*A white woman took my baby*

20 Mar 2018

The problem for Blackfullas is that news and current affairs is not ‘for our viewing pleasure’ nor is it just information or entertainment. It is an apparatus of colonial control that makes the brutality of colonisation seem perfectly rational and acceptable.

Black people had to do a lot of work last week and it wasn’t even Invasion Day, Sorry Day, or NAIDOC Week. Blackfullas had to turn up after that sorry Sunrise business and geez did Blackfullas turn out. For two consecutive days, the Kooris got up early and turned up to Martin Place to be seen and heard, and to speak in defence of *our* children.

The response from Sunrise was to close the curtains, run a fake backdrop and pretend that the Black folk weren’t there. How very Terra Nullius of them.

Online, Blackfullas all over the country too turned out. Within hours, our very own Dora Milaje consisting of Amy McQuire, Nayuka Gorrie, Carly J Wallace and Summer May Finlay crafted very different yet powerful and insightful critiques of the sorry Sunrise business.

Amy, who will henceforth be known as Ayo, in writing for IndigenousX turned up with her receipts. Specifically she noted that several years ago, Sam and Kochie were dismissive of the Grandmothers Against Removal who were campaigning outside Parliament House during a Sunrise broadcast.

After Ayo’s article, Armytage blocked the @IndigenousXLtd twitter account.

She may have pressed the button, but I fell like this is a birthday present from me to myself. pic.twitter.com/luvHBV3zvA

— IndigenousX Pty Ltd (@IndigenousXLtd) March 15, 2018

Meanwhile, in Meanjin, Blackfullas gathered for Converge, a First Nations National Media Conference where I had the privilege of chairing a conversation about First Nations News and Current affairs, involving a stellar line up of panelists from leading Indigenous news media organisations.

Humbled to be apart of this amazing panel at the Converge Conference with @drcbond as facilitator, @chrisgatlarge from New Matilda, @naomimoran91 from Koori Mail & @GillmoreJohnston from CAAMA to discuss Indigenous News & Current Affairs across the nation. Podcast coming soon pic.twitter.com/UMaQqAoZ7h

— Danny Teece-Johnson (@dannynitv) March 15, 2018

Included in this discussion was the sorry Sunrise business, which was seen not as an exception, but reflective of mainstream media reporting on Indigenous affairs. Turns out the dilemma for First Nations news media is deciding how much of their little resources is exhausted on mopping up the mess created by mainstream news media and how much is invested in taking charge of the narrative and producing real Indigenous news content that has context and relevance to a local and/or national audience.

As Blackfullas, we cannot just change the channel and pretend that these lies aren’t being told. That might work alright for Sunrise and Sam, but not in our case.

The problem for Blackfullas is that news and current affairs is not ‘for our viewing pleasure’ nor is it just information or entertainment. It is an apparatus of colonial control that makes the brutality of colonisation seem perfectly rational and acceptable.  See for instance how plausible and benevolent the call for a second Stolen Generation was made to appear. Changing the channel doesn’t change the very real impact of Indigenous reporting upon Indigenous people’s lives, or its influence upon Indigenous social policy development.

At the conference, panellist and Walkley award winning journalist Chris Graham stated:

It was a succession of stories from the ABC that delivered you the Northern Territory Intervention, it wasn’t just one story…the real threat to Aboriginal Australia and to Torres Strait Islander people is not so much Sunrise because they are clearly ridiculous, everybody knows they’re ridiculous, they know they’re ridiculous, but they get paid a lot of money to be ridiculous, and they don’t care. The real threat is organisations like the ABC and Fairfax, the big media and The Australian, who are taken seriously by policy makers, they’re the people that have done the most damage to Indigenous people; with all due respect to the ABC and thank god for NITV”.

And, right on cue…enter The Australian at the end of the week that was, to legitimise the ideas expressed on Sunrise in their commentary section, page 22. The author of the opinion piece titled ‘Bring back adoption to save Aboriginal kids from chaos’ was Angela Shanahan who shall henceforth be known as Angie.

Angie isn’t an expert, she is a ‘journalist’ and a white woman. But she knows all about the problems of Indigenous child abuse and child removal policies and their impacts because she knows a social worker who worked with Blackfullas back in the 70s.

Now you know you’re Black, when a white fella finds a way to tell you that they or someone they know has worked with Blackfullas, and you also know that some racist stuff is going to emerge from their mouth within moments of them having staked this claim. Side note: some people even pretend that they actually worked in Black communities (ahem, Gregory Andrews).

Angie’s story starts with a tale of an Aboriginal mother who had her twin babies removed at birth, thanks to a most benevolent social worker. Angie explains the children’s removal was inevitable and necessary citing the mother’s young age, marital status and ethnicity which we are led to believe made her incapable of being able to look after the children and the complex health conditions they’d experienced. We are told that said mother had “no one to help her”, which is weird, ’cause she did have a social worker, didn’t she? I mean social work practice does include supporting Aboriginal mothers in need too, right?

Now I’m not sure that Angie realises that this story is perhaps not the best example to justify social workers separating Black kids from their mums. But to be fair, Angie got this story direct from the social worker herself; in fact that social worker is actually Angie’s mum (how cool is that!).

