There are two weapons in the Aboriginal lateral violence kit.
The first… ‘You are not a real Aboriginal’
And the second … ‘you don’t have the community’s permission to speak’.
For additional information see Lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – Social Justice Report 2011
These statements are the equivalent of calling someone a wife basher or far worse. They are designed to smear another person’s character. They are seeds that social media will launch far and wide to be planted by those with vested interests and accidental digital gardeners alike.
One Aboriginal funded by government funds (includes a department, institute, advocacy group, service agency) says to another similarly funded and employed Aboriginal – ‘you are acting like a white person’.
[Tell me how my behavior is different to yours?]
You are paid by the government.
[So are you.]
I’m a better Aboriginal than you, I am from the community.
[Me too, I live in the same town like/city as you.]
I heard you have a white (insert family member).
[I know you have a white (again).]
My family has culture.
[So has mine. You just said you don’t know me, so how would you know my family?]
I have a big mob who agree with me.
[I won’t ask you to prove that because you can’t. Not today, or tomorrow, or ever will you be able to prove that.]
My elders are very upset by people like you.
[Did you ask them about your behavior? And now it’s only people ‘like’ me? Not me. You have thrown both weapons. Neither of them hit.]
It might end there. Or increasingly in the digital age, escalate on social media.
True identities and employers are tracked down and a letter campaign commences. Monitoring can take the form of diarising and Storifying collections of Facebook comments and tweets. The purpose is to harass online with stalking behavior, and can also be used to supplement a complaint that attacks work ethic, corporate reputation, status and a person’s capacity to earn a living for themselves and their family.
Causes of discord & dysfunction
- You are working for an Aboriginal community (organization, department, institute, advocacy group) and all the senior paid employees are non-Indigenous. You are given all responsibility with no authority and can clearly see why the service is failing to deliver on it’s claim to help Aboriginal people, but no one is interested in your opinion. You may be told that you possess the wrong tone, words, attitude or timing. You will work under this arrangement for twenty years.
- You live with entrenched racism every day of your life. Generations before you suffered, and you see your children and your grandchildren will also be living in a world of the same institutionalized and sanctioned mistreatment of you and everyone else who identifies as Aboriginal.
- You are part of someone else’s career. You are not a colleague, you don’t benefit from their advocacy, your life’s purpose is to contribute to their influence and financial success.
- You do not understand the system and are suspicious that people who do are using it to hurt you. You are ‘jealous’.
‘Aboriginal jealousy’ is complex to define. It can be a reason for a career of bullying by employers and community, and a shortened life of misery and poor health, and is almost certainly the reason why talented productive people would go right out of their way to avoid it when it’s a needless encounter. It draws on issues of reciprocity and survival ideologies, and just as the other civilizations have spoken about it since before the age of writing, it can also be a highly motivating influence.
The way out of an uncomfortable recollection when Aboriginal people share everyday people experiences, is to respond with messages of support and empathy.
That makes me so angry. If someone did that to me I would have said something. But that’s just me.
The question is ‘how would you feel if you couldn’t speak freely?’
If it was actually dangerous to your health, your security, your job, your ride home from work on the bus, your status in the community, to your cat, or to your child?
Start by imagining a day or two, then more, of intergenerational oppression. All those times you didn’t say ‘No, that is unacceptable, it is not fair, you are being unjust to me’.
Jane Elliott’s blue-eyed/brown-eyed exercise in diversity training in the 1960s following the death of Martin Luther King, suggested just how quickly people can become distressed at being ‘oppressed’. Others have argued that it was cruel and unethical, and even a couple of adults who undertook the exercise described it as a form of torture.
Maybe there was just one time in your life when you really wanted to speak up.
A really important time for you, and you couldn’t. Maybe you would have had no say in the outcome, but saying ‘no, I object’ would have meant you died on your feet. And because of the threat to others, you still couldn’t stand.
No one need be concerned that there is an shutting down of the identity conversation. I am part of an ongoing discussion. It’s entry point is
Where are you from?
Who are your mob?
That identity discussion is to be had with every Aboriginal person I meet, even if there was no sound with only hands to signal with. In some parts of Australia Aboriginal groups continue the tradition of communication, by using only their hands to ask these questions. The identity question is the precursor for discussions around connections to culture and family, and building communities.
What is known in some quarters as the ‘identity debate’ however, has morphed and splintered. Reference to a ‘debate’ has been adopted by a wide range of parties and individuals as part of a strategy for progress, or as a tactic to diminish others. It can get murky finding the source and the logic at times, and at others it is so clearly simple that one can match the ideology with the pay master.
Character smears, threatening behavior and faux identity debates are the vanquished taking up the weapons of the oppressors. I read from time to time someone throws it down like a loose sod of dirt or a sweaty head rag.
It’s not a lack of leadership to walk away from the throw down. It’s not any kind of declaration on identity.
It is walking away from an invitation to a public stoush for the benefits of people not out on the road doing the swinging. It’s not a safe or culturally responsible space. It’s not a fair fight and some have more to lose than others. In that situation, walking away is living on your feet.