Bolt’s Law: You are who Andrew says you are

AGEatlarge1HERALD Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has been knocked down, and before he gets up he should try and learn a few lessons about Aboriginal identity, writes CHRIS GRAHAM*.

IT’S A delicious irony that a man who has devoted more column centimetres than virtually anyone else to undermining the rights of others should now be screaming blue murder that his are under threat.

I am, of course, referring to Andrew Bolt, and his very public flogging at the hands of the Federal Court.

Recently, Justice Bromberg found that Bolt had breached the Racial Discrimination Act in a series of articles he published in 2009.

For the record, I do believe in Andrew Bolt’s God-given right to make a goose of himself. And I acknowledge that on that front, he does a particularly good job of it.

What I don’t accept is that he – or anyone else – has the right to print whatever they like, about whomever they like.

In the course of his articles, Bolt likened a group of Aboriginal people to pigs at a trough; he accused them of betraying a race to which they claim to identify; and he accused them of theft and fraud.

And therein lies the real problem with Bolt’s articles.

Apart from their vicious tone, the articles were full of factual error, something which Bolt and his supporters continue to gloss over.

The clearest imputation from the articles was that the Aboriginal people named only identified as Aboriginal in order to gain access to – in
Bolt’s words – “plum jobs”.

The evidence which emerged in court puts the lie to Bolt’s claims.

Each of the litigants – Pat Eatock, Geoff Clark, Wayne Atkinson, Graham Atkinson, Larissa Behrendt, Leeanne Enoch, Bindi Cole, Anita Heiss and Mark McMillan – have identified as Aboriginal virtually from birth.

Each of them were raised Aboriginal. Each of them have been Aboriginal as long as they can remember.

They did not change their identity to gain an advantage. Period.

Factual errors aside (which is ridiculous, but entertain me) Bolt’s rants are also shaky on the logic front.

In Andrew Bolt’s small world, identity is apparently only ever skin deep. You are how you look. Or more to the point, you are how Andrew Bolt thinks you look.

Attacking Leeanne Enoch, he wrote: “Why is she insisting on a racial difference the eye cannot even detect?”

Of McMillan he wrote: “[He] has received all the special help you once thought, when writing the tax man another cheque, would at least go to people who looked (Bolt’s emphasis, not mine) Aboriginal, but which is increasingly lavished on folk as pink in face as they are in politics.”

Larissa Behrendt, of course, comes in for a beating, with Bolt describing her as “very pale”.

There’s an obvious, gaping hole – not to mention hypocrisy – in Bolt’s argument.

How does a young boy of, say, Chinese heritage, born and raised in Australia, identify?

Under Bolt’s law, he’s Chinese. Why? Because he looks Chinese.

Of course, he’s actually Australian. He thinks Australian. He talks Australian. He believes himself to be Australian. He identifies as Australian.

Or at least, he does if he so chooses.

And therein lies another central point that Bolt just doesn’t get – identity is a personal choice. Indeed, it’s the most personal of all choices.

Andrew Bolt, no matter how hard he might stamp his feet does not get to tell you how you should identify.

It’s entirely up to the individual, although in the case of Aboriginality, there are some unusual caveats.

The most oft-accepted legal definition for claiming Australian Aboriginality is that you must (a) have Aboriginal heritage; (b) identify as Aboriginal; and (c) be accepted as Aboriginal by the Aboriginal community.

The debate about the ‘Aboriginality test’ in Aboriginal communities is as old as the test itself. There are Aboriginal people who discriminate against others based on the paleness of their skin.

They are, however, no more enlightened than Bolt. And their views are no more relevant.

However, my experience with Aboriginal people is that the overwhelming majority welcome other Aboriginal people, regardless of their skin colour.

They do so because they understand several things that Bolt does not.

Firstly, they understand loss. A loss of land. A loss of culture. A loss of identity. A loss of wages, of children, of remains. With that loss comes a very deep acknowledgement of the importance of reconnecting.

Secondly, Aboriginal people understand that while you can become an Australian, you can never become an Aboriginal. You either are, or you aren’t.

By contrast, the thing that binds all other Australians – regardless of where we come from – is that we have collectively benefitted from the dispossession of someone else.

That ‘someone else’ is Aboriginal people.

Which brings me to the roots of Bolt’s frustration, and that of his supporters.
Aboriginality has a special status in Australia, because Aboriginal people are the original custodians of this land.

