Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Of Poverty and the Northern Territory Intervention

I was taken by Don Arthur's post in Club Troppo yesterday. Do poor people cause poverty? in which he reviews an essay in the Boston Review by Stephen Steinberg in which he challenges the idea that poor Americans are trapped in a cycle of disadvantage that only they can end.

Needless-to-say, this 1970 quote from Lee Rainwater immediately made me think of the NT Intervention:
"The special ways of adapting by the poor suggest only that effective poverty strategies have to change their income situation before requiring changes in their behavior and attitudes. The major reason for the failure of most anti-poverty programs so far is that they require the poor the change their behavior before they have gained the resources that would change their situation (quoted in The Social Inclusion Agenda)."
And then today I see this nasty little piece from Gary Johns who the Oz are touting as a Former Keating Minister (well a Junior Minister, and one not exactly loved by his former colleagues) and a Professor at the Australian Catholic University (ACU doesn't rate in either of the ARWU or QS Topuniversities rankings of the top 500 or so of the world's universities.)

Clearly the ACU are quite happy to have their Brand associated with little gems like this:
"People now being recruited to university as indigenous are frankly embarrassing," he writes. "Many of these students would not have suffered any prejudice whatsoever and are generations apart from traditional society. "They are heralded as part of the success of a 'program' purely to keep up the numbers. The harm this sort of activity does is to undermine the work of those who actually have to change people's behaviour, not simply recruit those who would have made it regardless. The net impact of such programs is near zero."
Perhaps Johns and the Australian Catholic University could explain themselves to former NSW Indigenous Student of the Year, Dasha Newington and the hundreds like her:


Chris Lloyd said...

Seems to me that Dasha Newington proves Gary's point. She is - let's face it - white and was not brought up as an aboriginal. SHe would not have suffered any racism. She only started getting interested in her (1/8th,1/16th?) aboriginal ancestry after studying a course at TAFE.

...and, she sounds a dim as ditch water.

Exactly how does her schoalrship help the DISADVANTAGED.

Island View said...

Thanks Chris

Perhaps the following press release (posted as separate comment) might explain a bit more - Dasha wouldn't have succeeded without being able to do exactly the sort of access courses Johns' is so disparaging of (Dip. in Aboriginal Studies).

As to her Aboriginality - that is clearly for her to determine and I for one wouldn't be wanting to judge one's heritage (or anything else) by their skin colour!

As to her not experiencing any racism, I could ask "how the hell would you know" but instead I'll point to her own comments below about not being encouraged at school to pursue higher education.

There is ample research available showing that this is a common experience of indigenous and poor kids - reflecting the prejudices of teachers and others who judge people by their skin or appearance.

Island View said...

From TAFE to Sydney Medical School 16 December 2009

Dasha Newington has gone from manager at fast food chain McDonald's, to being a Sydney Medical School student, and in the process won the 2009 NSW Department of Education and Training's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year Award.

"Obviously it's a great feeling to win any award," Dasha said, "but what I'm more excited about is the positive effect my winning this award will have on my community.

"The most fundamental and important thing I have gained through education is the confidence to question the negative attitudes in society that I grew up in, and to not let them determine my own sense of self worth."

When she completed the HSC in 2001 Dasha hadn't been encouraged to pursue tertiary education and was disinterested. Instead, she left Canberra for Brisbane for a better life, working at McDonald's for several years and becoming a manager.

She hadn't thought she was smart enough to go to University but began studying social science through TAFE in its distance learning arm.

Dasha graduated from TAFE NSW in 2008 with a Diploma in Aboriginal Studies. It was here that she was able to learn more about her Indigenous ancestry, which had been a little-talked-about part of her upbringing.

"I wasn't brought up to celebrate Aboriginality," she says. "It was a bit of a taboo subject. It was a bit uncomfortable. I would have loved to have grown up to be encouraged to be who I was."

At the end of her Diploma Dasha was inspired to continue studying and to add subjects to convert her Diploma into an undergraduate Degree, and then to prepare to sit the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) to gain entry to the Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney.
She was successful and in 2009 began her first year.

"I was a bit nervous when I first started at University because I didn't know anybody else who had spent time at TAFE.

"I had never studied at University before and most of my peers had studied for three or four years at University. They had had a very different life to me. They were from a completely different world. But it's worked out really well."

Dasha hopes to use her experience to inspire other young students to engage with education and to improve their career options. She is the student representative of the Aboriginal Doctors Association and is also working in a program run by the Department of Education and Training for gifted and talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

In this program she mentors third grade primary school students.
"Indigenous people deserve the chance to achieve their educational and life goals, and to fulfil their potential individually, and as communities," Dasha says.

