Title: Am I Black Enough For You?
Author: Anita Heiss
Date Read: 01/08/2016 – 09/08/2016
Normally memoirs don’t really get more than three stars from me. It’s not that they’re terrible, just that they’re not a genre I have much interest in, so even if I find the writer interesting, that’s not necessarily the case for the writing itself. Fortunately, I found Anita Heiss’ memoir to be thought-provoking and easy to read, and it helped me to understand how our Aboriginal Australians form their identity.
In 2009, Anita Heiss found herself as one of seventeen successful Aboriginal people targeted by “journalist” (I use that term loosely) Andrew Bolt, who accused them in his nationally-distributed newspaper column, as well as online, of “choosing” to identify as Aboriginal to further their careers. Four of these Aboriginal people took Bolt, and the Herald and Weekly Times to court, arguing that he had breached the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). They won the case.
In this book, Anita talks both about her experiences growing up as an “Urban aboriginal” (as opposed to that image people have of Australian Aboriginals living in the desert, dancing around a fire in loin cloths and clapping sticks and playing didgeridoos) with an Aboriginal mother and a white father. She also discusses her work in Aboriginal communities around the country, and her writing, where she aims to place Aboriginal characters in similar contexts to those of stock-standard white characters (i.e. characters who work, live in the city, like shopping, etc.) This is interspersed with reflections on her own racial identity and how it is just something that always was, not something that she chose.
This book did challenge me, and I’m glad it did. There were some things that Anita described getting asked, and as soon as I read it, I was equal parts thinking, “Yeah, that’s a dumb thing to say to a person of colour” and “*cringe* I’ve totally wondered that”.
In the days between finishing reading this book and writing this review, it has continued to be on my mind. I thought of it when I saw the Aboriginal flag flying in at least two different places just on my commute to work, and remembered that there are still places across the country that don’t see this acknowledgment of the existence of Aboriginal people as necessary. I thought about it again when I was wandering the Treasures Gallery at the National Library of Australia and saw the contrast of post-colonial artworks of Aboriginal people next to the papers of Eddie Mabo, who spearheaded the Land Rights movement in the 1970s and 80s.
This is a book that makes racial issues accessible. I recommend it, not just to other Australians, but to anyone wondering about race relations, who would like to learn directly from a person of colour.
(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).