Click on Comments to add or view them.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Doctrine of Discovering Identity
Also see in the Koori Mail, Wednesday 25 July and 8 August 2012.
On July 3rd Barak Obama while addressing a naturalisation ceremony said, ‘Unless you are one of the first Americans, a Native American, we are all descended from folks who came from somewhere else’. I can so relate to this sentiment and feel for my Native American brothers and sisters. New York is definitely a melting pop of nationalities. It has been nice though to be submerged in a majority of the diverse, than the Australia colonial overt. Contrast to the offense I am used to back home, reaction to my identity in New York has been of surprise and fascination. Except when I walk into an Aussie bar. On hearing my accent, being told I am Aboriginal, and what I am doing here, the pretending to be internationally friendly ugly Australian tourist abroad’s face, starts to spontaneously mimic a cat’s bum. It’s hard for some to swallow the bitch slap of Indigenous achievement.
Anyhow, hours of fun have been had playing ‘So You Think You Know Where I Come From’. Believe it or not, I have been mistaken for being Indian, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Cuban, Dominican, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Sudanese, Ghanaian, Maori, Polynesian….Lol! I forget what else. How ironic that so far, here my ethnicity has encountered more positivity than it has in my homeland e.g. cabs stop when I hail them, I don’t get served last or totally ignored in shops and restaurants, it’s not automatically assumed that I am going to steal something, I haven’t been accused of getting anything for free because of my heritage, my identity isn’t negatively interrogated and people speak to me, not at me. Mind you, racial blindness exists across the board sometimes e.g., disdain is dished out equitably by staff at US Post Offices, H&M and Best Buy. Then there are the disillusioned rude arse waiting staff who think mandatory tipping is gonna make this Murri pay more than the minimum. Ha ha good go!
The identity guessing game has been fun. It’s like I am an international Jeopardy question e.g. Australia and Oceania for 100 please…Clue: Australia’s Indigenous peoples… Answer: Who are the Aborigines? Influenced by the greats like Agent 86 (Maxwell Smart), Inspector Clouseau, and Austin Powers, an interesting array of secret agent type tactics have been employed in an attempt uncover my identity including…
1. MOC -The Mirror of Curiosity (aka Rear View Mirror). This indirect interrogation device is conveniently installed in every NYC Taxi so the driver can be a big doris and eyeball you, until they are stopped by your paranoid feeling of being watched. They conclude assessment at the next red light or journey’s end with the question ‘Where did you come from?’ To which you want to answer ‘Um home’, or ‘That bar’. Aah, the good old attempt to identify via the assumption that I am an immigrant.
2. SII – Service Industry Infiltration – A paparazzi type tactic where service industry employees seemed to have been recruited to find out more about you. Doormen greet you daily in a variety of languages…Buenos dias, Namaste, Bonjour. Maids try to engage you in polite conversation…’No I haven’t been here long’. And the laundry attendant smiling weirdly at you is totally baffled by the response that you actually live in your Manhattan apartment block and don’t work there. Yes the good old break me down with random questions. Good try.
3. VRI - Voice Recognition Identification – something that sends the investigation off track is the inability of the American ear to tell the difference between an English, New Zealand and Aussie accent. ‘I don’t want to offend you but is that a New Zealand accent?’ Missing the mark here doesn’t offend too much until they come out with ‘Is that a South African accent?’ WTF? Seriously? Face immediately mimics a cat’s bum.
4. LOEF – Love of Exotic Food – A sneak underhanded tactic when the local Indian, Thai and Mexican food outlets can instinctively suss out your love for chili and overwhelm you with free accompaniments. No amount of genuinely friendly service, free roti, spring rolls or tacos is gonna get make me divulge my identity. Good go I wanna keep going back and getting free yummy food.
5. SITB – Send In The Brotha – When all else fails operation Send In The Brotha is guaranteed to succeed. If while out on the town, you end up at a bar under the influence of a good old R&B song and a few margaritas, with a hot ass brothas hands (one glued to your din and the other to a susoo) all over you, it is more than likely that you’ll end up spilling your guts about your origins and exotic culture. Hell you might even throw in a few six degrees of separation stories. Damn it! Identity discovered ;)
I am not trying to hide my nationality at all. It’s just fun to play with. There is nothing I am more proud of. Although with an Italian first name, and English surname, dark skin, curly or straight hair depending on the weather, admitted big nose and sista susoos, I guess it’s hard to be identify as a Gooreng Gooreng, Mununjali, Kamilaroi, Birri Gubbi Murri.
