Apparently, Australians will soon have a new series on their TV screens, a remake of the long-running popular genealogy and ancestry show, Who Do You Think You Are?.
As we’ve seen with Bruce Pascoe, incentives matter. If there’s a benefit to be had by claiming a particular ancestry, regardless of whether or not it’s true, a minority of people will claim it.
The new Australian version has a subtle twist, however. It’s been “Pascoed”, instead of looking for one’s real relatives, the show will invent a family tree based on whatever the relevant incentives reward.
In Bruce’s delightfully entertaining episode, he learns he has 3 Aboriginal parents and 7 Aboriginal grandparents. The researcher even helpfully “discovered” Maori and Aztec great grandparents, thus expanding Bruce’s lucrative future career options.
Completely unrelated (literally and figuratively), last year Australians across the country celebrated the arrival of their first Indigenous neurologist. Despite the pandemic, street parties were held, speeches were given.
Let us hear her story:
Dr Dos Santos grew up in Nambucca Heads on the NSW mid-north coast, also known as Gumbaynggirr country, and her Indigenous heritage stretches back to her great-grandfather.
It must have been tough, growing up in the racist environment that is Australia. We can only imagine the systemic disadvantages she encountered and overcame in her school and subsequent journey to qualifying as a neurologist.
Dr Dos Santos said she lost touch with Indigenous culture after a series of family splits, and because she attended a Christian high school and did not encounter any other students of Aboriginal descent.
“When I was at university I realised that I’m an Aboriginal person and I should be really trying to reconnect with that,” she says.
I know what you’re thinking, and it makes you a bigot. Of COURSE one doesn’t need to know what race you are to suffer systemic and ongoing racism because something something lived experience, my truth, etc.
For example, whilst being unable to give a single example of being personally discriminated against (otherwise one would assume she’d say so in an interview specifically about the subject), she did witness lots of subtle digs about other people. Which I think we can agree, is analogous to Apartheid and lynchings:
It’s the casual racism and subtle digs that Dr Dos Santos picks up on, often coming from people who don’t know about her Indigenous connections.
“Sure, my skin colour is not the stereotypical Aboriginal skin colour,” she says matter-of-factly.
“So I would hear racial slurs that would be said to me, but not about me. They wouldn’t have said it if they knew that I was Aboriginal.”
Dr. Angela Dos Santos, a proud Gumbaynggirr woman.
Incentives really do matter, don’t they?
If government largesse, media profiles and employment quotas are distributed on the basis of a concept so poorly-defined as “race”, there will be an increase in the identification of people as that race, regardless of where they sit on the Pascoe Scale.
The problem legislators and the well-meaning have failed to anticipate or grapple with is, at what fraction of ancestry does the negative impacts of systemic racism cease to be measurable?
Bigots might say it’s like a racist version of the sub-prime crisis of 2008, labelling people as 100% Aboriginal despite having only one Aboriginal ancestor 3 generations ago. If your DNA is no greater than 1/8th (perhaps even less if the great grandparent was mixed race), are you Aboriginal like the people living in squalor in Alice Springs or are you, in fact, a CDO bundle of sub-prime claiming to be Triple A?
Since the Bolt decision of 2011, it’s been more or less illegal to joke in the Australian press about all the white people claiming the privileges of diversity.
So, that’s not what I’m doing here. I’m just asking questions.