Bennelong Papers

The Triumph of a Lethal Silence

pallid protestWhile many Aboriginal people in this country are doing well, there are still many who suffer. Their problems need to be discussed, but all too often often such conversations fall victim to an unofficial but endemic censorship. This was most evident when three ‘white’ people recently addressed the care of Aboriginal children during a Sunrise segment prompted by the alleged recent rape of a two-year-old Aboriginal girl in Tennant Creek.

By what right did people of the wrong skin colour discuss Aborigines, the activists thundered? How dare they suggest an Aboriginal child removed from a dysfunctional home environment and adopted into a white home would not be “stolen”! Channel Seven is now being investigated for putting such “racist” sentiments to air. Predictably, Seven has now deleted the clip from its official social media posts and archives. That’s the power of the pile-on and we can all guess what Seven’s reaction will be: it will spurn the topic in future, having learned that its very mention brings nothing but trouble. Silence gives consent, as they say, and a cowed silence on a issue that should be of national concern is the most damning silence of them all.

I used to think that such censorship arose because, as is so often asserted, only Aboriginal people have the necessary experience and qualifications for speaking about Aboriginal issues – an assertion that rests not on hard evidence but springs from a strong emotional conviction and which is bolstered by the pernicious influence of identity politics. This reasoning often finds expression in well-worn rhetoric like: ‘Let Aboriginal people take control of their own lives.’ While this logic, if a meaningless slogan can be described as “logic”,  is handily and often used for silencing debate, it’s not a clear ‘black and white’ matter. Basically, it boils down to this: There are some problems facing Aboriginal people that non-Aboriginal Australians are allowed to discuss and some problems that Aboriginal people are not allowed to discuss.

This is confusing, so I’m going to tease out the source of confusion.

First, consider those problems affecting Aboriginal people that non-Aboriginal people are allowed to discuss. For example, diabetes is a major problem for Aboriginal people. Best estimates are that they are four times more likely than non-Aboriginal Australians to be burdened with type 2 variant of the disease. The problem of diabetes in the Aboriginal population has been discussed many times by non-Aboriginal people without any objection. So that’s a safe topic.

By contrast, consider the response when discussing other problems that disproportionately affect Aboriginal people, such as violence and child abuse. Typically, the responses will be a mass of excuses and rationalisations that are obscene in their callousness. “Yeah, but it’s in every community”, we will hear, or “Stop stereotyping us” or, the all-purpose gag, “That’s racist!” Perhaps the all-time classic response is: “All our men feel demonised when you say that.” For the record, I have not met one person, Aboriginal or otherwise, who has ever indicated that they believe the majority of Aboriginal men are abusers of their children.” This accusation is simply a ploy, another one, by the Aboriginal offenderati to silence discussion. Meanwhile, little children die.

One might conclude that only Aboriginal people are allowed to talk about these sensitive topics. However, the reality is that an Aborigine attempting to raise these problems from any but the “poisoned flour/diseased blankets” perspective will be attacked with far more hate and bile by the Aboriginal ‘offenderati’ than non-Aboriginal people raising the same points. Why is this?

Simply put, Aboriginal gatekeepers, those who advance and police the preferred narrative, are happy for problems like violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities to be discussed, but only if Aboriginal perpetrators are excused and the white man blamed. Insist that violence and child abuse are the results of colonisation, ‘transgenerational trauma’ or cutbacks in funding to one or another activist’s pet Aboriginal programs and you will be cheered. However, if a non-Aboriginal person suggests the Aboriginal perpetrators of these crimes are totally responsible for their own actions, that Captain Cook has nothing to do with it, the cries of “Racism!’ will be deafening. When Aborigines point a finger at Aboriginal perpetrators they are called ‘coconuts’ (brown only on the outside) , accused of ‘selling out’ their people and and much worse, up to and including threats of violence. Make no mistake, these are racist terms and they remain racist even when spoken by other Aboriginal people.

As Quadrant‘s Keith Windschuttle observes in the latest edition of the magazine, identity politics is the villain — or, rather, the chosen tool of the villains.. Identifying with a group has its advantages: it can enable people with a common cause to develop strategies that best meet goals and needs they could not attain as individuals. However, there is a danger when group membership is used to promote one’s prestige and sense of self-worth. If self-worth is dependent on one’s race, then any negative stories involving that race are a threat to self-worth. I am a Queenslander, male, heterosexual, with Aboriginal and English ancestry. But I do not base my sense of self-worth on any of these attributes. They are parts of who I am, but they do not define me.

So what is the solution when it comes to discussing problems that disproportionally affect the Aboriginal population? Simple; let’s recognise that those Aboriginal Australians who suffer needlessly are Australian citizens, and therefore are entitled to the same rights and opportunities that most of us take for granted. And if they are Australian citizens, then every Australian has a right to voice their opinion on the problems affecting their fellow Australians. It has been the insistence that those Australians with Aboriginal ancestry be seen as another race separate to other Australians that has contributed to the deplorable state far too many Aboriginal Australians are in today.

Change the rules and we will change the outcomes. Fail to do that and the next Closing the Gap reports will be like the last ten.

7 thoughts on “The Triumph of a Lethal Silence

  • gray_rm says:

    Agree totally that “white-privilege” insults applies only when criticizing poor behavior.
    George Mifsud from the Indigineous Defence Consortium told me this week that:
    – aboriginal culture is the oldest surviving culture ever
    – that aboriginal ppl were classified as flora and fauna, and thus could not get a bank loan which explains a low level of home ownership.

