Ramahn Allam on the right to an Aboriginal identity
Ramahn Allam

Living Black
2 Jun 2011 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 18 Jun 2015 - 5:06 PM

This week Allan Clarke brings us a story on the argument over Aboriginal identity that’s been sparked by a recent court case and is taking place as we speak.

But the whole argument surrounding who is and who is not Aboriginal enough, light-skinned, dark-skinned, full-blood, half-caste, quarter-caste, octoroon, was created by white folk.

Why are non-Aboriginal people so confronted with Aboriginal people identifying as Aboriginal when they don’t fit the stereotypical view of what they think it means?

Does that make sense? I’ll explain a little further what I’m getting at. We have to look at who created this debate. Prior to any contact with non-Aboriginal people, there was no concept of race or blackness, or whiteness. People were just people.

The origins of race and whiteness began with the imperialist and colonialist expansion, particularly through the 16th to 19th centuries, and became necessary through contact with black and brown peoples. Whiteness cannot be taken literally as a matter of skin pigmentation as it is a political category and a matter of political power. Just as race was at first a biological category made social, it too can’t be understood in purist or literal terms, but its influence on contemporary thinking remains tenacious and deeply embedded in much human social and political activity.

 ‘White’ didn’t enter the colonial lexicon until well after the term ‘black’. According to The Oxford English Dictionary’s first reference to the compound noun 'white man', referred to “A man belonging to a race having naturally light-coloured skin or complexion” and dates only from 1695. 

American writer Chuck Stone famously said: “The psychology of whiteness has endowed western civilisation with a comfortable rationale for some of its most savage impulses. It is the psychology of whiteness which has permitted western civilization in its arrogance that it should organise the entire world in its own image.”

So, I, as do many people who identify as Aboriginal, but don’t fit the mould that the powers that be have created over time, and feel comfortable with, have the right to decide who I am. 

Bob Marley also famously said: “Who feels it knows it.”

Allan speaks with a range of Aboriginal people and gets their views on identity. Must see.