When muppets like Bess Price ask us half-breeds why we don’t celebrate our non-indigenous culture, she isn’t suggesting we acknowledge both. She isn’t saying to us that we should revel in our diversity and share in the richness of our own individual multiculturalism.
To me she is simply saying: “F-ck off, you’re not black enough for me. You’re not allowed in our club any more, go play with the white kids.”
The thing is, for me at least, I always have celebrated both. Very openly, very equally, very proudly.
So why, you might ask, as many have before you, do I feel it necessary to “identify” as Aboriginal, and why, you might ask, as many have before you, do I feel it necessary to work so explicitly and so tirelessly and so publicly for “my people”, the Aboriginal people of Australia?
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Well, try this on for size. When a stranger looks me in the face, they don’t see the son of a hard-working bureaucrat, a single mother who gave 30 continuous years to the Commonwealth public sector, who raised two boys single handedly, and who lived in the same, cold, unadorned Canberra house for over 20 years.
When a stranger looks me in the face, they don’t see the grandson of a true English gentleman who sailed proudly for the Royal Navy in WWII, who settled in Australia afterwards and was the respected publican of the Cairns RSL until his untimely death.
When a stranger looks me in the face, they don’t see the nephew of a hard-working farmer who gave his life corralling pigs — pigs, for f-ck’s sake — for one of Australia’s largest livestock farmers of the time.
When a stranger looks me in the face, they don’t see a relative of one of the the Darling Downs’ most iconic farming names, generations of cattle farmers and crop growers in the hills and valleys of Queensland’s sprawling south-east.
When a stranger looks me in the face, they don’t see the cousin of one of Queensland’s most well-known drag racers, forced to give the game away after an horrific and now legendary crash at Ipswich’s infamous Willowbank Raceway.
They see a brown man.
Some “other”, who needs to identified, who needs to be questioned, who needs to justify his existence, to explain his otherness, his brownness.
Here’s the kicker tho’: I’ve learned to live with that from the dominant culture; from (for want of, honestly, another way to put it) white people; from non-Aboriginal people.
But when it comes from other Aboriginal people, it’s a kick in the guts. It’s a slap in the face.
When Bess Price looks me in the face, she won’t see the traceable family history of Larrakia families going back decades, if not longer; she won’t see the generations of my family who grew up in and around the missions of the Northern Territory; she won’t see the 10 centimetre high stack of papers in my filing cabinet that document my lineage, the legally established Kenbi Land Claim that sets in stone, in white-man’s legal terms, my family’s connection and entitlement to the lands of their forebears; she won’t see the spear, bulman and painting on my wall that were not gifted to me, were not purchased in a gift store, but were earned by me through dance, through ceremony, through tradition, through birthright.
And she won’t see the 20-year career (of a man who is only 37 years old) in so-called indigenous affairs, transversing communities from Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney, to places like Wirimanu, Galiwin’ku, Gununa, Oombulgurri and beyond — who has won awards and prestigious appointments, and who has met and been mentored by a list of people who would make your head spin (but whom I won’t namedrop, because it’s not the point).
Anita Heiss asks: “Am I Black Enough For You?” While I’m probably not black enough for the likes of Andrew Bolt and Bess Price, I’m damn certain I’m still not white enough for the rest of you.
Half-breeds like me, we’re still pawns in the middle of a big, nasty, lateral violence-fuelled discourse, led by self-interested types with ulterior motivations.
And that’s why I fight.
*Michael Dangalaba is managing director of Gaitjbirr Community Development and founder of the One Thousand Words Initiative. This article was originally published at Clouds on a Distant Horizon.