identity and andrew bolt
Mentioning Andrew Bolt’s name is controversial. Examining his writing riles some up, encourages some, disgusts others. He’s most recently been in the news for breaching the Racial Discrimination Act in several of his columns, which are still available to read online if you must; however, as you read them I would encourage you instead to consider what constitutes identity, and who (if anybody) has the authority to question it.
In summary, Bolt talks about what he calls “white Aborigines”, persons of Aboriginal descent who are lighter-skinned than what Bolt deems to be acceptable. He claims that these people are choosing to align themselves with that one particular strand of heritage over the European strands, and in doing so, stop the “full-blood Aborigines” from gaining recognition by winning many (if not all) of a number of Indigenous artistic and scholarly prizes.
Of course he also claims that his intention in asserting that one must be at least a little dark skinned to identify as Indigenous was to promote a world in which we look past race and define ourselves as nothing, to overcome the “divisive” nature of race to form a society in which we are merely “proud only of being human beings”.
Clearly, that message got lost somewhere amongst all the vitriol.
I’m not going to examine the court’s decision, and nor am I going to touch on the notion of free speech, because I am not a lawyer. What I will pick on is Bolt’s choice of terminology, something which, as a student, I can discuss with the aid of that wonderful tool we call ‘research’. I refer in particular to the term ‘Aborigine’ which Bolt finds so charming. Any journalist wishing to present a balanced article which showed respect for all concerned would surely check and see that the word ‘Aborigine’ “has negative connotations and should be avoided”. Surely anyone who wished to promote one peaceful world would avoid such inflammatory language; more to the point, surely a journalist with such a goal would check first to see what language is even considered inflammatory. Bolt did not.
Now to the question of identity. I do not identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander because I have no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage, and I even think that perhaps I shouldn’t even be writing this because, well, who am I as a non-Indigenous Australian to say how Indigenous Australians should live? But the point here is that I’m not saying anything to anybody other than Bolt, who I believe has no business criticising a nation of people he can ever fully understand, by virtue of the fact that he does not belong to that nation. In the same way, Bolt himself has Dutch parents and once identified as Dutch and not Australian, something that I am unqualified to comment on because I am not Dutch.
I was raised as Australian. My upbringing did not emphasise my European heritage over my Australian heritage, and it is this fact which leads me to identify as Australian. Regardless, I believe that if I felt a growing bond with my other roots and my self-view shifted to German-Australian, then that would be my business and my business only. Identity is more involved than choosing your favourite piece of the puzzle; in fact, there is nothing as simple as choice when it comes to the formation of an identity, and this reason alone should have been enough to stop the publication of Bolt’s articles regardless of their racist content.
It can take a lifetime to forge your identity, and anybody who hasn’t lived your life cannot know the many factors that have been at play in its formation. Anybody who hasn’t lived your life cannot know who you are, cannot know where you have been, and cannot judge whatever identity has been created. Bolt has not lived any life but his own. He knows only himself. He has no right to pretend to know otherwise.
(Image credit: 1.)