Friday, 28 June 2013

Fellow Australians, do I have permission to be Aboriginal yet?


In Australia, everyone owns the Aboriginal identity. You would be hard pressed to find someone who does not have an opinion on what it means to be Aboriginal. Everyone, from the Andrew Bolts to ordinary Australians and even newcomers to this country.





Some people still seem to live in the dark ages, where the darker you are, the more Aboriginal you are. We are colour coordinated, our blood quantified and our identity defined in legislation. Everyone is an expert on Aboriginality. Are there any other peoples in Australia whose identity is as debated?





Do Australians regularly discuss what constitutes an American identity?





Do they sit around a dinner table and analyse a particular British persons identity to determine whether they are British enough?



How likely is there to be an Australian newspaper opinion piece, on a Japanese persons right to call themselves Japanese because they are only “part” Japanese?





Discussions like this only happen about Aboriginal identity. It is part of Australians psyche because of a history of Australia defining Aboriginality.





A quick summary of history for those, who discuss our identity but are ignorant to it…Aboriginal people were defined as “savages” and our land declared Terra Nullius. When Australia became a federation, “Aboriginal natives” were not counted as citizen and were classed under the Flora and Fauna Act. We were defined as animals. In NSW those defined as “half-castes” were no allowed to live on government reserves, Aboriginal people in the NT were not allowed to have sex across the colour lines and in all states we are told where to live. All the legislation was based on a white mans version of our identity. Discussed, debated and qualified by the white man.

And in 1967, Aboriginal people were finally counted in the census; finally human rather than animal. Australians finally defining Aboriginal people as human in our own land.





While people continue to question and define our identity around us, Aboriginal people are meant to take it in our stride. Stay calm and “educate” the ignorant masses, so we do not upset them. Educate them so they can decide for themselves who and what we are.





This is my education. To all those people who think they have the right to define Aboriginal peoples identity; to discuss it without thought to how we might feel about it; or thought to how we define ourselves, ENOUGH! We do not have to justify our Aboriginality to anyone…






The only people allowed to define Aboriginality are Aboriginal people. We are the only ones who know what it means to be Aboriginal, the only ones who are experts on Aboriginality. Because we are. We live it. We breathe it. Are.





Find a new topic of conversation. This one does not belong to you.




Friday, 21 June 2013

Blak? Blak? Blak?



For urban Aboriginal people, Blak will resonate with you as none of Bangarra’s performances ever has before. It explores the issues we know. The settings we understand. The struggle between the modern and the traditional, that at times has people questioning our Aboriginal identities. And unless you grew up as an Urban Blak, you may never have considered what it is like for us, until you see Blak.

I have seen other Bangarra performances before, but Blak blew me away. There is an undercurrent of Aboriginal Culture juxtaposed by an urban setting. The music by Paul Mac with David Page, hits you with urban beats overlaid with the didg. It gets in your body. The costume and set design were minimalistic; modern and understated the focus completely on the dancers. 

And then…there was the dancers! OMFG!

The men open and are strong. For those who know me well, already know I like my men strong and black! Beyond their amazing bodies, their dancing is crazy good. The technique and the strength were apparent. The slow mo scene was something that I thought could only happen with CGI. Apparently not!

Like the men, the women were strong yet still feminine. Aboriginal women, as I know them. The women expressed so much emotion right from the minute they appeared on stage. I was holding my breath. They told a story of a life I am all too familiar with. A life of violence, young death and grief. But still so beautiful.

When the male and female dancers came together in the last scene, there was a sense of completeness. Despite all the hardships highlighted in the first two scenes, the third scene showed the strength and resilience that we all know Aboriginal people have but is often overlooked by the mainstream. It was about our Culture that was and is.

For those few, who have said that Bangarra is not “Aboriginal dance” because it is not “traditional”, you should see Blak. Blak is unmistakably Aboriginal. The dancers, the music, the chorography, the story and the set make it uniquely Blak and urban.

And can someone please tell me where I can buy the soundtrack?!?




Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Dont talk to me like that! I wont stand for your bad language!



There is nothing more irritating than someone trying to tell you something but you just don’t get what they are saying. Yet health professionals do it all the time, especially health communicators. Just because you are an expert in your health area, does not mean that you are any good at explaining to other people! We have all be there, a health professional is talking to you in what sounds kind of like English but you don't understand a word they are saying. Or you read a pamphlet and need a dictionary to understand what the hell it all means.

