Being an indigenous Canadian living in Australia for a few months, I found myself wanting to explore indigenous culture here. I wanted to explore the differences and the similarities between the two indigenous populations. Moreover I wanted to see if the indigenous people in Australia had the same sort of perspectives that the Canadian indigenous population has. Do they feel ostracized by society? Judged for their cultures history and the assumptions made about them? Are there stereotypes such as alcoholism and drug abuse? I was intrigued by the draw of a similar society once ruled by Britain and still suffering from the effects of colonialism.
When I met a friend whose father is Nigerian and whose mother is Aboriginal Australian, I thought their perspective would be quite interesting. I asked my friend if we could sit down and chat about her experiences, for the purpose of writing an article expressing what it is like to be mixed race. We had an excellent conversation that actually wound up extending after the interview with quite a few more people expressing their thoughts and opinions. It was a beautiful and respectful conversation, one I think more of us need to engage in. At the individual’s request, I have kept them anonymous in the interview.
Can you tell me a little about your background?
I’m half Nigerian, half (Australian) Aboriginal/Caucasian.
Can you tell me a little about your family? Your siblings, parents, extended family?
My mother had a very abusive upbringing, she had multiple fathers and was the eldest of her siblings. She was one of six and ended up getting scholarships for university and became a teacher.
My dad was born and raised in Nigeria, but fled to South Africa because apparently it was better. I’d like to say he legally came over but he just used my mother for papers — so I’m African because he came to Australia, started his own business, met mom had me.
All my siblings are full Nigerian and they’re still students. They do all live in Australia though.
When did you learn you were indigenous and how did it impact you?
I learned I was aboriginal four years ago. It was a positive impact, it was kind of like my grandpa had to hide he was indigenous and then one of my aunties went really in depth into our family tree
Why did your grandpa feel the need to hide it?
You don’t admit to that in the 40’s. It was an embarrassment, you weren’t a person, you were an animal. In the 1900s you don’t admit to that. If you have light skin you use that to your advantage. Nowadays you have to have a certain percentage of aboriginal workers in your workplace.
Writer’s Note: I personally find this to be such an interesting enforced practice. My initial reaction was that’s great idea, what a great way to promote inclusivity in the workplace. But then my thoughts quickly jumped to whether it really was an inclusive workplace if you’re forcing the inclusion? Or does that further ostracize the indigenous population by employers potentially hiring them based on culture rather than merit? I haven’t decided on my answer yet, but based on the slight nausea I feel at the thought, I’m leaning towards the latter.
Do you ever feel ostracized or segregated because of your culture/heritage?
Definitely, but it’s not necessarily other people, it’s just myself. I can’t help looking at my mom’s white family and looking at my dad’s black family and not fitting with either. I never got “oh you look like your mom,” or, “Oh you have your great grandma’s eyes.” People ask if I’m adopted with my mom or my dad. I feel like every mixed person has. Like on heritage day, (in public school) what do I do?
Can you think of a specific moment where you felt noticeably “different” or where someone treated you differently because of your culture?
When my nan said to me “You look like no one in the family.” She didn’t mean it in a rude way, but people don’t think when they speak. But she said it when I was seven and it’s still with me. “Everyone in this family looks alike except for me, obviously.”
Do you identify with your African heritage more or your indigenous Australian culture more? Or do you have trouble identifying with either completely?
I’d say I have issues identifying with either but I’ve brought myself to think I’m more African, because of how white people and how black people treat me, like one I just get more respect from.
What is your opinion on the light skin/dark skin battle in media?
Even if you’re a light skin or dark skin, you’re still brown, Beyoncé has light skin but she’s still black, it’s the way you do makeup, the way you live your life, that’s what makes you black.
I never realized I was different until high school and someone looked me in the eyes and said “you’re a n*****.” He was in year 11 and I was year 7.
And then it was compulsory to do basketball and year 12s would shout at me for being black and playing basketball, and that’s not even the worst of it my family used to get spat on.
Writer’s Note: Our interview had to pause here, as the both of us got emotional. The weight of the colour of skin rested on both of our shoulders. For my friend, the disrespect and feeling of being “less than” and for me the horrible feeling of my privilege because I was born with white skin, and not having any way to lessen feelings of self-shame my friend has had impressed on them for 19 years.
What was your biggest challenge growing up as a child?
As a kid? Shit. Probably like, the school I went to was in a rich area, at the time I was living in a unit, so going to a friends house and seeing two parents, a nice house. Like not having a parent that would have to send you elsewhere to stay back for work. So having separated parents I would say. People would have alternating parents picking up or their grandparents, for me it was just mom. It was always mom. My parents broke up when I was two, so it’s been me and my mom since day one.
Is there any one stereotype about your culture that you find the most angering or upsetting?
I hate the stereotype of dark skinned black people living in poverty. My stepmom works so hard and she’s raised 5 kids, one with a disability and without my dad. I don’t like that stereotype of living in a ghetto, selling a drugs. It exists for every coloured person, Italian mafia, drug cartel — everyone. Like who cares if I wanna eat watermelon and chicken, it’s good, you eat it too, it’s not ’cause I’m black. Like maybe in times of slavery if you gave us a bit more we wouldn’t have this now.
[Because of slavery] Generally speaking brown people have such high immune systems, there were no such thing as disease. Our bodies are brought up harder — putting white people into slavery you’d be gone in a month. Think about slavery times too, like how do you think soul music started?
How accepting do you feel Australians are about your heritage?
There’s no acceptance because no one gets it, like first your first instinct when you see us is never mixed, so how can there be acceptance if no one sees it?
Is there anything else you want to talk about, or add to what you’ve already said?
I’d like to expand more on the Indigenous side because I focused more on African. The education and the way the indigenous are treated the history is gruesome. In the Northern Territory people are still getting slaughtered but white media obviously doesn’t advertise that. Then they’re frowned upon for like alcohol consumption that white people brought here when their bodies aren’t really meant for it, the [white people, the government] say there’s support but there’s not. The only support indigenous people get are from indigenous people.
[It’s like] “Being outcasts in your own country.”
Writer’s Note: The sheer weight of this statement really resonated with me. While I am not Australian and Nigerian, I am Indigenous and a whole host of other cultures blended into one but as I stated, my white skin allows me privilege and I don’t feel like an outsider. Not having a defining skin tone displaces an individual from their own country, as my friend feels. No matter how open-minded I am or try to be, I’ll never understand this entirely.
I understand the aim when the British came over they tried to breed us out, lightening our skin was a progression.
The guy my mom was seeing his mom was part of the stolen generation, kids would be taken from their homes and put in like a Christian school where they were beaten.
Our Prime Minister 10 years ago, John Howard, he was a c*** there was this big issue “Where’s the sorry?” and his response was just “Well I didn’t do it.”
One of the next Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd, did a big sorry that we had the day off school for.
I find it’s weird how at university we don’t do the acknowledgment of country we did it in public school
Is there an official acknowledgement?
Oh yeah we have an official acknowledgement — like it’s the same everywhere.
One other thing, the government puts out these ads and one is about smoking and it’s a dad who’s going to stop smoking and he’s aboriginal, and there was one about alcohol and he was aboriginal — there’s so much racism in that — it’s never a corporate white woman and you’re just expected to shut up about it.
For anyone that wants to continue exploring this topic, there are two films my friend recommended to me. Australia and The Rabbit Proof Fence. Both films explore the abuse of Australian Indigenous people throughout the years.
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