Friday, July 03, 2009

Black or white

When the news broke that Michael Jackson was dead, I was eating breakfast at a small town café in the middle of nowhere. Or, perhaps I should say that my head and heart were in the middle of nowhere. My body was halfway between the Aboriginal community I had been visiting in rural Queensland, and my home in Sydney. I was literally between two worlds, and feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of reconciliation.
On the one hand, the experience of being amongst a remote or rural community is so beautiful and “real”. I was sleeping under the stars, sharing a breakfast billy tea by the campfire, and getting to know incredibly courageous people who have survived so much. On the other hand I witnessed so much pain. Everyday life is fraught with street violence, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, dire health problems, incarceration and suicide.
As I return to the “reality” of my laptop, hot running water, superannuation, private health insurance, and a postgraduate education, I begin to feel torn between conflicting notions of what it means to be Australian, and to belong. I realise that my own sense of displacement must be nothing compared with the experiences of thousands of Aboriginal people who manage to live simultaneously in two such different cultures every day.
And as for Michael Jackson, I suspect he was even more confused than any of us. While his lyrics indicate that “it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white”, his own transformation from a black boy into a white man tells a different story. I grieve - not only for a life snatched away, but also for a talented young African-American boy who lost his identity, and for children everywhere who are robbed of their parents, land, culture and sense of place in the world.


Ian Hughes said...

Hello Aletia
What a joy to stumble across your blog. I worked for about 3 years in tiny remote communities in Arnhem Land. The culture shock on returning to our home north of Sydney was far greater than any discomfort accommodating to traditionally oriented Indigenous life. As post-modern Anglo-Australians we are radically separated from our deep historical roots and connection with land.

Maybe Michael Jackson is emblematic of how confusing it can be to express love and friendship in our distorted culture. I am grateful to the Aboriginal Elders who helped me to learn the spiritual lesson of how to be a Whitefalla in Australia. This, I think, is the deep challenge of reconciliation for we non-indigenous Australians.
In friendship

Aletia said...

Dear Ian,
So lovely to hear from you and that you are enjoying my blog. I definately find the culture shock return to "home" harder than any new cultures I visit.
Love, Aletia