Gomeroi. This is MY truth.

On the rise of a Black Patriarchy and 50 shades of Black Respectability Politics

My children have missed days at school because of economic reasons. A year ago I would not have admitted that. A year ago I would not have said a word. A year ago I would have kept my head down and my mouth shut for fear of drawing unwanted attention to myself and the problems I was facing. And always, always, in the back of my mind the voice that says don’t ever let anyone know you’re doing it tough, because they will take your kids from you.

I don’t live far from Lightning Ridge. A place where 41 children were removed from their Aboriginal parents. A quick google search reveals that Aboriginal children are 10 times more likely to be put into care. As an Aboriginal mother, these numbers are horrifying. As an unemployed single Aboriginal mother, these numbers are terrifying.

Neither of my children would have missed days at school (except sickness of course) had there been programs in place that would have helped me. A simple lunch program for disadvantaged kids. A school shoes payment plan for low income families. And on the odd occasion, a bus pick up for scorching hot, or pouring rain days.

Instead of addressing these problems, the problems of parents with financial difficulties, the problems that are not only affecting Aboriginal people, but many non Aboriginal parents as well. The government has now put in place an initiative, at a cost of 24 million dollars, that employs truancy officers. And the feeling of a cold hand of fear on the back of my neck, always present, intensifies.

What happens if the small amount of work I have gained dries up and I am back in the position of money being so incredibly tight that the lack of it is suffocating? What if money again becomes so tight that shoes, uniforms, excursions, lunches or transport, issues that I don’t have to worry about when I’m working, become issues that keep my kids from turning up at school on occasion?

What exactly is the scope of these truancy officers? Do they give my kids lunch? Buy them shoes? Uniforms? Will my name be added to some Department of Community Services list somewhere? A mark upon my name that gives rise to visits from people who can remove my children from my care?

I spoke honestly and frankly with my mother about my worries. She was amazed that this is still happening, after all the trials Aboriginal women have been put through for generations. We spoke of her own mothers obsession with cleanliness, which sprang from her fear of the dreaded welfare man, a government employee who could come to your house and demand to be let inside, to ensure your house was clean. That there was adequate food available. That the children were going to school.  She then went on to tell me about her own fears, when she was raising me and my siblings, the absolute terror she felt whenever going to collect food vouchers, of some nameless person swooping in to take us kids off her because she was facing hardship when my father passed away. The tremble in her voice as she recounted this broke my heart.

Aboriginal women have been told for the better part of two centuries that they are neglectful and not fit to raise children.  Through policy after humiliating policy Aboriginal women have borne the brunt of racist and cruel intentioned initiatives enacted purely out of ignorance, and the unwillingness of decision makers to listen to what Aboriginal women think is best for their very own children.

There are broader issues at work here. I am witnessing the rise of a black patriarchy that makes my blood boil and turn to ice in concert. I am also seeing all the telltale signs of respectability politics at play. Politics that are othering black women, shaming them for their economic status, shaming them for the colour of their skin. Politics that point a damning finger at Aboriginal women who exist outside the margins of perceived respectability. Politics that cater to white conservative thought via black men (and some black women) holding up their hands and instead of demanding equal rights and justice, they are holding their hands up ever higher in vehement agreeance with policies that hurt black people immeasurably. This race some black men ( and some black women) engage in, to ingratiate themselves with white conservative thinking, to hold themselves forth in a look at me, I’m different, I’m not like those black people, I think like you manner. It’s revolting to watch and cringe worthy to see.

When the poor white woman across the road in exactly the same boat I am, with the exact same monetary issues around her childrens school attendance, does not have the extra burden and worry of people turning up on her doorstep, demanding embarrassment and explanations, then that initiative walks like a racist duck, quacks like a racist duck, and is most assuredly, a racist fucking duck initiative.

The fear I carry and the aversion I feel, to governmental departments where my kids are concerned is due entirely to inter-generational trauma. My mother carries this fear, her mother carried this fear, her mother carried this fear, these fears are real, and history dictates, these fears are not without precedent.

I am an Aboriginal mother, I have never been asked what I think would help school attendance rates. I have never been asked what would be the absolute worst way to raise attendance rates. When it comes to programs that affect Aboriginal mothers, I can be 95% sure that the government will go with the most invasive, the most detrimental, the most shaming plan.

The mere thought of a truancy officer on my doorstep brings a feeling of intimidation. I absolutely abhor the idea of men making decisions that impact Aboriginal mothers, decisions that do nothing but enhance the culture of fear that we already live under. This culture of shame that has been created by consistent attacks on Aboriginal people. Australias track record in this speaks for itself.

I am not for one second disputing the importance of education, of children attending school. I do not know one Aboriginal parent who does. But I do dispute the bullying tactics this government has employed in ensuring attendance is met.This instilling of ever more fear into Aboriginal parents, this I dispute, with every fibre of my being.


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17 thoughts on “On the rise of a Black Patriarchy and 50 shades of Black Respectability Politics

  1. Hi. I just read this article on the Guardian website. I just wanted to say that many of the comments about it absolutely horrified me. These comments and your article gave me a very small insight into the racism you and the Aboriginal people are subjected to on a daily basis; institutionally, systemically, on the internet and the street. It made me feel sick to my stomach. I thought your article was wonderful, and I think you are an amazing woman with a strong voice. From a white mother to an Aboriginal mother: respect. Keep going, and hopefully more and more people will take notice of what you are saying.