The most impressive showcase of cultural diversity was definitely the 2012 United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. What an amazing collaboration and representation of Indigenous voice. A highlight being, an opening assembly dominated by participants proudly adorned in traditional dress. A unique opportunity to engage with representatives of the worlds 360 million Indigenous peoples was enhanced by side event presentations, visual arts exhibitions, dance performances, film screenings and a deadly Mayan band called Sak Tzevul. The theme for the forum this year was the ‘The Doctrine of Discovery’. Sessions outing the repercussion of poverty and war, child slavery and the oppression of women make you gasp and your heart hurt. Then with the shine of a pending politician a rep from the International Indigenous youth caucus delivered a speech with such strength and positivity for the future that it evoked mass pride, applause and tears. Well it did amongst the sistas I was standing with, and you know how we go, it’s the domino effect.
Just in case you don’t know the ‘The Doctrine of Discovery’ as explained in Wikipedia is, ‘a concept of public international law justifying the way in which colonial powers laid claim to lands belonging to sovereign indigenous nations during the Age of Discovery. The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring Aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments.’ In the words of Lauren Hill let me break it down for you again i.e. the load the crap we have been hearing all our lives about how we didn’t exist, our lands were vacant, and colonisation was peaceful…blah, blah, blah. So, yeah whatever, talk to the hand. It’s centuries old dogma used to justify theft and genocide.
After a lifetime of our rebuttals and educating migaloos, they have definitely come up an interesting array of reconciliatory type maneuvers. What is it about Indigenous culture and events that brings out the wombaist (is that a word?) of them all? There are of course the obvious opposers i.e. racists, royalists etc. There are those who genuinely get it and work ethically alongside us. Then there are those who get it…I think?..but tend to go overboard with excitement, inspiration or something e.g.
The English woman with the ‘Hug a Black’ affliction (Womba World, July 2010) spotted zig zagging like a Tour de France cyclist through the crowd at the UNPFII. Her goal? To accost the six foot tall traditionally dressed Masai representative, and manhandle him while introducing herself. To which he responded ‘There is no need to touch’. As my mob back home says..Told! LOL! I noted the brotha seemed to spend the rest of the forum suited up.
There is the overzealous “Indigenous Wannabe’. They are a person who seems to be taking on the Indigenous plight for the right reasons. However, they aggressively insist on having the right of voice, position and power via dubious Indigenous association. Ironically mimicking the behaviour of a colonial oppressor. Are they blind to this? Hmmm ‘maybe’, but I think not. In any case I am baffled as to how and why Indigenous people let them in, and in my opinion vigilance is a must.
Then there is the extreme ‘Adopt an Indigenous Identity’ weirdo. Immediately coming to mind is an article about a womba Welsh man who lives life as an Apache in Swansea, England…WTF? (MailOnline, July 2012). Charged with illegally possessing wild animal parts, he even tried to live on a Native American Reservation but the US government wouldn’t let him. LMAO! Too much Pimm’s in the old English breakfast cuppa?..or an overdose of illegally imported peyote? I think I could actually hear the eye roll of my sista in Arizona (who actually lives on an Apache Reservation). Her all too knowing response of ‘Yeah you get that’, made me laugh out loud.
It may seem that it could be easy for me to pass myself off as a senorita, une femme, una donna or a backup dancer in Bollywood movie (so on my bucket list and would be a bit like looking for Wally). However, I’ve never been able to completely fathom why someone would want to adopt a nationality not their own. I am totally blessed with my Australian Aboriginal identity. A pride instilled in me by my parents and family and delivered at times with the side kick of humour. Most mob can relate to the experience of fending off racial taunts and being called ‘Black’ or worse at school. A key lesson learnt early, when recalling these stories to my father and his typical humorous and practical response was, ’Yeah so! You are!’. My hanging bottom lip retracting with the realisation of the power of owning my identity and laughing!
i. MailOnline, ‘Welshman who lives as Apache Indian on trial in Swansea after animal parts found in home’, E. Wrenn, 29, March 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk.
ii.Womba World, ‘Hey Hey It’s NAIDOC Day!’, 5 July, 2010.
Click on Comments to add or view them.