This notion deeply offends people like Bolt because they believe someone is getting something to which they themselves are not entitled.
It’s straight out of the ‘what about me’ playbook.

That Andrew Bolt, a man of such advantage, should spend so much time worrying about what other people get just adds to the irony. I think it also speaks some volumes about his moral fibre.

So my advice to Bolt and others is simple: Get over it.

You will never enjoy the special status reserved for First Nations people. Suck it up, Princess. Move on. And if you can’t, go back to Holland and claim it there.

Maybe even learn to embrace and respect it? Or not. It doesn’t matter a zip to Aboriginal people either way. But if you do, it will make you a lot happier in life.

And some more advice: Dump the ‘egalitarian Utopia’ nonsense. It’s old and silly.

Modern Australia is not equal, and never was.

Our Constitution today still includes provisions specifically designed to discriminate against Aboriginal people, and others of colour. Our first major act of Parliament was the White Australia policy.

Aboriginal people were part of the Flora and Fauna Act until the late 1960s.

Today, we jail black males in Australia at a rate more than five times greater than black males were jailed under South African Apartheid.

And on every social indicator, Aboriginal people lag way behind non-Aboriginal people.

And some more advice for Bolt: If you’re going to pretend that it’s all about appearance, you need to spread the hate around a little more.

Why, for example, did your articles not attack conservative Aboriginals?

Surely in your eyes Marcia Langton looks no more or less Aboriginal than Larissa Behrendt? Why didn’t she come in for a serve?

Wesley Aird – who was out supporting Bolt in The Australian this week – doesn’t look any more Aboriginal than Geoff Clark? Why did he escape notice?

If you’re going to race-bait Andrew, don’t restrict your attacks to lefties, otherwise it just looks like you’re playing politics and it seriously weakens the central theme of your attack (which was weak enough to begin with).

And even more advice: Learn to accept that while you might not have committed the slaughter or the land theft, you have directly benefitted from it, as have all other non-Aboriginal Australians.

As a privileged white Australian, you have been allowed to inherit and build generational wealth.
Aboriginal people were not. And the descendants of those Aboriginal people – fair-skinned or otherwise – inherited that disadvantage. That is precisely how disadvantage works.

It’s also is one of the reasons why the gap is so wide. Denying people their rights – in particular their right to an identity – will do nothing to close it.

All it does is harm and offend… and in this case lead to your own public humiliation in a court of law.

Government assistance is not set aside for ‘dark-skinned Aboriginal people’. It’s set aside for all Aboriginal people disadvantaged by the past (and some might argue current) policies of government. And that includes fair-skinned Aboriginal people.

Paler Aboriginals might not be as disadvantaged as darker Aboriginals. But they might be more disadvantaged. You don’t know, which helps explain why your ‘one racist theory fits all’ approach doesn’t work.

A little more advice: You need to think through your arguments about skin colour, Andrew.

If Aboriginality is determined by skin colour, and skin colour determines disadvantage (which is precisely what you’ve argued) then you’re conceding that we need special assistance for people of colour. Why? Could it be because Australia is a racist nation which discriminates against people on the basis of the colour of their skin? Are you sure you of all people want to argue that?

And one last piece of advice, Andrew: For generations attention-seekers like you have been trying to define Aboriginality. And for just as long, Aboriginal people have rolled on, unchanged, unaffected.

Being so actively ignored must drive you nuts, which certainly helps to explain the vitriole in your columns. But it doesn’t explain the errors.

Lazy fact checking, however, does.

The fact is, you can wax lyrical all you want about people’s identity.

You can bang on about ‘the Stolen generation myth’. You can foam about ‘professional Aborigines’.

Like I said earlier, it is your free speech right to make as big of a goose of yourself as you like.

You cannot, however, print lies. That’s precisely what you did. And it’s precisely why you got flogged in the courts.

The fact is, while-ever there’s a buck to be made, there will always be people like you, Andrew Bolt; there will always be papers eager to print your garbage; and there will always be those who stand on the sidelines and egg you on.

On the upside, there will also always be people like those who you lined up for racial realignment, decent, hard-working people who climbed to the top of their respective careers without peddling hatred.

In doing so, they win. You lose. Again.

* Chris Graham is a Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist, the former managing editor of Tracker magazine, and the former founder and editor of the National Indigenous Times. He’s now a freelance writer based in Sydney.

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