Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Who are you calling a white Aboriginal?

So there is this term that has been thrown around “white Aboriginal” which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The term has been used by prominent Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and has now made it into the lexicon of Australians. Yes even Aboriginal people. I know this because my mother recently found out two Aboriginal colleagues called her a “white Aboriginal” in front of Aboriginal kids she works with. Can I just say that is so uncool on so many levels! Lucky enough the kids thought it was bullshit and told her. Koori grapevine people, koori grapevine.

Let me tell you about my mother so you can see what type of person she is. First and foremost she is a mother.  Mum and dad have raised three successful children. Two have and continue to work for and in Aboriginal communities and the third volunteers where he can. She has a great respect for our culture and has brought up three children who have always been aware and proud of our Aboriginality.

My mum is more than a mum though. She has worked in Aboriginal communities for as long as I can remember. My mother currently works for a school as a careers and transition officer with Aboriginal kids. She also works for an organisation, which runs programs to help Aboriginal young people get into the workforce. She is on the board of the local Aboriginal Land Council and has been for as long as I can remember. She also assists them in a variety of capacities outside of that role. She does not stop after work either, she volunteers with an organisation, which teaches young Aboriginal kids to drive. Yep she does all that and she is almost 60.

My mum works very hard for people she does not even know. For families she has never met and for children she hopes, will also be proud Aboriginal adults. She does this so that Aboriginal people have the opportunities, which will help us succeed in life. Yet, mums life has not been easy. Mums life mirrors the Aboriginal statistics we all know too well. Growing up in poverty, leaving school young, loosing her mother and brother in her early 20s, and her sister in her early 30s. She also opened her house to her sisters 4 kids when she passed. And they come back from time to time, with their kids. And her father died way too young as well. She has struggled with the loss of her family and now has her own health issues to deal with. Yet mum (and my dad) have worked very hard to break this cycle for their children and now we are doing well, she is doing even more for her community then she ever has before.

When Aboriginal people question other Aboriginal peoples Aboriginality they are buying into the white notion of what Aboriginal people should be. Traditional, black as night, “savages”, non-English speaking, uneducated in the western context, broke, barefoot, drinking, smoking and just plain underprivileged. For those of us who have “a good tan” rather than black skin or who have an piece of paper that says we know something or drive a decent car or live in a city, why are we not Aboriginal? What about those things makes us white?

It is not actually that we are “white”. There is something a little more going on here. There is a fancy term for what has happened to my mum “lateral violence”. To the people who called my mum a “white Aboriginal”, you need to know this term. So let me explain it to you in the words of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Social Justice Report 2011:
“also known as horizontal violence or intra-racial conflict, is a product of a complex mix of historical, cultural and social dynamics that results in a spectrum of behaviours that include:

-social exclusion
-family feuding
-organisational conflict
-physical violence”

When so many of the above list has been done to us and at times still is, by non-Aboriginal Australians, should we not be standing together rather than brining each other down? Standing together as unified peoples, who recognises and values the differences between all Aboriginal peoples. If we continue to fight amongst ourselves, we are doing Aboriginal peoples as much damage as non-Aboriginal people are when they question our Aboriginality.

So when you used the term “white Aboriginal” you were really referring to my mums successes as “white” rather than celebrating her ability to survive and thrive when so much has been taken from her. And what you were also saying is the rest of us who are like my mum, are “white”. I am not white. But that a blog for another day.


  1. Very well put! I particularly like the way you have articulated how succes is perceived as a "white" trait while underprivelege/disadvantage is seen as "Aboriginal" trait - I find these associations are insidiously embedded into the world views of current Australia.

  2. Summer Findlay I have really enjoyed reading your latest written word, I am very proud of you. Please don't ever stop writing, the written word is a very powerful educational tool and thank you for sharing a little about your amazing mum and family.

  3. They call her that out of jealously , your mother is well spoken and probably has more to show than those other people , at the end of the day I dont think its a racist thing or i should hope atleast. In my opinion I think it comes from a lack of education and love for another human reguardless of colour or background, u cud be rich but have terrible grammar skills etc and this might dictate how we talk to one another . It comes down to bullying and no matter wether ur half cast ,full blood or from overseas being an idiot has no excuse, u share ur thoughts from your perspective because u know ur families struggles and what not but the next person couldnt care less what uv done or what ur family has donefor the world , they like to oppress people doing a better job , or sometimes peipke say things before they realize what they say , ill finish this comment on the note that no matter what intentions are behind words to offend they are just words, and as strong people we have built a defence against these moments of disrespect ... words can never hurt a strong person and if they do we have to stio and think "whats more important? Being pissed off at someone's noise or stay on the mission's objective... much live from ur long time friend

    Pabz xx

  4. Sounds very much like a case of like mother like daughter. You should be rightfully proud of each other. :)

  5. Well I was advised during a cultural awareness course that all the 5th generation Aussies probably had some mixed blood (Hate the term). It is a question of how you see your own identity.

  6. Thank you for your comment. You are right, identity is a personal thing. But Pieter, who did the cultural awareness training? Aboriginal blood alone does not make you Aboriginal. Culture is not something you are born with, it is learnt. And yes "that" term is not something that is used. You are either Aboriginal or you aren't.