Several people have sent me links and asked me to read a recent article posted on The Drum by Kerryn Pholi and I'm happy to say that last night I finally got there - and there I stayed until the early hours.
It was an interesting article, and I also tried to read some of the comments to it, but I got something much bigger from it than I expected - I am now a fan of Thomas Sowell. I had never heard of him until I started reading the article and clicked on that link, but, as soon as I did I became hooked. He challenges the thinking on race based privilege without any emotion or personal issues clouding the facts, and I only wish I'd been given the chance to read some of his works in high school.
But, back to the article.
I'm glad Ms Pholi made the decision to write her piece, but happier still that she allowed it to become part of the public debate. One of the most important things we need to do as a country is to have an open and uncensored dialogue going around the issues that we have with regard to race-based legislation, preferences and funding. We need to be real about the outcomes we've achieved, be honest with ourselves, and not be afraid to talk about the problems we have created.
Of the negative Drum comments on the article, I found a couple of recurring 'themes' that I want to talk about a little more. First, the notion that the article and its contents somehow labels all Aboriginal people who identify as such as 'only in it for the money and the benefits'.
Welcome to the blowback of affirmative action.
You see, simply by virtue of creating a stream of opportunities available to only a small minority of the population - you breed resentment in those who are excluded from taking up those opportunities. You don't have to participate in the largesse to feel the blowback, rather, simply because of physical identity or how you identify yourself to others, you are forever guilty by association. That is the price we will continue to pay for as long as there is preferential treatment for Aboriginal people and benefits for a select few based solely on racial identity alone.
Most Aboriginal people have probably experienced that annoying situation where your pride in an achievement, or possession of something you have worked hard to own has been dismissed as 'trappings of the freebies for Aboriginals' or similar. Been there, done that a million times over. Why any Aboriginal person would want their child to go through high school being taunted about the extra money they don't get from Abstudy is beyond me, but as long as we demand that Abstudy exist, our kids will spend another generation having their hard work and achievements dismissed at a time when we need them to find self-esteem and build pride in their abilities the most.
The other troubling notion I came across was the barely concealed outrage that someone would dare to burn their 'Certificate of Aboriginality'. I don't know if people are looking to feel or be offended but please, don't give such a divisive document any credibility. As someone who went through quite a struggle to get that same piece of paper, I support Ms Pholi in her action. We are not talking about a sacred document here, in fact, quite the opposite. Mine you hold on a slight angle for the best reading - a document that, like a piece of art, tells a story all in itself. Not a story of my family, or ties to my culture, but another kind of story. One where the issuing authority runs out of blank forms and seemingly cannot locate the master copy. They decide to take one they prepared earlier, and with the help of a 12 year old work experience boy and a bottle of liquid paper, they create the new master copy. Once the liquid paper is dried, it is simply a matter of holding the document in a photocopier on a 45 degree angle and bingo. The mystical magical production line of blank Aboriginality application forms is revealed.
Most people are aware that an Aboriginal child is not given a special certificate at birth that confirms their identity, rather, Confirmations of Aboriginality are applied for and granted in a way that is not regulated, and often arbitrary. I feel more pride in my Medicare card than I do my Certificate of Aboriginality - and I say that to be factual, not inflammatory. A Certificate of Aboriginality does not mean you are Aboriginal. All it means is that some people signed off to say it is so. Similarly, being denied that same certificate does mean you are not Aboriginal. There is no oversight that ensures that the applications granted or denied hold up to any scrutiny, so it is a process that is ultimately without respect. Over the years we've had our scandals with the system. Rather than address the shortcomings - that to all but the most heavily invested are apparent - we've decided to pretend none exist. We've allowed the certification process to become the great joke that it is. And that is the continuing price we pay for keeping our heads in the sand and demanding we know better.