Memo to Bolt: race runs deeper than skin colour


Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt.

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt.

ANY attention is good attention, right? There’s no other rational way to explain Andrew Bolt’s column in the Herald Sun yesterday, ‘It’s so hip to be black’.

“Meet the white face of a new black race — the political Aborigine.

“Meet, say, acclaimed St Kilda artist Bindi Cole, who was raised by her English-Jewish mother yet calls herself “Aboriginal but white”.

“She rarely saw her part-Aboriginal father, and could in truth join any one of several ethnic groups, but chose Aboriginal, insisting on a racial identity you could not guess from her features.

“She also chose, incidentally, the one identity open to her that has political and career clout.”

Political and career clout? With no black faces in federal parliament and an unemployment rate in some areas of over 90 percent, I’d hate to see what Andrew Bolt classifies as “political and career impotence”.

Bolt’s column is a carbon copy of his many previous attempts to attack Aboriginal welfare, and define Aboriginality. It must be infuriating to Bolt that Aboriginal Australia rolls on, unconcerned.

Before I get to the ethics of the article, let’s first look at some of the facts. Bolt writes: “Larissa Behrendt has also worked as a professional Aborigine ever since leaving Harvard Law School, despite looking almost as German as her father.”

Larissa Behrendt’s father is Aboriginal, as anyone with 10 minutes experience in Indigenous affairs could tell you. If you didn’t know he was a famous activist (and Bolt should have), then a quick squiz at a pic would have confirmed that Paul Behrendt was not German. Unmistakeably so.

Although Bolt tries to infer he looked, he clearly didn’t. And he didn’t do his research on Associate Professor Anita Heiss either.

“Heiss not only took out the Scanlon Prize for Indigenous Poetry, but won plum jobs reserved for Aborigines at Koori Radio, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board and Macquarie University’s Warawara Department of Indigenous Studies.”

Won “plum jobs?” Heiss’ “plum” position at Koori Radio is voluntary.

Factual errors aside, this column could be more at home on the Stormfront website. Indeed, I dare say it will find its way there sometime very soon if the always-anonymous comments on Bolt’s blog are anything to go by.

“I thought the natives killed albimos,” wrote Jack.

And I thought the English invented … well, English.

Rossco writes: “Aboriginality is the get out of jail free card.”

Really? With 22 percent of the male prison population black?

He adds: “Every time I see one of those dot paintings i just want to get out my NeoMajic and join em up.”

For the record, here’s what Bolt and his followers are actually arguing: white people are pretending to be black so they can access benefits. But they’re not really black. They’re white. And that’s why black people are bad.

Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that Bolt is correct. White people are milking the taxpayer to access money set aside for disadvantaged black people. That actually reflects poorly on white people, not black people.

And yet Bolt’s vitriol — and that of the sycophants who egg him on through his blog — is directed at black people. Now that’s what I call self-loathing.

Under Bolt’s rules, other people get to define your identity. Under Bolt’s rules, all we are is how we look. Which is nonsense.

There’s more to human beings than their appearance. Race runs much deeper than skin colour.

I have Scottish, Irish, and Maori ancestry. I was adopted by a white Australian family. I identify as white (although the longer I live in Australia, the deeper my shame runs, and the more I feel like I’d rather be black). But that’s because I was raised white. Larissa Behrendt, for example, was not raised white. She was raised black, in a black activist family by a black activist father.

But Andrew Bolt thinks that he gets to define her identity.

As the editor of a newspaper, I do understand why the Herald Sun employs Bolt. I am, after all, writing about him for Crikey. He’s good for publicity. He sells newspapers. He gets hits on the website. The man is like a human train wreck — no matter how ugly it gets, some people just can’t look away.

Some people read Bolt because they agree with everything he says. Others, like me, only ever read Bolt when some outraged punter flicks me his latest rant in an email.

But there is a line that media, if they wish to be taken seriously, shouldn’t cross.

Bolt’s column, on this occasion, crossed it. I know you can justify almost anything if you try hard enough, but at some point, your explanations start to look hollow.

You’re simply defending the indefensible, oblivious to the (very lovely) people like Bindi Cole who you harm with your invective. And the people who publish this bile are as bad as the people who produce it.

On the upside, what shouldn’t escape attention is that all of the people Bolt lined up for identity reassignment (16 in total) have been enormously successful in their public lives.

They’re all high achievers, and every one of them — to a man and a woman  — has built a public profile without relying on the peddling of hate against others.

* Chris Graham is a Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist. He is based in Glebe Sydney, was the former managing editor of Tracker magazine and is now a freelance journalist.

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