A few months ago I went to a networking meeting – an opportunity to meet with other business people in the area in the hope of meeting some like-minded people who might one day be interested in collaborating on a project. To be honest I hate these events. I am not great at small talk and I feel awkward in a room of strangers. I try to make myself go a couple of times a year because as I tell my kids, it is good to step out of your comfort zone occasionally and challenge yourself to practice something you are not comfortable doing. I have also met some inspiring people doing some amazing things at these events so deep down I know it is a worthwhile activity despite my hesitation.
At this particular event I found myself talking to a lad, making small talk about his start up and the challenges he has faced in getting his vision from paper into the real world. His story was interesting and very different to mine. He was friendly and I think good hearted and I was enjoying our conversation. He asked about my journey and the barriers we face at Wingaru and I shared some of our barriers including race-based barriers that we are working to overcome. I talked about the assumed deficit that many people think Aboriginal people have – like we somehow cannot achieve to the same level as non-Aboriginal people, that we don’t quite do as good a job as our non-Aboriginal counter parts; how people incorrectly assume we have received massive amounts of funding to create our resources so our resources should be free of charge; how people continually dismiss Aboriginal education as an Aboriginal issue rather than a crucial part of Australia’s education system; and how as a business we often have to deal with racism before we can discuss our projects.
His interest in what I am trying to achieve was genuine and he confessed that I was the first Aboriginal person he had ever met. To be honest I am always a little shocked when people tell me they don’t know any blackfullas. Honestly, we are everywhere! But it is something I hear often, although I suspect that most people have met an Aboriginal person but haven’t realised because most of us don’t fit the stereotype that people are expecting. I shouldn’t have been too shocked when he suggested I pretend I wasn’t Aboriginal so that I didn’t have to face the adversity that our mob face. At least he didn’t suggest I line up for my free car or house, right?
It makes sense really. Why would anyone want to face the adversity that Aboriginal people face every day? Why, if we had a choice, would we put ourselves out there to become the subject of racial hate, disadvantage and misconceptions that continually pop up as barriers that stand in our way?
Because being Aboriginal isn’t a choice. It is part of who I am. I have always been raised to be proud of my culture and my mob. We are resilient, we are strong, we are still here despite every attempt to keep us down. I couldn’t pretend I am not Aboriginal even if I wanted to. It would be like pretending I am a duck instead of a human. I don’t know how to be anything but an Aboriginal woman. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am part of an amazing culture and a great community. I am proud of all the things we as a people have achieved.
This seemingly innocent comment highlighted just how far mainstream Australia is from understanding Aboriginal Australia. To think that it is as simple as choosing not to be who you are so that you are treated appropriately by other people feels like something from 100 years ago, not today. In the past Aboriginal people did deny their Aboriginality out of fear but surely we are past that? How are we approaching 2020 and people still think like this? Not because they are trying to be disrespectful but because they don’t know better? If there was ever an argument for changes in Aboriginal education for all Australians, this is it. We cannot have another generation not knowing. We need change.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.