And look I’m certain that Angie’s mum is a really good social worker. I’m confident that she sought consent from said Aboriginal mum to disclose to her “journo” daughter (who also happens to write for The Spectator) her tragic and traumatic circumstances, so that she could publish it in The Australian. I’m also sure that Angie has deidentified this story significantly enough so that the Aboriginal mum and her children are not identifiable – obviously there were heaps of Aboriginal twins born in that particular region, in that particular year with those particularly health conditions. I mean, I’m sure they both did this because after all, Angie and her mum really care about Aboriginal mums and their children.

Well, so long as “cultural baggage” doesn’t get in the way, Angie explains. Hey Angie – maybe you and mum can disregard our culture, but surely there are some whitefella protocols in all of this that you should not ignore, as should The Australian. But who am I to suggest that Aboriginal mothers and children be afforded the same common decencies that others enjoy? Confidentiality and privacy are so laden with “cultural baggage” it would seem.

Angie makes a whole raft of claims on behalf of her mother in the ‘article’ which make Prue MacSween look like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.  According to Angie, back in the 70s, social workers were pressured to be “culturally appropriate” which she says was “to the detriment to Aboriginal children”. Angie doesn’t reference the Bringing Them Home Report, but instead draws on mum’s anecdotes.

Angie bemoans the disregard shown to the Little Children are Sacred Report. She writes “everyone threw their hands up, then ignored it”. No Angie, not everyone – just the Federal Government, who you might remember introduced the Northern Territory Emergency Response, which involved suspending the Racial Discrimination Act and initially was to include compulsory invasive child health examinations for sexual assault on all Aboriginal children in the prescribed communities.

Angie continues, “The places where these children live are absolute basket cases for alcoholism, drug taking and porn, some of them are not even real places”. Yeah you heard right, she actually said that Aboriginal children don’t live in real places.

Angie also advises us that “the dysfunction of Aboriginal communities” is actually a euphemism for what truly is “chaos” across whole families, and townships (you know things are real bad for us,  when they insist that dysfunction is actually a euphemism).

Angie mutters some other crazy stuff about “the law of the land” trumping Aboriginal “culture”. But it is in her summation that Angie reveals to us the ways of her people (and by ‘people’ I mean white women).

Angie writes:

“Most Australians have a great deal of respect for Aboriginal culture, but they have even more compassion for Aboriginal children, who don’t live in another world – they are our own Australian children”.

No Angie, OUR children are not yours…

and you are not Nicole Kidman.

They belong to us and they belong to this place, and yeah it’s a real place. So can you please stop using them as an alibi for you and your mother’s self-proclaimed virtuosity. And while I’m at it, let me say to you this – the myth that our children don’t belong to us is as false as the myth that this land does not belong to us, and that we don’t belong to it.

White people think they have a claim to Black land, Black bodies and Black children and it is inevitably a white woman who is the face of these claims. Because white women are always and only ever virtuous, they are a most credible witness for discounting the brutality of colonisation; whether its Prue MacSween, Samantha Armytage, Diane Bell, Nanette Rogers, Cathy McLennan, Eliza Fraser, Angie Shanahan or her mother (and to be fair to those named here, the list could go on).

To invoke another virtuous white woman I know, Sonia Kruger; “as a mother” I’m all too familiar with white women’s care for me and my children. I remember being scolded by the nurse just days after delivering my own twins when I went to feed them in the middle of the night during their stay in intensive care and I couldn’t remember which room and bed they’d been shifted to. After she chastised me, I broke down and cried in the hall only to be dismissed by her. Upon hearing about the experience, my Aboriginal husband slept on the floor of my room over the next few days to protect me from the very people who were meant to care for me and my children at a time in my life when I and they were most vulnerable. Though as an Aboriginal mother with 5 kids living in a poor neighbourhood, giving birth to twins with health complications I could probably count myself fairly fortunate that Angie’s mum wasn’t patrolling the wards of the hospital that night.

“As a mother”, it was just last year that the Queensland Department of Education and Training used an image of my child casting him as a “troublemaker” who “everyone thought wouldn’t make it” (and by everyone, they meant white women).  I didn’t realise that in sending my child to school I would be authorising the state to use him as bait to lure white women to work in remote Indigenous communities. Hey I didn’t realise how alluring the unwanted Aboriginal child was to white women.

White women’s imaginings of Aboriginal mother’s capabilities, and their so-called concern for our children is more than creepy – it’s actually dangerous.

Angie summed it up all in her final sentence where she proclaimed “these policies should be changed”.  You see, white women are not simply PR agents of the colonial project, they too are its architects. Whether as a nurse, social worker, teacher, journalist or commentator, white women have always exercised power over Aboriginal women and our children, often bearing false witness, unchecked and unrestrained everyday in this country on hospital wards, on brekky TV, in national broadsheets and on the floors of parliament.

Regardless of my capabilities as an Aboriginal women or mother, the anonymous, uninformed random white woman will always hold more power and influence in what is sayable and doable to our lives and those of our children.

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