“You don’t look Aboriginal.” “Yeah but you’re not like fully Aboriginal right?” “What percentage?” “You don’t really count as Aboriginal though.” “Do you just tick the box to get the benefits?”
These are real statements I’ve been faced with all too frequently when I shockingly reveal my cultural identity as an Aboriginal woman. To me, my culture is not surprising… it is simply an intrinsic part of who I am. My Aboriginal identity is not represented through my pale skin, but rather through my very essence and being. At the root of questions and statements like these lies a lack of understanding of Indigenous culture and identity.
In society, skin colour is often a racial signifier: light skin has always been associated with privilege, however in Indigenous Australian culture, that story is filled with more complexity than this. In a country where assimilation policies were implemented by a racist government and systematic attempts to dilute Indigenous genetics were advanced, it’s no wonder so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disconnected from their culture. This white skin I and many other Indigenous people have is not a privilege, but rather a grave injustice that my people have suffered. Light-skinned Aboriginal people do not reflect a ‘lack’ of Aborigingality, but rather a damning refection on the extremely racist policies that mar our country’s history. The idea that I have to justify and explain ‘how’ I am Aboriginal or to what extent my blood is black is a ridiculous and insulting request, coming from the same people who mocked and tormented my grandmother for being black.
I urge non-Indigenous Australians to reflect on their ideas of what it means to be an Indigenous person and to ask if this view is rooted in stereotypes and racist ideology, or if it’s better left to Indigenous people to decide for ourselves. Is your perception of Aboriginal culture holistic and does it account for past racial discrimination which has caused many Indigenous people to be robbed of direct links to their mobs, languages and cultures?
I do not deny my white skin and the privilege that comes with it, but I will also never allow myself to be pressured into denying—like so many of my community have been—my cultural identity. I will not be bullied into hiding my culture for fear of being discriminated against and I will not let outsiders decide if I am Aboriginal ‘enough’ for them. Aboriginal identity is and always will be defined by US!