What’s it like being a white Aboriginal at university? It can suck. There is a lot of explaining to new people the reasons why you don’t look the way they want an Aboriginal to look.
“You don’t look Aboriginal,” is probably the most common thing said. “Rorting the system, are you?”
I dunno, mate: maybe it’s the system that’s the rort?
I’ve had a black African student tell me I’m not black enough to be Aboriginal, plenty of Indians tease that they’re darker than me, and have even had one classmate’s Lebanese mum laugh in my face when I told them I’m Aboriginal. It can be a drag if you let it get to you.
It seems like everyone has an opinion on the matter. Even Middle-Eastern news service Al Jazeera cast its international eye on the global problem of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders not being black enough.
To be fair, Al Jazeera did come to report on low Indigenous tertiary education rates. But you’ll see it doesn’t take long for the story to turn to the fact that the camera crew couldn’t find any dark enough Indigenous people.
It became a “Where’s (the Aboriginal) Wally” segment around the whitest campus in the country, as it went on to question the worthiness of whiter Indigenous students in a multicultural Australia. It gave an international perspective of what boils Andrew Bolt’s blood the most: the white university Aboriginal.
Thanks for that, Al Jazeera.
Identifying Indigenous has challenges that only a pale-skinned Indigenous person will understand.
But Andrew Bolt is not one of those challenges. He is perhaps the best thing about being a white Aboriginal, because at the very top of Bolt’s tree of fury is a special place for me and the people like me, which boils down to the premise that we’re frauds because we’re not black enough to be picked up by security in the mall.
This makes us a national threat right up there with “queue-jumping” refugees: we are that undeserving. And for some reason the thought that I press Andrew Bolt buttons doesn’t feel like a problem, it feels like a justification.
I know this now after reading him for the first time while researching this article. I thoroughly recommend his “Whitefellas in the Black” to get a feel for Andrew’s certainty that white Aboriginals are a threat to Australian morality itself.
It’s a real testament to ranty-man syndrome.
Bolt on the character of white Aboriginals: “Seeking power and reassurance in a racial identity is not just weak – a surrendering of your individuality, and borrowing other people’s glories.”
On how white Aboriginals offend the natural order of things: “I refuse to surrender my reason and pretend white really is black.”
And then Andrew erupts with the consequences of allowing white male Aboriginals to exist: “Soon there’ll be no end of white men claiming prizes for black women.”
Oh! The end of days will be amongst us if people like me continue to live in this world going mad, so I may as well show my hand.
Out of all the 1,500-or-so people enrolled in postgraduate law at the University of Sydney, I am the only male that both identifies and has good claim to being Aboriginal, as far as I can tell. I don’t look particularly brown but my skin is definitely more tanned than the Irish skin I should have. My mum’s grandma was Jagalingu from central Queensland. But I was bought up white but with the knowledge of our black blood.
The point is, ever since coming to uni I’ve publicly identified as Aboriginal.
Not to leap on a gravy train, but I got into law school through an Indigenous entry program and I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t. I’m also not going to let people sit on the assumption that Aboriginal people get everything paid for them because it’s not true; I’m a full-fee paying student for starters.
In fact, it would be a hell of a lot easier just to keep quiet about it and sail under the Bolt-radar, but that wouldn’t work for me either.
That’s because I’ll damned if the oldest law school in this country doesn’t have an Indigenous element in it. And if I’m the only one who can do that, I’m going to be the only one until more of us come along too. Because the fact is that white Aboriginals aren’t pulling the rug from underneath more “deserving” (read: “darker”) Aboriginals by denying them places at universities.
It doesn’t work that way.
I will tell you how identifying works for me though. It doesn’t give me enormous benefits while studying, but it does give me enormous pride, because for the first time in my life, I’m able to acknowledge a part of me that my mother and her mother before her weren’t able to do. And if that’s what got me a place at university – the first in my Aboriginal family to get a tertiary education, so be it.
Because irrespective of whether people think you should be there or not, the point stands that Indigenous people are massively unrepresented at a tertiary education level and pointing the finger at white Aborigines is actually missing the point.
As I tell my lecturers and my classmates: “If I’m the darkest Aboriginal man this faculty has got, then this faculty has a problem.” In one sense I’m a visual representation of the indigenous higher education problem; an Exhibit A of the lack of “proper” Indigenous faces in the ranks of higher learning.
But that does that make me the problem? I think not.