    • jacinta on said:

      Kelly Briggs you are one gutsy mother who has a right to raise your kids without fear. There are a stack of people out there who would want to be on your team and your kids must be really proud of you. As a paediatrician we say from the Indigenous peoples “takes a village/community to raise a child”. You and your children are entitled to whatever it takes from the “village ” to support respectfully you to be the best and strongest you can be. As a single mother I used to have about 15 trustworthy people on my list to help out when I was stuck because stuff happens.So keep speaking up,suss out the ones who can be trusted, stay strong …

  2. Gay McCosker on said:

    Great comment, you should be in politics!

  3. Kimberley on said:

    I found your blog-post via the feature article in The Guardian, and I wanted to come and thank you directly for sharing your fears and viewpoint. Like many people I have known about the stolen generations, the fact that many Aboriginal people have a hard time financially for many reasons, the fact that many Aboriginal kids end up missing a lot of school days for reasons other than illness, and the fact that there are often more Aboriginal kids than other kids in foster care. Yet I never once stopped to try and understand the situation from the viewpoint of the Aboriginal mums struggling to raise their children in the middle of all that. Thank you for sharing your story, and thank you for helping me to open my mind a little more, and gain a better understanding of the struggles of others.

  4. Carole Stone on said:

    Thank you for this writing, that makes me understand a little more. As a white woman who didn’t grow up in Australia it is important for me to read these things, and to learn.

  5. Just coming here to do as the others commenting above have. Thanks for sharing your article in the Guardian. The comments from readers were truly frightening. As they ripped you down and denied the reality of racism, they poured racist comments all over your article! The scariest part is that they are in total denial about it.

    I ended up in a lengthy debate with a couple of readers and just as I thought they might be starting to see my point, and perhaps starting to question their disbelief in you, the conversation got even scarier. They concluded that you and all of your supporters are irrational with emotion so we can’t possibly have a rational discussion about these issues! Sigh. I decided to stop there because I thought it was a lost cause. It dawned on me then just how much courage and persistence it must take to share your story and your concerns.

    I’m so glad there are people like you who keep fighting. Although there are plenty of people out there who don’t value your opinion or those of other Aboriginal people (except when their opinions comply with those of white people – don’t they love to draw attention to those opinions!?), there are still plenty like us who are listening and learning from you, and trying to get our fellow Australians to do the same!

    You seem like the most amazing role model for your children. Best wishes.

  6. Hello Kelly,

    Thank you for this absolutely inspiring and tear-grabbing article. It has really instilled a spark in me and has made me realise (and I hope many others) that there are more deep rooted problems in Australia that could be helped with a helping hard rather than a policy or law. After reading this it has made me want to make a difference. One thing that really stood out for me and I have since done research on it is that the main reason children did not attend school was due to no packed lunch.
    I want to make a change/help out and make a charity/donations that is purely for packed lunches. I live in Cobar and for my job travel to Bourke quite often. I was wondering if you could help me with any connections in which I can get the ball rolling and ensure that there is food at schools for the kids.

    Please get in contact,

    Kind regards,
    Sarah Barrett

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. I have grown up in middle class, white Australia. I have been educated by your story. I have also been saddened. I hope and pray that policy makers will consult wise women like you in the future. I hope and pray that your children will not have to live in fear for their (future) children, and that there will be no differentiation based on race or background.
    Thank you again for enlightening me.

  8. Caroline on said:

    What a wonderfully written post. I think someone commented earlier that you should go into politics – I wholeheartedly agree!

  9. The Jeneral on said:

    I wanted to say thank you for being brave enough to share your situation. It is much easier to lay blame then to truly reach out and help someone, and understand. This has helped me to understand and I can now pass that on to my children and hopefully more people will understand. Racism is hard to overcome, both the societal influence and the psychology behind it, and often we are blinded to it.
    Whereas previously, as an active participant in a school community, I have thought of these initiatives as a positive thing, I will now speak up and try to make a change for the better.

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  11. moondancer_by_night on said:

    Hi, I have also wandered over from the Guardian website. I am in the UK and just wanted to say I admire your determination and fears about the welfare of your children. I am also a mother, but I am a disabled one, and I know that fear, that someone will take your children away because of that. I adore my children and I am married (to an Aussie) so I do have help but I keep my head down and hopes no one notices me and that my children are doing ok enough to not be noticed. From one mum to another, I wish you well and hope that things pick up for you 🙂

  12. Kelly well written article that must have taken a lot of courage to write. I read it in the the Guardian. After reading the comments on the first page, I needed a punching bag – so many negative comments – so much vitriol. I scrolled through the next two pages and found the comments with the most shares were ones who were in support of you so that was more heartening. It is so very sad, that on Australia Day, we read how biased and uniformed some people can be. Guess its the reason I am uncomfortable with Australia Day.

  13. I keep telling people that what is happening right now is cultural genocide and ongoing stolen generation but no-one will listen to me. I don’t know what to do. I’m glad that you are writing, please keep opening peoples’ eyes. Hang in there.

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  16. Christopher Davis on said:

    Black is the new white or so it seems from the rise of behaviours from a cohort of so called black “leaders” emergent over the past decade and, if appearances are a guide, black men behaviours from within this cohort reinforce white patriarchy. This saddens me [writing as a Kukuyalanji man] because I have not heard these black men, whilst they go about espousing a ‘new’ mantra for welfare reform, talk about the importance of black women. The men have lost themselves in the bigger picture.

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