has posted a thoughtful response to my recent rant about "black armband" history and the present day plight of Aborigines. Stewart plausibly observes that the reason why Aboriginal issues elicit little or no public response is that:
"That would actually require the broader public to truly give a shit and they clearly don't. This lack of interest is not a result of racism or because the people have no heart, it's simply that Aboriginal problems don't affect them on a day to day basis."
Stewart may be right, although Australians showed themselves able to get interested enough back in 1967 to pass one of the few successul referenda in Australian constitutional history, giving Aboriginal people citizenship and the Federal Parliament power to override racist state laws. More recently, similar numbers of people marched for Aboriginal reconciliation as turned out for world peace last weekend. Moreover, the reconciliation marchers included the Federal Treasurer and probable next Prime Minister Peter Costello.
I'm by no means defeatist about the prospect of getting reform on these issues. As I recently blogged, a 'stolen generations' apology need not be a 'black armband' exercise, and could serve as a catalyst for true reconciliation if handled intelligently. Similarly, issues surrounding treaties and recognition of traditional law are also capable of being handled in a constructive rather than divisive manner if the political will exists (as it might with Costello as PM).
On the other side of the ledger, there's also a need to confront gross, chronic and very widespread irresponsibility in Aboriginal communities, leading to huge levels of drug and alcohol abuse, community violence, and serious sexual and physical abuse of women and children. It's in that area where I think the exclusive focus of 'black armband' advocates is actually counterproductive for Aboriginal people. It encourages and perpetuates a "poor bugger me" attitude; an almost universal assumption that everything is the balanda's (white man's) fault, and that the answer lies in the balanda apologising, and atoning by handing over endless supplies of money and land. In fact, whatever injustices took place in the past (including the recent past), real improvement can never take place without Aboriginal people and communities themselves taking responsibility for their own choices and behaviour. That requires devolution of power by governments, with negotiated but clear accountability and performance benchmarks, involving real consequences flowing from continued irresponsible behaviour.
At present, virtually all bureaucratic and informal dealings with Aboriginal people are blighted by an automatic assumption that responsible adult conduct isn't to be expected or required. They assume we are dealing with eternal children from whom no better behaviour is possible. That assumption is born of long and frustrating experience (and in some cases, though only a few, may be generated by an overtly patronising attitude on the bureaucrat's part), but it's also self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. I could recite scores of examples from my own long experience in Aboriginal affairs, but just one very personal one should suffice.
A few years ago, only weeks after her mother was murdered, my wife was assaulted by a nationally prominent Aboriginal activist (who was also a parent at the school where Jenny taught). The offender (without provocation) violently pushed Jenny against a wall, held her by the throat and called her a "white cunt". We were later told that the offender had a long history of low-level violence against colleagues and acquaintances, but had never been held to account for it. There were numerous witnesses to the incident, and all of them gave sworn written statements. A complaint was made to the school principal and Education Department. Nothing happened. A complaint was made to the teachers' union. Nothing happened. A complaint was made to the Anti-Discrimination Commission. Again nothing happened. Of course, if it had been Jenny attacking an Aboriginal parent and calling them a "black cunt", rather than the other way round, she would have been instantly (and justifiably) dismissed and probably charged with a criminal offence. No doubt the incident would also have made headlines given the prominence of the Aboriginal activist involved. Different standards, however, apply to the conduct of Aborignal people. Nothing better can be expected of them, it seems, even when they are highly educated and moderately wealthy (as the offender in this case was).
I'm not suggesting that Aboriginal people are in any sense a "privileged" class, or that "it's all their own fault". What I am
suggesting, however, is that along with treaties, apologies, customary law recognition and adequate service levels, we must also address society's habitual failure to expect and demand of Aboriginal people the same mature, responsible behaviour we demand of everyone else. Our failure to do so is a prime cause of the seemingly intractable nature of Aboriginal disadvantage. The fact that we don't
demand it, and that these issues are seldom publicly discussed, is in part due to a fear that one might be labelled a racist if any causative factors other than white guilt are even mentioned. When Haloscan is eventually restored, I fully expect a comment box reaction along those lines from the usual suspects.
Enetation is still as hopeless as ever, and is slowing down the blog and causing error messages. I've deleted the code and re-inserted the Haloscan code. Any would-be commenters are welcome to send in their responses by email. I promise to post them as soon as Haloscan is working again.