Wednesday, August 17, 2016

If the hat fits...

Stereotypes are an interesting thing: a necessary evil perhaps. I'm really keen, wherever I go and with whomever I talk to, to be a champion for open-mindedness. I often challenge people who put others in boxes and attach simple labels to them. I don't like it because I think it's unfair to judge people when we have such limited knowledge and experience. They guy who told me 'hated' all Chinese people because he'd had a bad Chinese cab driver is an example of the narrow minded prejudiced which I detest.

Many non-indigenous Australians believe that Aboriginal people are lazy drunks. They'll make exceptions for their sporting heroes, but generally hold a very dim view of indigenous people.

Not having much experience with them, I have tried to keep an open mind and be positive about this most disadvantaged group of Australians. I'm aware, of course, of their significant problems with alcohol, their over-representation in our jails and their low life expectancies, but indigenous people with public profiles don't have these problems and present themselves as positive ambassadors for their people. I have great sympathy for the Stolen Generations and I have gained a greater understanding and deeper respect for Aboriginal culture.

Before moving to Darwin, I was aware that there would be more Aboriginal people than I was used to in Wollongong. What has surprised me and disappointed me is how many drunk and disorderly indigenous people I have seen. In the streets, in parks and on the buses, a majority of them have fit the negative stereotype. At any time of the day, they'll be hanging around in groups, drunk or drinking, talking loudly and arguing among themselves in their native language. Many of them don't wash and they smell awful.

These experiences have disturbed me, and I have felt not only uncomfortable at times, but also intimidated. I've been humbugged for money and cigarettes frequently, and I feel quite sad about it. I'm seeing and hearing a lot of stereotypical behaviour which, as I said, I find really disappointing. They are many tourists in Darwin at the moment, and I wonder what they make of the behaviour of the first Australians. If I'm struggling with it, I wonder what messages our visitors are receiving and sharing with their family and friends.

I came to Darwin hoping to find some evidence to destroy the negative stereotypes of indigenous Australians. I'm still looking.

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