Reporter Laura Murphy-Oates was nominated for a Logie in the category of ‘Most Outstanding News Coverage’. She was stoked – until she heard a voice in her head.
It was my first big awards night. I was nominated for ‘Most Outstanding News Coverage’ at the Logies and I was more nervous than excited.
So nervous – and I know this sounds stupid, but it’s true – that I didn’t want to win, because I didn’t want to have to accept the award on a stage with Australia watching.
When I stepped onto the red carpet all I could think about was not face-planting on said red carpet. I’d never worn heels that high. I was a long way from the ground.
I made it to my seat without tripping over and was feeling pretty good. Then a voice in my head cut me back down to size: “It’s not like you’re actually going to win. You’re only nominated because they want someone in the category who’s Aboriginal.”
“It’s not like you’re actually going to win. You’re only nominated because they want someone in the category who’s Aboriginal.”
When I bring it up with other Aboriginal people who I know are in the media spotlight, many say they’ve heard this voice. My friend Rachael Hocking reckons it’s the voice of ‘Black Guilt’ – and it’s trying to tell us we’ve been given something we don’t deserve.
It’s a feeling that’s exacerbated when you’ve been told, as I was in high school, that you’re a ‘fake Aboriginal’. I’m a light-skinned Koori girl and apparently I don’t look like the Aboriginal person that people expect me to be.
It’s not only high school jerks, there are people in high places with big audiences who’ve said things like this… looking at you Andrew Bolt and Pauline Hanson.
At the Logies after party a PR person from another channel asked me, “What did you do to get your job, to get to where you are?” This was moments after I had told her that I started out as the Indigenous cadet for SBS in 2013. I felt like she was really asking, “Yeah, but what did you do, aside from being Aboriginal?”
This may sound like I’m questioning the worth of incentives like the cadetship – I’m not. The reality is they’re sorely needed right across Australian television. A study on diversity in Australian TV drama released last year highlighted that in 1992, the year after I was born, there were no Indigenous Australians in sustaining roles in TV, and by 1999 there were just two.
That sort of representation meant that some of the only stories on TV about Aboriginal people were news stories, and these were mostly negative.
When I was 13 someone at my high school said that they thought all Aboriginal people had ‘died out’. When I was 16, at the beginning of the NT intervention, I was at a friend’s house when their mum told me, “Those Aboriginal people have just got to stop touching their children,” Frozen with anger and shame, I didn’t know what to say.
“All I have to do is just believe in myself and say I've worked for it … I don't think Andrew Bolt has that constant monologue."
Now there’s a whole channel devoted to Indigenous content: NITV. And Indigenous people make up 5% of all mainstream characters – that figure is actually higher than proportion of the Australian population who identify as Indigenous (3%).
At the Logies in 2015 Larrakia woman, Miranda Tapsell, used her Logies acceptance speech to call for “more beautiful people of colour on TV”. And this year I sat alongside a bumper crop of Indigenous nominees across public and mainstream broadcasters.
So why did I still feel like I didn’t belong?
For the past month I’ve been shooting Young & Black (you can watch it in the video player above), a documentary about four young Indigenous people embracing and reclaiming their identity in different ways. I asked each person different versions of the same question: Are you ever worried about tokenism?
They all spoke about being put in an Indigenous box; about making headlines simply for being the ‘Indigenous surfer/actor/politician.’
The response by Nakkiah Lui, writer and actor of ‘Black Comedy’ fame, hit home. “All I have to do is just believe in myself and say I've worked for it … use that opportunity to leverage it into more opportunity where you then aren't the token one. I don't think Andrew Bolt has that constant monologue. He's like ‘I'm here because I deserve to be here’, you know? I try and think like that – I have worked really hard.”
Geoffrey Winters, a former Liberal candidate at the last federal election, put his feelings about being promoted more succinctly. “I think if you sit around thinking about whether you're fine with it, you're wasting valuable time that you could be changing something else.”
They’re right, of course. So if I ever get to go to the Logies again (fingers crossed), hopefully my only worry will be about not face-planting on the red carpet. Hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy the moment thinking about all the beautiful black faces watching on TV who have suddenly realised they could make it there too.