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Consensus Reality

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.

 

17 comments

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  1. kerri

    An excellent article Michael! Well worth reposting!
    Having just read the excellent article in The Saturday Paper regarding the yearly rhetorical, Prime Minesterial speech on “how sad we are” and “how we must improve” and “how statistics are depressing” but we wont do anything about it except mouthing platitudes and perpetuating myths about Aboriginal lack of control.
    It is clearly consensus reality that denies the Aboriginal people their right to self determination and perpetuates the paternalistic belief that “we know better”

  2. Susan

    Great Article thank you Michael.

  3. Lets Roll

    We are not happy it seems, unless we have someone to demonise..
    be it Commies, Blackfellas, or Muslims..
    let the ignorant redneckerry rule!

    “Nonetheless, it always pays to put the facts ‘out there’.” <– for a better world!

    Here is something we could all get behind, regardless of race, religion, or political bias.. the facts.,. the truth..
    the consensus is in, and it affects us all.

  4. Mick

    Yes, thanks for that.

    Imagine counting drunken heads on Australia Day and doing the math.

    As you say, it’s a similar situation in immigration, where – in WA at least, where I live – the majority of immigrants are from the UK, Ireland and South Africa, yet there is still this outrageous concern about the trickle of people coming as refugees, the few that actually make it this far south.

    In the end, while I agree, it is worth putting the info out there, challenging these conventions, fostering compassion and working towards my ultimate hope, cultural synthesis, it is evident after years of this fight, you just can’t fit a rational peg into an irrational hole.

  5. Kaye Lee

    Within weeks of the arrival of the First Fleet the first pubs opened and this would shape the way Australian society developed over the next few decades.

    Many Aboriginal labourers were paid in alcohol or tobacco (if their wages were not stolen). In the early 1800s a favourite spectator sport of white people in Sydney was to ply Aboriginal men with alcohol and encourage them to fight each other, often to the death.

    White settlers also gave alcohol to Aboriginal people to pay for sex. Alcohol-induced prostitution harmed child rearing and accelerated the birth rate of mixed descent children, usually rejected by their European fathers.

    Source: http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/health/aboriginal-alcohol-consumption#ixzz407H4zNX4

    As with arrogant European colonisation and division of the world for profit, we can only blame ourselves for any problems that then follow.

  6. Ginny Lowndes

    Most Aborigines don’t drink.

  7. Michael Taylor

    It happens every time I get into an argument about Aborigines.

    Despite having an Art’s degree in Aboriginal Affairs Administration, an Honour’s degree in Aboriginal Studies, six years with ATSIC, seven years in Aboriginal affairs, and three years visiting Aboriginal communities . . . I know nothing compared to the bloke who read about Aborigines in Bolt’s column or saw a drunk Aborigine in a city park.

    Yep, they’re the experts.

  8. mars08

    @Michael Taylor… surely you didn’t expect a couple of university degrees to give you any credibility with the bogans and bigots? In fact you are just tapping into another of their simmering pet hates… intellectuals! Fancy learning, and big words only irritates them more.

  9. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Well said, Michael. If only the rednecks admitted they know how stupid they are.

  10. mars08

    @Jennifer Meyer-Smith… I suspect that more than a few rednecks are quite aware of how stupid they are. But rather than make an effort to learn and change, they just get more aggressive…

  11. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Exactly. They get defensive and aggressive because of embarrassment instead of making an effort to learn and change.

  12. mars08

    About 20 years ago, our slimy Johnny said… “By the Year 2000 I would like to see an Australian nation that feels comfortable and relaxed about three things: I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about their history; I would like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the present and I’d also like to see them comfortable and relaxed about the future…”

    Reading between the lines, it looks like he’s saying the the past is malleable and ignorance is bliss. I remember my head almost exploding whenever he used to say that he “rejects” the black armband interpretation of our history. Jerk!

  13. Kyran

    In 1988, Ostrilia was celebrating its bicentenary. That same year, Trinity College in Dublin was celebrating it’s 1,000th year. The Celtic culture is far younger than our First People’s culture. The Celt’s had “The book of Kells”, apparently written around 900 ad. A written history, with it’s own history.
    Eire got it’s independence, after 500+ years of subjugation, in the early 1900’s. One of their first priorities, was the restitution of the culture. The dance, the song, the history. The culture. It became compulsory in primary school to learn it.
    We have deprived our First People of that opportunity. We have deprived them of a voice. For the record, the Irish were most often recorded as drunk’s, somewhere between poitin and whisky.
    Our First People have an asset we can, and must, recognise. Institutionally.
    “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
    My read on that is that those who don’t learn from bad history, will replicate the bad. Those, like yourself, who understand history, give us a future. Thank you for the opportunity to comment, Mr Taylor. Take care

  14. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Kyran,

    what you say to me means it boils down to how people closest to the socio-eco-political problem should be listened to and heard. That means that neighbours, friends, family and other interested parties, need to listen to the good sense that is delivered according to any available medium. If things aren’t working, any voices that express change and promote improvement, should be heard and acted upon.

  15. Terrence Russell

    You are to be commended for this factual article.! People like “Bolt”, should be made subject to anti-descrimination laws.

  16. Michael Taylor

    It’s hard to win when you’re up against influential idiots like Alan Jones:

    Controversial talkback radio host Alan Jones has told listeners that Australia needed to have another Stolen Generation to save Indigenous children from drug and alcohol addicted Aboriginal mothers and fathers.

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/allanclarke/alan-jones-says-australia-needs-more-stolen-generations?utm_term=.trGQDzQeB7#.dwyJ1WJDjq

    Of course, only Aboriginal parents can be addicted to drugs or alcohol.

  17. mars08

    Given the levels of substance abuse we see with Anglo-Australian kids… maybe they’d be better off raised in Muslim families…

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