protocol.

Reconciliation is not possible until white people no longer say that aboriginal people get everything handed to them; housing, healthcare, government benefits. It won't happen while some people still say we should 'get over it.'

Genocide and invasion and the stolen generation must be acknowledged before reconciliation can begin. While thirteen year olds in high schools all around the country are taught that Australia was settled, and that I, my mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, brother and sister don't exist, things can't change.

There are so many non-Indigenous people in this country who want to learn, and who are sorry for the things that have been done to my people, and the original custodians of this land, who go out of their way to dismantle their own ignorance and fill in the blanks of their education, and it gives me some hope.

I don't want to lose the anger and the passion that help me fight racism where I see and hear it. I want to once again thank neo_prodigy  for inspiring me his with passionate voice. Your words have stoked the flames once more.

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It makes me so mad when I hear that people say that Aboriginal people should get over it. IT WAS GENOCIDE. You don't just GET OVER genocide, for fuck's sake. And that people can't see that - I can't imagine how maddening that must be for you.

You're totally right. Genocide destroys culture and the lives of descendents for countless generations. That I don't know my language kills me. I get so jealous when I see mothers and daughters conversing in their mother tongue.

Nothing makes my blood boil faster than racist fucks saying we should get over it.

There's something I say in response to writing like this when it would be wrong to just not saying anything at all, but I am moved and humbled and can't seem to find the right words:

I read all this.

Thank you for writing it where I could see it.

I'm touched that you were moved and humbled.

I can't believe it, I stumped the most verbose person on my f-list :)

More that I can't tell you I know what you're feeling - because I don't.

I know enough about race privilege to know there's a lot I don't know; to know I shouldn't make it all be about white (wealthy, male) guilt; and that the most useful thing I can do is respectfully listen and learn.

Oh, and I guess I also know to avoid anything remotely resembling the "tone argument". It sounds like you have plenty to be angry about - even just this tiny summary slice you've given us here is more than enough, and I assume this is the tiny tip of a huge iceberg.

So, yeah, be angry and don't let yourself be talked into feeling guilty or childish for being angry.

Also: even on the few occasions where it may actually be true to say of someone "they should get over [...]" - it's never really a *helpful* thing to say. You're the only one who can tell us if you should be over something. If you say you shouldn't be, then I believe you.

You hit it on the head, Joe. It's the desire to listen and learn that's hugely important.
Facing reality, and acknowledging the past is not about dredging up great mires of guilt, it's really not.

All the people who decided to invade this land are long deceased, as are the people who enacted the various crimes that go untaught in schools.

There is nobody left to punish, or to blame, so learning, and teaching and facing the past without a great big lumpy rug covering it is what's needed to move on and move forward.

Cheers for not being an ignorant twit :P and having intelligence enough to know that some anger is not foolish or childish.

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I teach a social justice class and one of the assignments is for a student to write about a situation in which they were a witness (but not a participant) to an act of racism/sexism/homophobia/ableism, etc.

This student (who is American but spent a year in Australia as an exchange student) witnessed a person lying injured on the street in front of a hospital. The hospital told him and others trying to help that he had to go somewhere else, that they would not treat him. And they apparently had a right to refuse service.

Anyone who thinks it's ok to treat people like that, who thinks they should just "get over it" are either cruel or ignorant or need a good hard lesson on privilege.

Hearing about things like the despicable refusal of 'service' at a hospital should surprise me more, but it just resonates into that deep well of anger and fury at the massively fucked ideas and people in the world.

I totally agree with you on your last point.

at a loss for words.

[points to icon]

For reals, that is a massive compliment *hugs you*

This is incredibly eloquent and moving. I can only thank you for educating me, which shouldn't be your responsibility. I think you should think about trying to publish this, from what I can gather voices like yours desperately need to be heard, both in Australia and the rest of the world. Right enough twattery from me, basically... wow.

Wow, thankyou. I stuck this up in a note on Facebook, where i've been struck by an avalanche of positive feedback. I really wasn't expecting it :D so it's great.
One of my friends asked if she could submit this to a feminist blog contest/fest on my behalf, so she's sent it off where it might reach more readers :)

Also, never, never enough twattery from you! :) *hugs*

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Wow! I'm so pleased. Thankyou, and thankyou for taking the time to read this - I appreciate it :)

Awesome beyond words.

[I found this because I re-read "Up the Hill" (and couldn't remember if there's a sequel).]

Hi. I found this piece through a link from Solidarity for White Women and the White Face of Australian Feminism at the No Award blog. Thank you for sharing this.

Wow! Thank you for reading, and for calling the excellent post at No Award to my attention.

Cheers x

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