IF you are one of those health professionals, who do not get that they SUCK at communicating with us normal people, let me explain it to you.

When we use language, whether we are speaking or writing we choose words, which have some relationship to us as an individual. What our word choices tell people, either consciously or subconsciously, is about who we are. For example, it can give people clues about our age, education, and cultural background.

In an oral context, language is more fluid. We are more accepting of the different way people talk. We don’t usually try to get people to conform to a “normal” beyond encouraging them to use situationally appropriate language, e.g. don’t swear in front of your grandmother. In a written context, people are less accommodating. This is in part due to the rules of grammar but also because society has traditionally standardization written communication more so than spoken language.

The standardization reduces our ability to communicate to specific target audiences.  This should be common sense and is, for a large number of people, with the exception of many health communicators. There are still reports, health promotion materials, social marketing campaigns and a variety of other written communication, which does not communicate in the language of the target audience but rather uses the language the author prefers. Dumb, dumb, dumb!

When writing for an audience, we need to consider word choices which our audience has some relationship with; not what the author would like to read. Words that the audience can see themselves in, that they use, that describe their world and their community. Doing this will help you communicate the message more effectively. Commercial marketing understands these principles better than any other group. They want their audience to see themselves using the product. Picture the lifestyle they could obtain by purchasing the product. And to part with their $$$ and buy the product. What health communicator’s want is for the target audience to see the relevance of the message, the usefulness of the message and take action. These principles are the same whether you are advocating for change to government of you are working with clients to change their behaviour.

In an oral context this principle is speech accommodation and in a written context, from a health perspective it is health literacy. If we consider health literacy, from a linguistic view point, Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) would be the most appropriate theory.

The theory of SFL there is 3 metafunctions;
  • ·       Ideational function
  • ·       Interpersonal function
  • ·       Textual function

Ideational function has 2 separate components;
  • ·       Experiential function
  • ·       Logical function

It is the experiential function which refers to the grammatical choices that enable speakers to make meanings about the world around us and inside us. It is this function we need to consider the most when writing for an audience.

Without going into more details about the theory, health communication needs to always remember that language is something that is “experienced”. It creates emotions, visual images and meaning for a person. What that experience may be for the author may not be the experience for the reader. Therefore understanding the reader’s context is vital for communicating effectively.

Essentially, if you don’t want to waste your time, energy and money let go a little. If you want to be successful in communicating your messages and really make a difference, let someone who knows the business of communicating do it for or at least with you. Think not about how you would like to be communicated with but rather spend the time to understand the audience and communicate in a way they will understand.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Who are you calling a white Aboriginal?


So there is this term that has been thrown around “white Aboriginal” which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The term has been used by prominent Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and has now made it into the lexicon of Australians. Yes even Aboriginal people. I know this because my mother recently found out two Aboriginal colleagues called her a “white Aboriginal” in front of Aboriginal kids she works with. Can I just say that is so uncool on so many levels! Lucky enough the kids thought it was bullshit and told her. Koori grapevine people, koori grapevine.


Let me tell you about my mother so you can see what type of person she is. First and foremost she is a mother.  Mum and dad have raised three successful children. Two have and continue to work for and in Aboriginal communities and the third volunteers where he can. She has a great respect for our culture and has brought up three children who have always been aware and proud of our Aboriginality.

My mum is more than a mum though. She has worked in Aboriginal communities for as long as I can remember. My mother currently works for a school as a careers and transition officer with Aboriginal kids. She also works for an organisation, which runs programs to help Aboriginal young people get into the workforce. She is on the board of the local Aboriginal Land Council and has been for as long as I can remember. She also assists them in a variety of capacities outside of that role. She does not stop after work either, she volunteers with an organisation, which teaches young Aboriginal kids to drive. Yep she does all that and she is almost 60.

My mum works very hard for people she does not even know. For families she has never met and for children she hopes, will also be proud Aboriginal adults. She does this so that Aboriginal people have the opportunities, which will help us succeed in life. Yet, mums life has not been easy. Mums life mirrors the Aboriginal statistics we all know too well. Growing up in poverty, leaving school young, loosing her mother and brother in her early 20s, and her sister in her early 30s. She also opened her house to her sisters 4 kids when she passed. And they come back from time to time, with their kids. And her father died way too young as well. She has struggled with the loss of her family and now has her own health issues to deal with. Yet mum (and my dad) have worked very hard to break this cycle for their children and now we are doing well, she is doing even more for her community then she ever has before.

