guess there’s no parenting manual for that

Blots’ latest attack on Anita Heiss through the pages of Amazon no less, has prompted me to blog this piece I wrote and presented at a Mothering conference last year at University of Queensland.


Abstract

I’m a reader. When I became pregnant, I read everything there was to read about being pregnant and giving birth. When I gave birth I read everything there was to read about babies and toddlers. I still read about parenting, though most of my reading is now online and is about teens. However, unlike the plethora of information and manuals about trimesters, first foods, and toilet-training, there is little reading that helps Aboriginal mothers guide their children and young adults through the hazy maze of violence that comes from within Australia.

In the last twelve months three incidents have occurred that have given me a sense of fear for my children’s safety, not their physical safety, but safety in the sense of their understanding of who they are and where they fit in the world. Where’s the parenting manual that help mums teach their kids about racism? Where’s the parenting manual that help mums teach their kids that the world sees them as pathologised victims? In my presentation I explore the range of social media tools I have used that have helped me, first, cope and then to develop support strategies that have informed my role as a mother.

My name is Leesa Watego. I am a mother, educator, business owner, partner, and community person. I am also an emerging blogger. Would like to acknowledge the traditional owners – the Turrbal and Yaggera Peoples on whose land we are standing on. Thanks also to Sandra for organising our panel together and to the conference organisers for welcoming us and making this panel possible. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet and listen to others interested in mothers and mothering – a topic close to my heart.

The title of my paper is guess there’s not parenting manual for that and I would like to start with a quote by Vernon Ah Kee,

The Three Pigs

When approaching the legend of The Three Pigs there are some critical points to the story that should come to mind but usually never do. Probably because The Three Pigs is a folk tale and folk tales and nursery rhymes and such are generally taken with a grain of salt when looking for any kind of credence to the story or historical positioning. But points of contention should arise when approaching notions of truth and history in the reading. In war, most assuredly the spoils go to the victors. But certainly too goes the right to tell the tales of woe and heroics, establishing and engraining the tellings as truth in history.

It’s worth noting that the Pigs do journey from their homeland to a far-off land where the Wolf already inhabits: the Wolf then has a prior claim to the land that the Pigs occupy; the Wolf did not approach the Pigs until they had begun constructing permanent dwellings. Whether the Wolf uttered the words “little Pig, let me in …huff and puff… blow your house” and so on is questionable since it’s unlikely the Pigs had any sense of the Wolf’s language. In fact, the Wolf could have been trying to warn the Pigs of an on-coming storm that was threatening to ‘blow your house in’. It is possible to suppose that the wolf gave his life in an effort to save Third Pig after failing to save First Pig and Second Pig; and that Third Pig, misconstruing the events, proceeded to celebrate his own survival of the storm by boiling and eating the Wolf.

In suggesting that what we know of the story is not entirely accurate and is presented out of context particularly in its representation of the Wolf , [we ask] several questions [that] seeking the crux of the story. Does the story take place on Wolf land or an ‘undiscovered’ frontier region of Pig land? Are the 3 pigs pioneers or invaders? Could the wolf be native to this land? Was the Wolf really black and the pigs white? Was there a mighty wind?

This quote provides for me the setting or at least the framework of mothering, Indigenous mothering, in Australia today. Present in this analogy are aspects of the historical (and contemporary) experience of Indigenous families in Brisbane, Queensland and throughout Australia. While not governing my everyday life today, the remnants of our colonised history including dispossession, mis-representation, theft, and violence sometimes feel less like remnants of a bygone era but living and breathing components of a contemporary Aboriginal family life. For me, this questioning of the natural state of being of the three pigs and their history, capture a number of key points that I would like to explore in my presentation. Where the analogy explores an invasion of land and the telling of that story of the invasion, I would like to explore the way that Aboriginal parenting, mothering and family has been positioned, firstly, to tell not the story of the wolf, but of the three pigs; and secondly, to mis-represent Aboriginal identity and Aboriginal womanhood.

i. who tells the story?
To answer this question, who tells the story of Aboriginal families, well the answer is NOT Aboriginal people. The story being told the loudest with a significant impact is not Aboriginal people nor Aboriginal mothers. The story of Aboriginality is told to Australia by White people – White academics, White teachers, White critics, White curators. One simple exercise I often do with students is I ask them two questions. The first question is what do you know about Aboriginal land/identity/music/art/law etc. I ask them to think of the list that they would create just answering that question – “what do you know about…..” The second question I ask them, is ‘what is the source of that knowledge’? How do you know what you know about Aboriginal culture? For the most part, students will acknowledge that their knowledge comes from White people, other White People. Australia’s knowledge about and of Aboriginal culture, comes from non-Aboriginal Australia.

