For a long time, I found it hard to navigate where I fit in the world having a Scandinavian father and an Aboriginal mother.
Growing up, I was so lost. I didn’t seem to truly belong anywhere.
Looking back now, I realise that I was brought up with a combination of both Anglo-Saxon Australian culture and Aboriginal culture.
I found that many people didn’t understand me or my multi-cultural upbringing.
I always fit, sometimes. I never fit, all the time.-Louise O’Reilly
To me Aboriginal kindship structures and Sunday roasts were normal and naturally fit together.
The innocence of my mind as a child allowed me the beauty of loving and accepting all the wonderful customs and traditions of both cultures.
It was the adults, the systems and societal norms that influence the apparent “difference” or “otherness” that they saw in me.
Through my childhood, my teen and into my adulthood I have felt that I am too black to be white and too white to be black. I was trapped somewhere in the darkness between two cultures, two separate worlds.
As a young child the fusion of the two cultures worked harmoniously in me until the people like teachers, doctors and policemen would ask questions like “What are you?” as if I was some sort of freak, or alien. And make statements like “You have to choose, you can’t be both!”
Believe me, these questions are simultaneously irrelevant and way too complex for the mind of a 6-year-old! (So please stop asking children these questions)
Children are children, they don’t think about themselves in categories or silos like we’ve been taught to as adults.
To me, I was Louise… I was me. And being Louise, included all the parts and complexities of me.-Louise O’Reilly
When I was in year 1, my mum asked my teacher why we weren’t being taught history from an Aboriginal perspective. After all we had just learnt about Captain Cooke’s so called discovery of Australia (to clarify for those of you unaware, a person cannot discover land that was already fully occupied by other people). The conversation with my teacher that day ended with the information that she wasn’t allowed to teach the Australian history from an Aboriginal perspective because it wasn’t in their education curriculum.
Although the education systems have improved since I was in primary school, there’s still a massive way to go. I believe three things would greatly benefit the Aboriginal students and add a richness to the school community as a whole:
- Make Aboriginal inclusiveness a daily exercise,
- Address the systemic racism head on with courage and willingness to change
- Decolonise the school system, processes, resources. Consciously widen perspectives and teaching methods.
Growing up I heard derogatory comments about Aboriginal people on a daily basis from friends, family and strangers. These comments were usually followed up with something along the lines of “but not you, you’re one of the good ones”.
In high-school I was approached by a group of girls. They were visually Aboriginal. They said to me that “If I wasn’t with them, I was against them”. By this point I knew that these girls were saying exactly how the culture of Kalgoorlie-Boulder was. They just had more guts than the adults to say it out loud like it was.
They say, to find out what the culture of a place is like, you just need to have a chat to a taxi driver. You only have to be in a taxi for a few minutes before you discover the horrible things your community think and say about you. About Aboriginal people.
My appearance leads people to the pretty quick and simple-minded conclusion that I’m not Indigenous in any way. With that assumption is a feeling of sameness and a very disturbing expectation that I hold the same racist views as them… and furthermore, I would apparently be happy to exchange these views with a complete stranger. What’s saddening is how it rolls off the tongue as simply and as easily as talking about the weather.
The daily injection of racism took its toll on me. I began to feel ashamed of my blackness, my culture and myself. I also began to feel embarrassed, angry and guilty about my whiteness. I didn’t know who I was, I was confused and I unknowingly hated myself.
I saw the confusion on peoples faces when I had to explain how I had multiple Nan’s and Pop’s or that my Aunties and Uncles weren’t my parents siblings… infact we didn’t need to be related at all. Followed up by the disapproving dismissal and belittlement of that kinship system as silly or stupid.
I saw the difference in the demeanor of friend’s parents when they finally met my mother.
When I was older, I saw how massively different my mum was treated in shops and stores in comparison to me or my dad.
Perhaps the most obvious showcase of racism that I experienced in my late teens was during a date. I had been seeing a guy for around a month and he really liked me. I’m not being big-headed here. He really liked me. He wanted me to meet his dad. The conversation during the date had been a request from this guy to consider changing my religion to another particular religion. The reason behind it was that his dad would only approve our marriage if I was faithful to that particular religion.
See. I told you he liked me!
Anyhow, the night was going along smoothly, we were sitting hand-in-hand when my Mum happened to walk into the same place as us. We spotted each other and I invited Mum to sit with us. I did the introductions and we had a brief chat then my Mum excused herself. No sooner had my Mum left, this guy (who wanted me to change my religion a few minutes beforehand to ensure our matrimonial approval), threw my hand from his.
Proclaiming “You betrayed me!”.
Utterly confused, I asked how. His response was two simple words… “You’re Black!”. He stood up, left and that was the end of that relationship.
And that is how quickly he hated me.
These were some of the things that contributed to me questioning my identity and how I identify myself.
I have heard about fair Aboriginal children being raised purposely without culture by their parents to give them a better shot in society. I myself have been asked why I don’t identify as white, because I could “get away with it”.
I have been told by Aboriginal people with darker complexions than mine that I have it easier than them.
I have been told not to say I’m Aboriginal because my skin is so fair. That I don’t have a right to call myself Aboriginal. That I don’t know culture and customs because of the colour of my skin.
After a lot of years of hating myself, and a lot of years of tears and asking “who am I?” I can proudly say I am me. I am Louise. I am a beautiful blend of multiple ethnicity, skills, talents, flaws and more. I identify as Aboriginal because that is what my spirit is drawn to, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love, respect and honour all the other parts of me too.
I hope that this has brought some awareness to the damaging social and systemic norms we have. I hope it has encouraged you to look at and question the inclusiveness of the community you’re in. Maybe it’s got you thinking about your own thoughts and beliefs.
But most of all I want it give strength and courage to people like me who have found themselves trapped in the darkness between two worlds. I want it to give you hope and faith that better is on its way and it starts with you loving, respecting and accepting yourself exactly how you are. You are uniquely you and your place in this world is concreted by your existence.
Until next time, much love, joy and peace to you my friend.