“I hear of far too many stories of suicides in Australia, being the result of another person making the victim feel less of themselves, purely because of who or what they are, or making them feel like they just don’t belong.
It’s time we stood up to the people behind it and said '#FU2RACISM'…
"I didn’t fit the usual stereotype of what an Aboriginal boy is ‘meant' to look like"
As a child, my mother, being a proud Wiradjuri woman, always brought me up to know and embrace my heritage, and my father of Polish-descent always just as supportive. I grew up off-country in Katherine, my hometown in the Northern Territory, and that is the only country my siblings and I knew.
I love Katherine, and I still today connect to the people, the land and culture at home and the surrounding communities I had experienced growing up - it’s a place I hold close to shaping who I am. Whilst I feel a great connection to Katherine, not having the opportunity to grow up on-country where my mob is recognised and well-connected, had its disadvantages such as experiencing my own mob’s cultural practices first hand, learning family history and connection from my people to the Wiradjuri Land.
Blocking my development from that young boy into the man I aspired to be, was the complicated issue of identity and not being accepted. Regardless of my parents always telling me to believe in myself, as a child I never understood how I was possibly Aboriginal when I didn’t have the right colour skin. I was too afraid to ask, and definitely too afraid to identify because I didn’t fit the usual stereotype of what an Aboriginal boy is ‘meant' to look like... I was proud to come from a culture so historical and deep, but none of my friends even knew, and that was my own choice. I was too ashamed to be myself - not because of my culture and identity, but because of how I looked and how everyone else would see it.
"Some making misconceptions about whether I should even be allowed to identify as Aboriginal, considering I have fair skin, and others just acting as if I am lying."
I was a white-black man, and whilst my parents always identified that in every school I went to, once I first hit high school there was nothing I could do, but spend the time to really find where I - along with anyone else in the same situation as me, fit in the wider society. One day I decided I needed to be true and face up to who I am inside, and that was by signing up to the Clontarf Indigenous Boys Football Academy at my High School.
It was a small step in a much larger process. I remember receiving the Senior Indigenous Academic award after my first year in the Academy and I had to jump up on stage at the school’s end-of-year awards. Looking out over a crowd of people who seemed to look more shocked than proud at the fact I had just received ‘THAT’ award.
Even after the awards night, others at my school continued making comments about being ‘too white to be Aboriginal’ and those remarks were normal for me, but it created wounds that were deeper than I thought. I was firstly confused, and secondly embarrassed to be thinking I’m too white to identify myself as Aboriginal, and too proud to not identify. I had the knowledge and upbringing, the proof and the connection, but no belief.
Still to this day, after all of my involvement with the suicide-prevention charity R U OK? And all other projects I’ve worked on as an Indigenous man, I still have my identity questioned with everything I do. Some making misconceptions about whether I should even be allowed to identify as Aboriginal, considering I have fair skin, and others just acting as if I am lying. I’ve spoken to so many other people in my situation, who have all had to face the same thing. ‘Wannabe’, ‘White Chocolate’, ‘Albino-riginal’ are some names I remember being called, (just to name a few of the cleaner labels). Whilst I always stay true to myself, it wears you down. Do I believe this is right? No. Do I still just accept it when it happens to me? No. I am me, I am strong and I will continue to be everything I am, and do everything I can for our people.
When I think about my heritage and the criticism that I - along with so many others in this position have had to deal with and overcome, so many emotions arise. I feel extremely proud, but to be honest I feel lucky. I feel lucky because, it’s given me a life of privilege, thanks to the colour of my skin beyond anything an Aboriginal man (or woman) in pre-invasion Australia could possibly ever have dreamed.
"Culture, beliefs or skin colour should not determine how a person is treated."
Privilege that our country should not be proud of.
Culture, beliefs or skin colour should not determine how a person is treated. There is still an ongoing effect on our people several generations later, and I feel for every Aboriginal man, woman, boy or girl, past or present that have been wounded by discrimination and racism both direct and in-direct. Being Aboriginal should not be seen as a bad thing, nor should the colour of one’s skin be seen as a way to attack. Australia still has a huge road of recognition ahead and there is a heap of healing still to be done.
I encourage you to challenge yourself today, learn new things about one another and try and support EVERYONE where you can, rather than judging on face value or perception. Face up to racism in all forms, and Stay True, Stay Proud, Stay YOU!"
Face Up To Racism #FU2Racism with a season of stories and programs challenging preconceptions around race and prejudice.
Tune in to watch Is Australia Racist? (airs on Sunday 26 February at 8.30pm), Date My Race (airs Monday 27 February at 8.30pm) and The Truth About Racism (airs Wednesday 1 March at 8.30pm).
Watch all the documentaries online after they air on SBS On Demand.