If you’ve read any ‘Aboriginal’ media interviews, or watched NITV for longer than an hour, you’ve probably come across the question ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, and for those who never heard it, let me explain it to you, and for those who have – I want to tell you why I despise the term.
For those not in the know, or new to the term, ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, it is a term crafted and used originally by the Aboriginal Industry, but now is creeping into the mainstream media, to place a special label on a person and confirm their heritage. Apparently, all Aboriginal people identify by their tribal groupings nowadays, and use this greeting to identify who they are to other Aboriginal people. At least, that is the idea they’ve been promoting. You can hear and see the term used often when someone wants to draw attention to the fact the person they are interviewing is ‘Indigenous’. When asked the question ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, the answer is supposed to be a tribal name. This allows you to then be referred to as a ‘(insert tribal name) man/woman’ thereafter.
Being ‘culturally aware’ is difficult. Not just hard because the term is misleading, but difficult because a certain level of mental disconnect is required to achieve what stands for cultural awareness in this country. ‘Who’s Your Mob?’ is a perfect example of this. What may have been a common use greeting in one area, or one state, or amongst several family groups does not constitute an appropriate ideal for all. But it has become almost standard use among several media outlets already. Despite the fact that we are striving for better educated Aboriginal adults and children, we are encouraging the use of little more than slang as a benchmark for our communications with one another. We should be aiming much, much higher than that.
Can anyone please explain to me how it is racist to say “All Aboriginal people are (insert derogatory stereotype of your choice)”, but not racist to think all Aboriginal people use poor grammar and are capable of speaking or understanding in only the most basic of English, or have only one way to ask one another where they are from, or who their family are. I’m told only the first one is racist, the other, simply ‘cultural awareness’.
If that is what passes as ‘cultural awareness’, you can take it and shove the whole idea. I speak, read and understand English at a level you would hardly call remedial. This is not a skill unheard of for an Aboriginal person to possess, in any location.
Because of the way I look, I am often approached by people for no other reason than the thought that we may share some relatives somewhere, or may have a common friend locally. This exchange is usually instigated by a nod of the head and nothing more. If I see someone I don’t know, but who looks obviously Aboriginal to me, one of us will inevitably nod in the direction of the other and a conversation will start. Never once, in my many encounters, have I been asked ‘Who’s Your Mob?’. Not once. When I talk about my family to others, I identify my links through missions, not tribal names or groups. People will ask what my surname is, or ask for the location where I live or where extended family live, but never, ever, do I get the NITV style ‘Who’s Your Mob?’
I am not a product of traditional people who stayed on their ancestral lands, but a child born from generations of native people to this land who were rounded up and placed on missions almost two centuries ago. My brother, sister and I are the first generation of my family to not be born and raised on a mission, but who were born to two parents who lived that life, and whose grandparents were, and their great-grandparents before them…and on it goes. My story is not unique, but neither is it a story that fits all Aboriginal people in this country. In the seemingly endless obsession to classify and understand Aboriginal people as a race, whether through the misguided notion that by doing so, less racism will occur, or whether for some other less noble intent, we’ve made a messy and uncomfortable bed for ourselves. To label ourselves brings the expectation we can be categorised and understood based on that label alone. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The culprits aren’t just evil whitey anymore. Aboriginal people have to wake up and point the finger at ourselves here as well, because now that we’re a special race, with special rules, and unelected representatives who speak for us and decide the issues on our behalf, it’s all on us. By saying we’re so different, and do things in a ‘special’ way, so unlike everyone else and so unique and, again, special, we’re forced to conform to an imperfect ideal that is supposed to speak for us all. We lose the right to be unique individuals when we allow ourselves to believe that we can be defined so easily, and by something that matters so little when it comes to who and what we are as a human being.