Why ‘Giving’ Aboriginal People A Voice Is Wrong

A newfound awareness of the Aboriginal community being voiceless has triggered something deep within many non-Aboriginal people. The realisation that the systems and foundations our society are built on, aren’t really fair to all members of the community. That the system was built in a way to be fair, benefit, and provide opportunities to the members who fit squarely into the dominant culture. That dominant culture is a white middle-aged, heterosexual, male without disabilities and has money to spare. This is the small group of people who are perceived as the elite members of our community and they are the most privileged group of people here. If you’re Australian and don’t fit into those rigid and specific identification categories, you’ll fit somewhere else along the privilege spectrum. On the far end of that spectrum you’ll find severely underprivileged, disadvantaged, oppressed, and marginalised groups of people. Aboriginal people are one of those groups of people.

So, when more privileged people awaken to this unfairness, oppression, and voicelessness of the Aboriginal community, they want to do something to change it. They want to help. They want to give Aboriginal people a voice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful thing to care about another person, the problem is how the tone, the perspective and the narrative is delivered about “helping” Aboriginal people and “giving” to Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal people don’t need help, we’re perfectly capable of anything anyone else can. The thing that stops the progress, advancement, and the overall thriving of Aboriginal people is the systems and the institutions that colonial Australia have built and clung to despite witnessing the disadvantage, dispossession, trauma, and marginalisation this system produces.  Not only to the Aboriginal community but to many other marginalised communities too. Communities of people like the Bla(c)k, Indigenous, and People of Colour community, the LGBTQIA community, the disability community, the youth, the elderly, the low-income community, womxn… I could go on but these are just some of the groups of people that are marginalised by the current systems.

If we want to make things equal and fair in our society, we need to be looking at all the systems and institutions with a critical eye, an open mind, and a caring heart. We need to be asking who benefits? Who is supported by the systems? And how we can make it more inclusive and beneficial to all members of the community?

One of the first things that can be done is having Aboriginal and other marginalised voices at that table, having that discussion. Asking them who benefits from the systems. Asking them how we can be more inclusive.

“There is no one closer to the solution of a problem than the people who experience the issue firsthand!”

-Louise O’Reilly

It’s at this point, well-meaning and caring people say, “Let’s give Aboriginal people a voice” or “I’m giving Aboriginal people a voice by doing X, Y, and Z”.

Herein lies the problem. From the perspective of more privileged people, it’s like they are graciously and kindly giving something to Aboriginal people. And I’m sure that is their intention. From the perspective of the dominant culture, they are being selfless and ‘good’. I’m sure the narrative or story that is told will almost guarantee to share it in this light. But it’s not seen the same way to the Aboriginal community.

The truth is, if you you’re a true believer in equality, then we all have the equal amount of space to take up. Aboriginal people already have a voice. We always have. There’s just no space left in society to share it. People with privilege have taken up all the space. They have occupied their rightful space as a person in our human collective, but they have taken up space of other people too. The space of the Aboriginal and BIPOC community. The space of the LGBTQIA community. The space of the refugee, immigrant, and migrant community… Taking up the space of these people is what’s causing them to be marginalised.

People with privilege are not ‘giving’ anything to Aboriginal people or any other marginalised group when those groups use their voice. What’s happening is those people with privilege are simply removing themselves from another person’s space. The space that they have been occupying and taking without consent. That privileged person is now only occupying the space that belongs to them. And that space is more than adequate for a wonderful life.

The reality is, you can’t give someone a voice because it’s not yours to give. You can’t give someone space that is not yours to give. This type of language reinforces the system of oppression and gives the sense that one group of people has the power to give or take the voice of another person. It affirms the concept that one group of people are more powerful while the other group are powerless or lesser than.

-Louise O’Reilly

Knowing and being mindful of what you are really saying when using language can either concrete the foundations of the oppressive system or can mould it into something better. Something more inclusive. Something that truly reflects equality and fairness.

If you’re interested to learn more about how language can be harnessed in a way to create equality and inclusion, I invite you to enroll in my Culturally Inclusive Language online course here.

Thank you so much for reading. Please feel free to leave me a reply or feedback in the comment section below.

Oh and if you enjoyed reading this and are interested in these topics, you are welcome to follow my blogs by clicking the “Follow” button which should be located on your screen somewhere.

With gratitude

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