The case study I would like to use to highlight this discussion is the recent case against News Ltd journalist Andrew Bolt. In Pat Eatock & others V Andrew Bolt & the Herald & Weekly Times, nine Aboriginal people including Aunty Pat Eatcock, Larissa Berhendt, Anita Heiss, Geoff Clarke, Bindi Cole, Leeane Enoch, bought a racial discrimination suit against the Herald-Sun/New Ltd journalist Andrew Bolt, over a series of articles he wrote about them being fair-skinned Aboriginal people accessing privileges that should be reserved for dark-skinned real Aboriginal people. His arguments centred around the notion that if you have fair-skin you consciously CHOOSE to be Aboriginal for career gain. What Bolt and others of his intellectual trajectory, Miranda Devine, Pat Karvales, Keith Windshuttle, and Gary Johns, demonstrate in their writing is a version of Aboriginality that is opportunistic, is clearly demarcated along skin colour and educational lines (that is, if you are educated &/or live in the city then you’re not as Aboriginal as those who live in remote areas). To them modern Aboriginality is contaminated.

What is most interesting is my belief that this version of Aboriginality is perpetuated as a way to finally root it out, to get rid of it. Their version of Aboriginality has to run out or to end one day – each generation gets fairer, each generation gets more educated. Eventually, there will be no Aboriginality at all. The past month of writing about Aboriginality in the mainstream press has illustrated the ability of White People to invade, hijack and re-create the story of Aboriginality, just the way the Three Pigs where able to invade and re-create the story of the wolf.

On a political level, what power does this school of thought have? I am in no position, as a resident of Brisbane to comment on the pros and cons of the Northern Territory Intervention, but I don’t think it is a coincidence that Bolt et al are firmly supportive of this Commonwealth government programme that is seen by many people as an abuse of human and citizen rights.

On a personal level, the power of their words to infect the psyche of ordinary people should not be under-estimated. If you’re a reader, and I am, these ideas stab at one’s sense of self, and identity. By Bolt’s logic, my role as mother, if in raising four Aboriginal children in a city, to be educated, I am denying them, their children and grandchildren any future as Aboriginal people. I’ll come back to this point later.

At this point bring in a quote from Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson,

At the site of subjectivity, white people in the centre experience being white as a dominant status, but they do not usually perceive it as a consciously acknowledged status. Instead, they accept and experience it as taken for granted features in their social world that have surrounded them since birth. White cultural values, which transcend ethnicity and class, are applied to all areas of human experience, often unconsciously, but sometimes not. Images of white people are normalised through representations in magazines, books, billboards, newspapers, and television every day; to be normal is to be a white person. Media representations of Indigenous people position us as abnormal: we are deviant, inferior, exotic or primitive. These positionings are further complicated by feelings of desire, curiosity and repulsion by white people. In this sense, Indigenous people have become captives of certain kinds of racial difference.

She further goes on to talk about how in making whiteness visible, one is trespassing a forbidden zone.

Larissa Berendt, Anita Heiss, Bindi Cole, Danie Mellor in being successful, professional, fair-skinned Aboriginal people are perhaps are trespassing a forbidden zone? I said before that Aboriginal women and mothers are not telling the story of Aboriginality. Well of course this is not the case. There are thousands of Aboriginal authors, scholars, musicians, artists, and everyday people telling the story of Aboriginality, being and living the story of Aboriginality. The issues however, for Bolt and for the mainstream media, is that Aboriginal People’s story of Aboriginality does not fit into the vision of what White People’s, or White Australia says it should look like.

Now I know that I am probably preaching to converted here when I say that similarly the story of Motherhood, Mothering and Mothers is distorted, misrepresented and illusory. Despite the work of women over the past decades and centuries, our vision of motherhood is still sanitised, still soft-focus. Corporatisation has been dedicated in taking over as the new patriarchy. In today’s world, corporatisation brings branding. Branding brings homogenisation.

