ABC series explores the public perceptions of Indigenous Australia

In mid 2016, the ABC network began broadcasting a series of web-based episodes via iView, titled “You Can’t Ask That”.

The interviewees respond candidly to questions anonymously submitted online from the Australian public, with each episode themed around members of various social, cultural or racial minority groups.

In light of NAIDOC Week, this article examines an episode of You Can’t Ask That focusing on Indigenous Australians, in which the producers do not shy away from the awkward, naive and problematic questions raised by the general public..

The result is a snapshot of the reality of public perception in this country, as well as an honest reflection of how stereotypes, ill-informed prejudice and historical issues affect Indigenous Australians of all ages.

The responses are equal parts powerful, inspiring, insightful and amusing, told straight through the lens with minimal interviewer interaction.

You Can’t Ask That manages to bring vitally important issues into the spotlight, and positively contributes to the conversation around racism, discrimination and social injustice in our country.

The following is a summary of some of the most eye-opening questions put forward during the episode focusing on Indigenous Australians and the responses that followed. The interviewees all identify as Indigenous Australians and range in age from teenagers to senior citizens.

“Aborigine? Aboriginal? Indigenous? What do we call you?”

The opening question on this episode provides an insight into one of the simplest aspects of Indigenous identity in this country. Particularly among the elder respondents, the term ‘Aborigine’ is considered offensive or outdated.

Jenny Munro told the ABC program, ‘Aborigine was a very racist term that was used for over 100 years to describe our people’

“‘Australian’ would be nice, really”, local Arnhem land teenager Danzal Baker suggested.

The consistent theme among all the respondents to this question was a strong sense of identification with the tribe located at their birthplace.

Taurean Roe simply responded, “If you want to get down to specifics, I’m from Queensland, and we don’t mind being called ‘Murris’”

Lizzy Jarret, a young NSW woman, told the program, “What I call myself is a proud Gumbainggir woman…’.

“Why are so many Aboriginal people alcoholics?”

This question goes straight to the heart of an often perpetuated stereotype and damaging social stigma here in Australia.

Many of the responses to this question delve into the history of the impact of alcohol on Indigenous culture since Colonial times, which was used as a bartering item and a form of payment by Europeans. Oppression of culture, language and spirit can have a profoundly negative effect on people and many of the interviewees felt that this may contribute to substance abuse issues.

Roe objects to the stereotype, telling ABC “It’s the minority, you know, what people see and it’s what’s prevalent in the media… They believe we all like to drink in parks… That’s not true”.

How hard is it to be Aboriginal in this country?”

Here, the program tackles one of the most important issues in modern Australia. The experiences shared in response to this question highlight the ongoing need for education for all Australians.

Negative stereotypes relating to a wide range of issues are drawn out, including alcoholism, unemployment, violence and crime.

“I think it’s really hard for you guys to think that it’s hard for us, because you guys make it hard for us”, Baker told ABC.

“Should we be scared of Aboriginal people?”

This is undoubtedly one of the most confronting questions from the Australian public to arise during the episode.

Fear is one of the most divisive and damaging elements to any community.

Allowing irrational fears based on racial discrimination to permeate through Australian culture is, in itself, a frightening concept for the future of Australia.

Jenny Munro offered a frank appraisal of this issue to the program, “We do everything the same way… Other than the colour of our skins, so I think they should be more scared of the demons that inhabit themselves.”

“Do you ever wish you were white?”

The sheer amount of pride on display in the face of the nature of questions such as this provides viewers of You Can’t Ask That with a powerful sense of positivity for young Australians.

The episode rounds out with Barada, Barna and Kabalbara teenager Yarramun Conole explaining her feelings to the question:

“I love being Aboriginal, I love my skin, I love my heritage, I love my culture, I love my language and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

NAIDOC week runs from the 2-9 July 2017.