When Aboriginal people question other Aboriginal peoples Aboriginality they are buying into the white notion of what Aboriginal people should be. Traditional, black as night, “savages”, non-English speaking, uneducated in the western context, broke, barefoot, drinking, smoking and just plain underprivileged. For those of us who have “a good tan” rather than black skin or who have an piece of paper that says we know something or drive a decent car or live in a city, why are we not Aboriginal? What about those things makes us white?

It is not actually that we are “white”. There is something a little more going on here. There is a fancy term for what has happened to my mum “lateral violence”. To the people who called my mum a “white Aboriginal”, you need to know this term. So let me explain it to you in the words of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Social Justice Report 2011:

“also known as horizontal violence or intra-racial conflict, is a product of a complex mix of historical, cultural and social dynamics that results in a spectrum of behaviours that include:

-gossiping
-jealousy
-bullying
-shaming
-social exclusion
-family feuding
-organisational conflict
-physical violence”


When so many of the above list has been done to us and at times still is, by non-Aboriginal Australians, should we not be standing together rather than brining each other down? Standing together as unified peoples, who recognises and values the differences between all Aboriginal peoples. If we continue to fight amongst ourselves, we are doing Aboriginal peoples as much damage as non-Aboriginal people are when they question our Aboriginality.

So when you used the term “white Aboriginal” you were really referring to my mums successes as “white” rather than celebrating her ability to survive and thrive when so much has been taken from her. And what you were also saying is the rest of us who are like my mum, are “white”. I am not white. But that a blog for another day.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Racism is alive and well.


Racism is alive and well.

 

Watching Glory Road, a story about a basketball team in the US who play predominantly African Americans, the first team to do so made me stop and think. It caused me to reflect on racism in Australia; more specifically racism against Aboriginal people. Over the last week or so we have seen two separate racist incidents direct at Adam Goodes; one by a child the other a well-known TV presenter and football CEO. While the incidents are of course upsetting for Adam Goodes, the timing cannot be better. I increasingly hear, that Australia is not a racist country. That there is no racism against Aboriginal people, that “I am not racist”. These statements cannot be true in the wake of the incidents against Adam Goodes. These two incidents were covered heavily in the media but what about the incidents that are not covered. Almost everyday I hear that someone I know who has been the subject of racism. And the days that I do not, it doesn’t mean it has not occurred.

 

As an individual I can do very little about it, however that does not stop me from doing and saying what ever I can to counter the racism. On a personal level, I live my life in a way that shows that Aboriginal people are not the stereotypes that continued to be maintained. I am well educated, well spoken and career orientated, yet I am still Aboriginal. I work for an Aboriginal organisation, I respect elders, my land and my people. I believe that Aboriginal people are strong and proud, as I am a strong proud Aboriginal woman. I believe the little bits that individuals make contribute to a bigger movement.

 

Beyond defying the stereotype’s, I look to work toward a future where Aboriginal people can just “be”.  The career path I have chosen is not about the money I could make but working to promote a future where Aboriginal people are afforded all the opportunities this “lucky country” has to offer. This country has and sometimes continues to, deny Aboriginal people opportunity. There is nothing “lucky” about that. Therefore I fight for the people who cannot fight for themselves. The people who have suffered more than they can handle and their ability to fight has been extinguished. I fight for those who do not know how to fight and for those who are too young to fight. I fight for those who are too tired to fight. I fight because things do not change on their own. We need to be the agents of our own change, because no one will hand it to us.

 

We live in a time when racism is more covert. Where people hide their racism because racism is no longer PC. Where people who do not experience racism believe it does not exist. Complacency will only hurt us, which is why even though Adam Goodes is hurting, the racism he has suffered is what we all suffer as Aboriginal people and now Australia has not choice but to see.

 

So when people question me on why I fight for Aboriginal people. That is why I fight. Because if those of us who can fight do not we will continue to live under the cloud of racism. And the gains the generations before us made will slip quietly away.

 

Summer May Finlay