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April 11th 2012 print

Caroline Overington

It’s not about being black

The issue is whether those benefits designed to assist Aboriginal people out of their desperate poverty should be more sharply targeted at those with a genuine need.


On the debate sparked by Anita Heiss’s book, Am I Black Enough For You?


It’s not about being black enough, it’s about need

by Caroline Overington

University of Sydney academic Anthony Dillon is one who thinks the current system is flawed. His father is indigenous, but in an article for the ABC’s The Drum last week he questioned "policy that uses public money that focuses on Aboriginality as a way of addressing problems. Should all people who identify as being Aboriginal be entitled to access benefits? I think a better approach is to focus on need, rather than race."

Aboriginal artist Dallas Scott likewise believes that scholarships, prizes and grants designed to assist Aboriginal people too often go to people who don’t need a leg-up.

"Imagine if all those (Aboriginal people) who really shouldn’t be eligible (for benefits) made a moral decision and opted out," Scott wrote on theblacksteamtrain.blogspot.com, last week. "Imagine if in 2013, we only had disadvantaged, remote indigenous Australians eligible for every Aboriginal art award, scholarship, traineeship, loan, job position. As a nation we would be embarrassed when we saw how few of these roles were able to be filled."

Scott is dead right, and that, in turn, is why Heiss’s book, with its snappy title, misses the point: the issue isn’t, and never was, whether somebody is "black enough", in Heiss’s words, to be considered Aboriginal. The issue is whether those benefits designed to assist Aboriginal people out of their desperate poverty should be more sharply targeted at those with a genuine need.

Source: The Australian (registration required)