opinion

"My entire life I've been asked: how Aboriginal are you? The answer is always the same."

In a video shot by artist and Wergaia man Robby Wirramanda in the garage of his family home over the weekend, his neighbours, Karen and Rob, are spotted attempting to antagonise him by spewing vile racist taunts, questioning his Aboriginal identity and, most bizarrely, at one point Karen is seen trying to tear down the Aboriginal flag hanging over the garage door.

She fails miserably at bringing it down and Wirramanda can be heard off-camera calmly letting her know, “It’s too strong for you Karen!” a statement which has quickly become a fantastically metaphorical meme across the internet.

 

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The flag was the apparent instigator of this heated disagreement, with Rob and Karen boiling over in outrage over Wirramanda’s audacious decision to proudly celebrate his culture outside his own home – particularly, it seems, as Rob proclaims toward the end of the video, because his light-coloured skin indicates that he’s “got nothing in [him] that’s Aboriginal”.

Children in the Indigenous communities of the Kimberley, Western Australia, tell us what they aspire to be. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia
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The video was uploaded to social media by a family member of Wirramanda’s and immediately went viral, with the Aboriginal community online pointing to it as a prime example of the common confrontations with racist non-Indigenous Australians we face on a daily basis.

So much of Rob and Karen’s vitriol, although absurd and sickening, is very familiar. As a Gamilaroi and Dunghutti woman with a black dad, white mum and subsequently light skin, comments like “What 1% of you is Aboriginal?” have been sprinkled across many first meetings with non-Indigenous people throughout my life.

I’ve never understood the Western obsession with percentile and other numerical or visual measurements that are used to justify an individual’s identity regarding gender and race in particular. The narrowness in this thinking is so restricting and in complete opposition to the nature of the human condition.

We, human beings, are un-boxable entities. There is no one way to be woman or man, to live old or young, to raise your children, to have a career or even to live a happy life, and equally, there’s no one way to look or be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

We talk about the percentage question a lot in our community, the good old “How much Aboriginal are you though?” that so many non-Indigenous people feel compelled to ask. They usually do so with scrunched up faces and a head scratch, as their eyes analyse your ‘not-what-tourism-Australia-told-me-Aborigines-look-like’ features.

I can’t overstate how hurtful this question is, not because the opinion of non-Indigenous people has such significant impact on the strength of our identities, but more so because of how reminiscent these attitudes are of those that led to the Stolen Generation.

When the policies were imposed on our people that allowed the government to steal babies from mothers arms and begin another wave of trauma that is still being felt today, one of the guiding principles and purposes of it, was to ‘breed the Aborigine out of them.’

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Listen to Marlee Silva speak to Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky about what Indigenous Australians look like. Post continues after. 

‘Half-caste’ kids, as they were referred to at the time, who came mostly from one white parent and one black, were separated from their home and their family, forced to live with white families and live a ‘white way’, with the hopes that they would have children with other white people, making their children ‘less Aboriginal’ and so on and so on, until eventually no connection to culture would exist for those future generations.

In asking me how much Aboriginal I am, it also feels like you’re asking me how much of the stereotypes you hold around our people I fit in. I get flash backs to my high school years when my peers followed up that question with “what do witchety grubs taste like?” and “do you get your house for free?”

In short, connection to culture is so much more complex, rich and diverse than anyone who is non-Indigenous can understand. There’s this unspoken feeling that comes with identifying as Aboriginal and being around mob that you’ll never know if you aren’t Aboriginal too.

Identity for us, is built on family lines, connection to country, stories, traditions and something that can’t be measured by in levels of melanin.

We are all shades of colour, as my dad has always said to me, coffee is still coffee even when milk is added. Blackfullas are blackfullas no matter their colour, and nobody can speak for us and who is part of our people, except for us.

Indigenous Australian Marlee Silva
"The same movement fighting to have the licencing laws around the Aboriginal flag changed, has launched an online campaign #shades of deadly to show the world how diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people look.” Image and quote: Instagram @clothingthegap.

A clever friend of mine once told me, when he is questioned about his Aboriginal identity, he simply responds by reminding people that we’ve been around for over 80,000 years, so do you not think we’ve developed more sophisticated means of identity than mere skin colour?

Feature image: Instagram @marlee.silva and Twitter @toostrong4karen.

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