I hadn't intended to return to the issues I discussed in Issues raised by Bolt, Aboriginal culture & the nature of Aboriginality. However, the entire thing has turned quite nasty.
Consider today's Australian. Here we find:
- Who tweets for Aborigines? (editorial)
- Aboriginal sophisticates betray bush sisters (opinion piece by Marcia Langton)
- Larissa Behrendt repents for Twitter slur on black leader Bess Price (report by Patricia Karvelas)
- Integrity is in shifting shades of black and white (Talking Point)
Subheaded A BITTER struggle for authority in indigenous Australia, the editorial begins:
The comments were crude in the extreme but the real import of the Twitter commentary about indigenous leader Bess Price is how offensive it is to thousands of Aboriginal men, women and children living in regional and remote Australia. When Larissa Behrendt wrote that Price's appearance on ABC TV was worse than watching "sex with a horse" the city-based legal academic exposed the deep divide in the indigenous community.
Behrendt, who belatedly apologised yesterday, may portray her words as a throw-away comment about Price's performance on Monday's Q&A but there is more going on here. The Twitter exchanges reveal the split between urban and remote Aboriginal leaders over Canberra's intervention in dysfunctional communities. Behrendt's comments are made against the background of a bitter struggle between these two groups for power and the authority to speak for Aborigines. Behrendt and those who joined her on Twitter oppose the intervention but that is really a proxy for a fight over turf, resources and the direction of indigenous politics. Those on Behrendt's side elevate rights and legalities over everything else. But The Australian is on the side of those who believe housing, education and jobs are the pre-eminent steps towards equality.
That Behrendt is herself involved in a racial vilification case against News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt adds irony to her comments. That action has people across the political spectrum concerned because of its implications for free speech. At its core is the identification by Behrendt and others as Aboriginal. This is not the place to argue the merits of the action, but Behrendt's professional career is central to the split exposed on Twitter. Like others who work in the urban indigenous industry, she has built a career on indigenous issues and policy. Like others, she argues against the 2007 intervention initiated in response to appalling levels of violence, addiction and child abuse. Difficult as it is to believe, this newspaper has been lobbied directly by Aboriginal leaders in Canberra to stop reporting on the despair of communities in the far-north, central Australia and the Kimberley, and to focus on success stories of urban Aborigines. In essence, these leaders have urged us to ignore the shameful state of affairs in so many areas and boost the good-news quota in our pages. Such a view is not just out of touch with the needs of remote Aborigines, it casts them as unworthy of attention. These urban dwellers are prepared to risk the health, education, physical safety and futures of other Aborigines in the cause of an out-dated, leftist agenda which privileges "rights" above well-being. There is a "let them eat cake" touch about it all.
The Australian can argue and with some justice that it has reported on Aboriginal issues more than any other paper. I have been reading all the papers on these topics for a number of years and have found that the Australian has provided the greatest coverage. However, to my mind today's paper has really gone over the top in a way that is simply not helpful, that mixes so many issues together that the result is likely to be more confusion.
It is quite difficult to know just where to begin in untangling all the issues involved.
I am not going to attempt a discussion this morning, but will come back to it later.