    Seems the ‘oldest culture’ is fine and dandy, evidence to the contrary, and ‘whitefella’ is to blame for low property holdings.

    So long as the ‘Defence’ lies like this, the less things will be done to actually improve the lives of those poor kids, who are being used as disposable political props.
    It’s quite revolting.

    • Ian MacKenzie says:

      We hear the “oldest surviving culture” thing a lot. It is of course nonsense and meaningless. Every human society on earth has culture, and always has as far back as we can see. It is the equivalent to saying my ancestry goes back further than yours – obviously it doesn’t. I may not know who my 100 x great grandparents were, but I’m reasonably confident they existed, just as yours did.

      Sometimes we hear “oldest continuous culture”, but what is continuous? If all humans have culture and it is passed down the generations then that is continuous and once again we’re all equal. If it means rooted to one locality, then the scientific evidence indicates some African cultures are older. If it is interpreted to mean unchanging, then that is both somewhat insulting, but also clearly wrong. No one is now leading the same life that our ancestors lived as recently as 300 years ago. My culture has had an impact on yours and vice versa, and both cultures have changed. Apart from the obvious fact that there is and was no single culture in Australia, just as there was no single language, it seems unlikely that cultural norms during the last ice age 12,000 years ago were the same as those during much warmer climates 2,000 years ago. Imagine Siberians being moved to Australia and Australians moved to Siberia. Would the cultures remain unchanged? Of course not. Peoples and cultures adapt in order to survive.

      As to home ownership, one of the drawbacks of Native Title held in common seems to be a difficulty in assigning any one individual “ownership” of enough security to guarantee a home loan. I have no idea what the “oldest continuous culture’s” traditional answer to this dilemma might be, nor how a home loan is possible in such an old continuous culture, but look forward to being told.

      Finally, on the question of the children at risk in communities like Tennant Creek, the only prediction I can make with any confidence is that in a few decades there will be another parliamentary apology. Sadly, while this will be an occasion of much public emotion, it will do no practical good at all, to those at risk now or the damaged survivors then.

  • says:

    Before European settlement having 40 000 years of uninterrupted existence/culture in Australia was a block to advancement. Books read during my youth on this aboriginal people described them not disrespectfully as the worlds last stone age people. A language diverse tribal people of tenuous existence with a dependency on the principle of demand sharing of the basics of life. Uncivilised in the true sense of no civil services, and unable to boil water. Held back by a demanding landscape and lack of contact with the development that was occurring in other parts of the globe.

    The Commonwealth Games showing a people who had to generate fire by rubbing 2 sticks together is no culture compliment but shows how much better is life since European settlement. Let’s give thanks for our progress together.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    It is untrue that aboriginals were classed as fauna and flora. Even the luvvies at their ABC say it wasn’t so

  • says:

    Anthony, I have just been re-reading my old copy of a lecture given by Pastor Paul Albrecht of the Hermannsburg Mission from way back in 1981 (The Doreen Braitling Memorial Lecture, Alice Springs, 2/3/81, Highly recommended reading!), and it is like no one has learned anything in the following thirty something years. Pastor Paul says:

    “From an Aboriginal point of view then, because the Mission had introduced the idea of (self-governing Mission) Councils, the Councils that came into being were the Mission’s councils, not theirs and therefore it was also the Mission’s responsibility to make them work, not theirs. … It explains why the Councils took no responsibility for their decisions. It explains why we (the Mission) were blamed for increased drinking and fighting.”

    From this he concluded that in Aboriginal eyes, the act of giving them responsibility was in fact interpreted by them as us taking responsibility for the outcome of giving them responsibility! We are responsible for outcome of giving them Self Determination.
    To add to this I worked with an Indigenous co-worker who drank excessive amounts of soft drink, and when advised against this on health grounds he replied “That’s your problem.” Clearly he meant that if he got diabetes, it was up to white people to treat/cure him. He did not consider himself as being responsible for his health outcomes, this was a white person problem.
    When one looks at community violence, substance abuse, child abuse, education outcomes, health outcomes, this idea that we are being held responsible for the act of giving them responsibility becomes clearer. We are being held responsible for outcome of giving them Self Determination. Once this is recognised, the behaviour of Aborigines in remote areas becomes transparent.

  • Ian Matthews says:

    The gatekeepers are identified easily: follow the money.

  • John Michelmore says:

    The basic problem that needs to be addressed in Australia is that of equality. If Australia is to move forward, there cannot be multiple citizenships with different rules and legislation covering the differing cultures irrespective of the culture source; only one set will lead to harmonious development. The perpetual looking back and asserting that “we were stolen and we need to be compensated” cannot continue if Australia wants a peaceful future. This applies equally to aboriginals, white and whatever children, supposedly stolen from their parents by a nasty bureaucracy/government. These bureaucracies at the time believed they were helping and in many instances they were, and to continue to drag up the past and want more will not have a satisfactory ending. Christian whites, aboriginals and muslims all did/do horrific things to other human beings including their own; but a legal separation of these cultures in law and regulation is not a solution. There must be an end, and the sooner the better, we are now all Australians and had better start acting as though we are or the future will be bleak. The unfortunate note here is that the early history of Australia is being lost, but the media distort or ignore the reality of the history of early Australia. Yes we whites killed aboriginals, chinese and each other, but aboriginals also killed whites, chinese and each other. One only has to read Anthropophagitism in the Antipodes by James Cooke R.N. Rtd 1997, to get a feel for the brutality of early Australia. In early history there was no such thing as a noble savage, many were murderers and cannibals, irrespective of skin colour, culture or race.
    We have a chance at a better future, but we are wasting it by dwelling on the past!

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