The publication of John Lord’s article on Facebook today – because it mentioned the word ‘race’ – seemed to be the trigger for ‘Abo haters’ to vent their spleen. What struck me, aside from their demonstrated outrage, was that their ‘knowledge’ of Aborigines was gained from ‘experts’ in the field such as Andrew Bolt, or anybody else whose world view is based on their own version of subjectivity.
While debating them I recalled a statement I heard recently: ‘Don’t bother me with the facts when my mind is already made up’.
And so it was in today’s exchange.
Nonetheless, it always pays to put the facts ‘out there’.
A number of years ago I wrote this article – ‘Consensus Reality’ – following similar arguments with similar fools. I feel compelled to drag it out of the archives . . .
I heard the phrase consensus reality while listening to a discussion the other day. I liked it. It stuck with me. I also liked what it defined, when explained, that it is a shared, social construction of reality that we believe to be true. It doesn’t have to be true; we just need to nod our heads in agreement that we believe it to be true. A bit like herd mentality, really.
Can you think of any examples? I can. Many, in fact. The pages of history are filled with them. The earth is flat! The earth is the centre of the universe! God created the earth in seven days! Or some more contemporary ones: The dingo didn’t do it! All politicians lie! All dole-bludgers are lazy! All gay people die of AIDS! All Muslims are terrorists!
One I used to hear a lot in my former line of work – and still do – always put me on the front foot: All Aborigines are drunks!
This is the horrible perception shared by the majority of non-Indigenous people in this country. It’s the consensus reality.
Let’s face it, we’ve all seen Aboriginal people drinking or drunk in parks, yelling at each other or intimidating passersby. These may be the only Aborigines that many city dwellers see on a regular basis and hence they fall victim to consensus reality. Every Aborigine I have seen has been drunk, so it must be true; they’re all drunkards.
I’m quite happy to tell you that it isn’t true. More the truth is that Aboriginal people drink in open areas, whereas non-Aboriginal people tend to confine their drinking (and unsocial behaviour) to enclosed areas such as hotels, restaurants, clubs or their or someone else’s home. For every one drunk Aborigine I’ve seen in a public park I’ve seen 100 drunk white people in a public bar. Further, for every Aborigine I’ve seen drunk in a public park I’ve seen hundreds of sober Aborigines in country towns or remote lands. I for one don’t share the consensus reality that all Aborigines are drunkards, yet this is the stereotype often reinforced by the media and the wider community.
There is an element that are, but this is not the purpose of this article. Nor is the important reason why some drink (which is notably due to loss of culture and identity).
Now let’s look at some facts on Aboriginal alcohol consumption:
Contrary to public perception surveys have in fact found that proportionally fewer Aboriginal people drink alcohol than whites do.
29% of Aboriginal Australians did not drink alcohol in the previous 12 months, almost double the rate of non-Indigenous Australians.
Aboriginal people are 1.4 times more likely to abstain from alcohol than non-Aboriginal people.
Further statistics I have found, which are similar to those that were produced while I was working at ATSIC show that:
By comparison with non-Aboriginal people, a large proportion of Aboriginal people do not drink alcohol at all and, in some Aboriginal communities, alcohol consumption has been banned by the residents.
Up to 35% of Aboriginal men do not drink alcohol compared with 12% of non-Aboriginal men.
40% to 80% of Aboriginal women do not drink alcohol compared with 19% to 25% of non-Aboriginal women.
In the Northern Territory, it has been estimated that 75% of Aboriginal people do not drink alcohol at all.
So why do we perpetuate the myth, the consensus reality that all Aborigines are drunkards? I am certain that events such as the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention helped perpetuate the myth. But it is about as far from the truth that the earth is flat.
Our Indigenous brothers and sisters deserved better than of the image society has created of them. Let’s not stereotype all Aborigines because of the visible ones. The invisible ones are a proud people. Perhaps that’s the consensus reality we should be promoting.