Let’s briefly explore the homepage of a popular Australian mothers blog – Kleenex Mums. Bought to you buy Kleenex, a corporation, this online community works of Mummy bloggers from around the continent, brings information, resources and opportunities to share and discuss issues relevant to Australian mothers. Now please DO NOT think that I am in anyway attempting to disparage the work of women in bringing an online community to mothers around Australia. But in a quick scan of the types of topics that you might find on the Kleenex Mums blog, I wonder where the diverse experiences of mothering is being captured.

Some of the topics include

  • Easter ideas for kids: ten tips for a fun and healthy Easter
  • How to stop tantrums: tips from real mums
  • What piece of advice would you give to an 18 year old?
  • Parenting techniques: what works for one child, might not work for the next
  • Are mums guilty of over-organising their kids?
  • Annoying questions that kids ask
  • Parenting tips: raising an only child
  • Preparing your toddler for a new baby
  • The challenges of raising boys
  • What is the ideal age gap between kids?
  • How to celebrate Australia Day with the family
  • Quick & easy Christmas recipes
  • Meeting stepchildren for the first time
  • Introducing your child to the family dog
  • Your guide to Christmas giving
  • Fantastic ideas for homemade Christmas cards
  • How family Christmas experiences change as we grow older
  • How to have a successful kids sleepover

It’s probably at this point that the professional researcher/scholar would introduce a raft of evidence and findings of a survey that discuss the impact of the movement of Mummy bloggers and a study of the types of topics that are featured, as well as perhaps the cultural background of bloggers across Australia. Well, I’ll leave that research to the pros. My presentation today, is basically about me and my experience as a mother.

 ii. my story is different?
Like many Mothers on the margins I feel that on one level my story is very ordinary, mundane even. My concerns are similar to the Kleenex Mums. Ordinary stuff – my ordinary day blog post titles might be

  • 5 ways to get my kids to feed the chooks each day?
  • Will my kids ever learn to clean their rooms without having to be told? A mother tells.
  • Kids & the 3 minutes showers: I reveal my secrets
  • 10 great tips to get your kids to do their homework.

Those are the kind of ordinary posts I could write about. But I think if I could write the kind of blog that I REALLY REALLY want to, the kind of blog that CAPTURES the stuff that I deal with, confer with my sisters about, some of the posts might look more like this:

  • 5 great tips to help your kids fight classmate’s assumptions about their skin colour
  • Yes Nan’s a Whitefulla: helping your kids work through the language of cultural difference
  • I think my boyfriend’s dad doesn’t like Aboriginal People: How to give your daughter good advice
  • 5 tips to help your in-laws curb their racist language
  • My best-friend called me an ‘Abo’ Mum: Helping your child through their first year of school

I have a few others too, that I added last night after talking a sista in Townsville:

  • How to help her love her skin colour: It’s not dirty, it’s beautiful
  • Why isn’t my skin colour the same as everyone elses? One mum answers the tricky questions.
  • I want to have white hair like the beautiful kids: How to tell a toddler she’ll never look like Princess Barbie.
  • ‘I wish my skin wasn’t the same colour as yours Mummy’: What to do when your kids hurt your feelings
  • 10 Positive bath games: How to stop your child from scrubbing their skin white.

These are just some of the topics that add to the story of mothering at the Margins of White Australian Motherhood.

I think, believe, and hope, that there is real possibility as Mothers, Sisters, Aunties, Grandmothers and Great Grandmothers’s gradually take to the blogosphere over the next decades, that there is a chance that Aboriginality – not the mainstream media’s version of it, but living, breathing, human Aboriginality will be expressed and captured for a future that is far beyond my life.

References
Ah Kee, V, (2009) The Three Pigs. in LaVallee, M., (2009) Blow Your House In. Catalogue for Exhibition Vernon Ah Kee Blow Your House In. MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan. September 12, 2009 – January 3, 2010.

Kleenex Mums website: www.kleenexmums.com.au

Moreton-Robinson (1999) Unmasking whiteness: A Goori Jondal’s look at some duggai business. in McKay, Belinda (ed) Unmasking Whiteness: Race Relations and Reconciliation.The Queensland Studies Centre: Griffith University. p.29

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