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.