• One Nation leader Pauline Hanson (AAP)Source: AAP
COMMENT: In the wake of Pauline Hanson's comments and #defineAboriginal, Luke Pearson examines the complexity of defining Aboriginal identity and who has the right to do it.
By
Luke Pearson

30 Nov 2016 - 5:39 PM  UPDATED 30 Nov 2016 - 6:47 PM

First of all, Pauline Hanson's comments that there is no definition for who is Aboriginal were just wrong. There is an active definition, and there have been countless pieces of legislation in Australia's history that have defined Aboriginality in a myriad of ways over the years.

Many Aboriginal people today are used to non-Indigenous people trying to define us as well, and this frustration was perfectly encapsulated within the Twitter hashtag #defineAboriginal.

Many of the earlier definitions of Aboriginality were based on 'blood quotients' but just as often as not, in their implementation, they were based on little more than appearance

Many of the earlier definitions of Aboriginality were based on 'blood quotients' but just as often as not, in their implementation, they were based on little more than appearance. As it states in a document on the Parliamentary website titled 'Defining Aboriginality in Australia': "Such legislation produced capricious and inconsistent results based, in practice, on nothing more than an observation of skin colour."

John McCorquodale, in his 'The Legal Classification of Race in Australia', Aboriginal History, vol. 10, no. 1, 1986, pp. 724, analysed over 700 pieces of legislation, and found no less than 67 different definitions of Aboriginal people in Australia's history. So, where we are at today is not something that has happened without much thought, negotiation, and reflection on the history of these varying definitions.

Where we are at today is not something that has happened without much thought, negotiation, and reflection on the history of these varying definitions.

The arguments made by people like Andrew Bolt, Pauline Hanson, Chris Mitchell, and various others often evoke this history in their discussions of Aboriginality. This is nothing new. They also conflate issues of Aboriginal identity with poverty, colour, and remoteness as though, in their minds, one could draw a simple chart where the lighter a person's skin gets the less Aboriginal they are, the less poverty they have experienced, the less trauma their family has experienced, the less culture they have, the less remote they live, and the more Indigenous funding they access. This is a superficial and misguided understanding of Aboriginal identity and experiences. 

Even if an Indigenous person has achieved professional success, this is no guarantee that they haven't experienced trauma or hardship.

Even if an Indigenous person has achieved professional success, this is no guarantee that they haven't experienced trauma or hardship. The traumas I have experienced are my own business, and I feel no compulsion to share them with racist antagonists who want me to justify my Aboriginality by opening up my wounds for them to examine. That said, if an Indigenous person finds success in their career without having to encounter too many hardships and traumas along the way, then good for them. I hope my own children will be able to do likewise, and do so without it somehow bringing their identity into question.

I have an earlier draft of this article where I go into a deep discussion of how badly misrepresented the reality of Indigenous identity, definitions of it, and funding regimes that exist have been in these discussions, but after a conversation with a friend late last night I remembered something. They don't care. They do not care if they say things that are demonstrably untrue about Aboriginal identity, about jobs and funding, or about 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. I cannot write an essay every time some politician or commentator has a brain fart and makes up some new racist nonsense about how anyone who marries an Aboriginal person can magically identify as Aboriginal. And even if I did, it wouldn't slow them down on their path of blind demonisation and the promotion of racial hatred and animosity. There is no interest in a reasoned debate that involves actual facts or considered perspectives here, so I will not try to engage in one with them.

Even if they did want to debate though, which is a fairly big if, who are they to instigate a debate on Aboriginal identity?

Even if they did want to debate though, which is a fairly big if, who are they to instigate a debate on Aboriginal identity? It is not their place to do so. They can have opinions about it. They can have opinions about how Indigenous funding should be structured as well, but that isn't what they are doing. They are trying to attack the character and morality of people who identify as Aboriginal but do not pass their observation of skin colour test.

Even if their argument was simply that we should reintroduce blood quotient legislation I could engage in the debate with them. But the debate skims around the surface of actual solutions to the problem they imagine, it never goes so far as to talk about actual issues, and no, for the last time, it is not fear of 18C that prevents this. They focus on attacking the character of Aboriginal people because it is easy, and it is effective. Never underestimate the appeal of blind racism. Pauline Hanson is firmly aware of how well it worked for Donald Trump, and it looks like she is keen to try it here too.

I will not waste my time explaining to her the negative impacts of racism on others or the reasons why what she says is factually inaccurate, because it seems as though she is far too focused on the positive effects of promoting racism for herself to listen anyway.

Indigenous Australia hits back with #DefineAboriginal
Pauline Hanson says there's no definition of what an Aboriginal person is but Indigenous Australia have hit back on social media with one response: #DefineAboriginal.
#DefineAboriginal tops Australian Twitter trends
The trending hashtag calls on Aboriginal people to redefine what it means to be Indigenous in response to Pauline Hanson's claim that "there’s no definition to an Aboriginal".
6 in 10 white Australians claim they have never met an Indigenous person… But so what?
COMMENT | 'White people shouldn't need to have an Indigenous friend to know that we have rights too,' says Luke Pearson