"I believe that, as an Aboriginal person, simply having a presence in medical school and in the medical workforce will alter perceptions around Aboriginal peoples' participation in society in a positive way.

"I hope that by seeing me in the future as an Aboriginal doctor, and by seeing Aboriginal lawyers, Aboriginal people in leadership and management, Aboriginal opera singers that Aboriginal kids can grow up believing that whatever it is they want to be when they grow up, that it is indeed very possible."

The University of Sydney graduated two Indigenous medical students in 2009.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, in the mid-class society Aboriginals don't suffer racism, WTF! If you believe that, then you obviously don't know many Aboriginal people! My wife, almost weekly has people rave to her about lazy c**ns, only to look her in the eye and say, "oh but you're one of the good ones" or the classic "sometimes I even forget that you're black" Wow, what a compliment.
Some, in our family have degrees and it gives some of the younger ones a real boost to see what is possible.

Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law is Aboriginal. She wasn't bought up traditionally. Her grandmother was kept on a mission and even though her parents and family would come to see her, she was not allowed any contact and was prohibited from speaking her language. She was also taught that her culture was evil, as it was not christian. On the one hand, in the street, she has people refer to her with derogatory names, she has others tell her she's not a real aboriginal. Can't have a win either way, it would seem.

Chris Lloyd said...

The problem with looking white and accepting affirmative action is two fold. First, if you look white you will not have been a victim of racism. How do I know? Because no-one knows you are aboriginal. Second, you will not be a role model for aborigines. They will look at you and see a successful white person.

If, in addition, the person does not come from a disadvantaged background then what is their claim to special treatment? Genetic link to a full blood 200 years ago?

The anonymous comments were completely off topic. Nobody addressed my question: how does giving her an award help the disadvantaged?

Island View said...

Chris - for a whitefella you seem to know an awful lot about what it's like to be a blackfella?

Just as any Jew will tell you, you don't have to look different to be a victim of racism. If you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and the mob accept you as such, then that's what you are. I'm sure the Indigenous students she mentors most certainly see her as a Sista.

In terms of her “disadvantage” – if she identified as Aboriginal on her school enrolment form (as is highly likely given that Aboriginality is data that has been collected by Government services for at least the last 20 years), the system would have labelled and treated her as such, including by having lower expectations and encouraging lower aspirations. To quote the press release above “When she completed the HSC in 2001 Dasha hadn't been encouraged to pursue tertiary education and was disinterested.” Yet she had/has the smarts to become a doctor?

Dasha’s own words tell me that she did identify as Aboriginal at school and suffered systemic race-based neglect as a result: "The most fundamental and important thing I have gained through (higher) education is the confidence to question the negative attitudes in society that I grew up in, and to not let them determine my own sense of self worth."

And that's the point of the award - she is actively working as a role model with indigenous students and the Award (and the telling of her story) enhances that role.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I should have pointed out that my wife doesn't "look" aboriginal to some people ie: some white people (only some, not most)
To any murri person that we have come across, she is reconised immediately as aboriginal. Her success is looked upon favorably by her immediate and extended family. This includes other university graduates (one attended Harvard) it also includes murri and NSW koori relatives that live in "third world" conditions.

Island View said...

Thanks Anon but I have a feeling that Chris is just not gonna get it!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to burst your bubble, Island View, but Dasha Newington did not grow up poor or aboriginal. I have known her since she was five. She has changed her name at least twice since leaving school, Canberra Church of England Girls Grammar School. While at school, she was an elite athlete at the AIS, training to go to the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. She is also a very talented soccer player and as a teeenager went with the Australian Junior Soccer team on a tour of South America. As for not going to University after school, that was her choice. Both her parents are University educated (her mother has a PhD from the University of New England, Armidale, NSW and her younger brother has an Engineering Degree from ANU and her younger sister is a Dentistry student at the University of Queensland. It is wonderful that she is now doing Medicine at the University of Sydney and plans to work in aboriginal health, but
to portray herself as from a disadvantaged, non-encouraging, itinerant background is just not true. Island View needs to learn to ask a few, relevant questions, not just take at face value what people imply about themselves.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Without knowing what her name used to be I can't verify, but it's quite plausible as Canberra has fewer disadvantaged people than elsewhere. Anonymous do you have any proof or is this just bitterness? I know several people who went to that school and might ask them.