You may have heard of the Bechdel test, which is a measure of the active representation of women in fiction and film. Well just in time for the Lowijta International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference we bring you “The Blackfulla test”; a test that measures the active representation of Blackfullas in Indigenous health research.
With increasing financial investment and commitment to Indigenous health via the National Health and Medical Research Council and Closing the Gap since 2002 and 2007 respectively, every man and their dog, or rather every white saviour and their intentions are all up in our grants, discovering the solutions to our problems (or the next problem to the problem).
What has resulted is a whole lot of noise published in the name of knowledge production, of which the benefit to Indigenous peoples and our health remains questionable, despite the emergence of Indigenous health researchers during this time. This is most likely because so much of our intellectual and emotional labour is taken up reviewing and remedying highly problematic research grants and publications about us, that serve little purpose beyond the next academic promotion of the lead chief investigator (who typically isn’t Indigenous).
But never fear, we are here to help. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers, working across varying health research contexts, we’ve pretty much read it all and we have devised a foolproof test to tell you if what you’re reading is worth the paper it’s written on, or the research grant that funded it. Also, it might come in handy the next time that special someone asks for your ‘cultural advice’ on their research grant or publication. The extra bonus is, you can then use all that spare time writing your own research grant, of which you will lead. No more being the bridesmaid – this is your time to shine.
Below is the Blackfulla Test; 11 of the most common violations found in Indigenous health research grants or publications. That paper or proposal you are reading fails if it:
1. Includes “intentions”. Typically, intentions are referenced as “good” or “well” and something of which is exclusively possessed by non-Indigenous peoples. Non-Indigenous authors will often argue that “intentions” are worth mentioning so as not to alienate the (white) readership, but its inclusion, even in the supposed ‘objective’ research, make clear that this is a “settler move to innocence” rationalising making a career from the problem of Indigenous health, while never actually fixing it. Also, these are the same people who supervise Indigenous PhD students and tell them they can’t use Standpoint Theory (incl. Indigenous, or Indigenous Women’s) because it is biased and not scholarly. This manoeuvre sustains neo-Missionary narratives from which they build research careers and research centres.
2. Makes no mention of “colonisation” because that would be “too political” they say. Please refer above for why this is problematic, and what enables it. The health sciences have always operated as an apparatus of colonial control in the regulation and surveillance of Black bodies and the production of racialized knowledges, both via biological and culturalist explanations. It cannot continue to claim to be an innocent observer when it has and continues to be complicit. Also, if colonisation is referenced as a past event, rather than an ongoing process, it doesn’t count.
3. Makes no mention of “race or racism”…because settlers and their feelings. But look if they can’t get what’s wrong with writing about racialized health inequalities while insisting that race isn’t real as a system of oppression or a category of analysis then they need to stop now and go do a systematic review of systematic reviews.
4. Refers to “our indigenous” (sic). This is a kind of double whammy, the possessive pronoun is not a mark of inclusion, rather it works in the Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson “white possessive logics” kind of way. The lower case I is an all too frequent, but a deliberate grammatical error. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Indigenous people are proppa nouns and as such should be capitalised.
5. Refers to ATSI people *shudder*. For the people at the back, we are First Nations peoples, we are not an acronym.
6. Prefaces some statistic with “alarming” or “appalling”. Much like #1, this is a settler pearl clutching moment in which they can position themselves as the only possible saviour for the native folk. Worse still, it is also used in research grant applications providing the moral imperative for investing in said research, which has no specific Indigenous health application. Yes we didn’t think it possible, but some have taken “Black window dressing” to a whole new level.
7. Refers to Indigenous peoples primarily in terms of “risk” and “vulnerability” or worse describes Indigeneity as the risk factor. *Clears throat*. Send them back to #3 and tell them to slap themselves for not believing us when we said they need to deal with race.
8. Includes the phrase “strength-based” without naming any specific strengths of Indigenous peoples, cultures or communities. Strengths based requires a reimagining of Indigeneity which renders Black excellence blatantly visible. This requires more than inverting proportions, in fact it requires reconfiguring the problematic assumptions of Indigeneity apparent in that seemingly objective research question sissy.
9. Is concerned with monitoring or illuminating understandings of “poor” individual health behaviours of Blackfullas in such a way that is completely divorced from the social, political, historical, and economic context in which they occur. Describing or rather dismissing that context as ‘complex’ and then suggesting the solution is one of education, awareness raising, health literacy, or more research is gammon.
10. Acknowledges the advisory role that Indigenous people have played, often as “cultural mentors” and typically at the end of the publication somewhere (some might name them, while others may refer to the committee or “the community” more broadly which operates to include anyone and no one in particular). Indigenous Health Research which insists that Blackfullas can only ever be the (cultural) advisor and never the author, need to be cancelled.
11. Has no first author Indigenous publications on their reference list. How one can operate in a space in which Indigenous people have made such a profound contribution and not cite the intellectual labour that mob have made has a real kind of Terra Nullius vibe. See #2 and our point about colonisation being an ongoing process, even in health research. Also refer them to Rigney’s articulation of “intellectual nullius”.
Authors note: Our present and persisting ill-health as First Nations peoples is not because of a lack of research, or a lack of white knowing and control over our lives, in fact, it is a product of it. Transformative health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will only come about through foregrounding Indigenous sovereignty, both politically and intellectually.
If you are a non-Indigenous health researcher feeling triggered by this article, please don’t run to the nearest Indigenous person for validation. They are already giving you a lot of free labour (whether they are the admin officer, the research assistant or, by some miracle, the lead CI). This article was written to free them up to do the work their people need them to do, not burden them with more of your feelings.