Being Who We Are
My mother’s grandfather was Norwegian. He was a very old man when I was young. He was born in the late 1800s, and was one of the last generation of merchant seaman to sail in commerical wind-powered ships.
I liked him – he let me have sugar in my tea. But even more I liked the idea that some of my ancestors might have been vikings. I remember seeing The Vikings and The Long Ships at the Kings theatre in Kawakawa. They seem remarkably violent now for a five or six year old boy to have been allowed go and see alone. But times have changed. One shilling and sixpence isn’t going to buy you a movie ticket and an icecream anymore.
So of course I had to be a viking. I had a horned hat, and conducted carefully planned raids on neighbouring fruit trees. I leapt out from behind bushes to terrify local maidens, and threatened passing dragons (cars) from my lair halfway up the bank beside the road.
If I was minded to, I could just as easily have been Welsh, or German. Germans were still a bit unpopular in the early sixties, and the Welsh, well who the heck were they? So I had to be a viking.
Now I’m just me.
My wife had just as interesting a range of choices. Both her parents have scottish ancestry. But she is also part Cherokee. About as much as I am Norwegian.
She is interested in her Cherokee heritage. but she would never claim to be Cherokee, any more than I would claim to be Norwegian. Why would we choose to ‘be’ something that is only a tiny part of our total heritage?
But some people do just that.
Let’s imagine two young people. We’ll call them the Malfoys. They are white in appearance and were raised by a European family in a comfortable home in a modern city. In early adulthood they discovered one of their relatives was aboriginal.
This makes them aboriginal, they claim. A lasting sorrow is that as they were growing up they were deprived of learning their aboriginal culture.
Later the Malfoys become so expert in aboriginal history and culture that they become teachers of it.
They do not appear to notice that growing up as aboriginal in an aboriginal community would have deprived them of learning about the European and perhaps other cultures, which are also part of their heritage. And of the educational opportunities and income which allowed them later to pursue their aboriginality.
The Malfoys might say they did not decide what to be. But in deciding to favour one tiny part of the totality of their heritage over all others, they have chosen to be aboriginal.
And fair enough. Why would I care, any more than they should care if I claimed to be Norwegian?
But if they claim special privilege at public cost because they are aboriginal, then it becomes my concern, and I and other tax payers are entitled to ask why they are favouring this tiny part of their heritage over all else.
Any claim on taxpayer money is a matter of public interest.
Some of those who have accepted prizes, awards and assistance designed to benefit aboriginal people who have suffered prejudice or disadvantage, have an appearance and family background which means they cannot possibly have suffered any such prejudice or disadvantage while growing up.
It is disingenuous to pretend to be insulted by questions about whether awards and assistance given to them is an appropriate use of funds allocated for that purpose.