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White is just a paler shade of black

By Don Allan - posted Tuesday, 19 January 2010

I am confused when the words aboriginal and indigenous are used in the same sentence to describe the same people. Although the words are interchangeable, indigenous also has an extra meaning. The OED defines Aboriginal as people of the race that has existed in a land from the earliest times while Indigenous also means people belonging naturally to a place, which, in the latter context, makes most Australians indigenous.

And if one accepts the science of man originating in Africa and that his genetic structure has changed little over the millenniums, it seems logical to assume that if the skin colour of an aboriginal African today is black, then black was the colour of Africa’s original inhabitants and is still the basis genetic structure of all people today.

That said, it would also seem reasonable to assume that, following his first global movement and settlement in different parts of the world and while retaining his genetic inheritance, he developed new languages, cultures, physiognomies and skin colours to cope with the demands of his new environments. This accounts for the differences between the world’s various peoples.


At the same time, the effect of his continued travelling and intermarriage with other travellers has made the billions of people who currently inhabit or, as some would have it, infest the earth, indigenous. I am certain also that, in time, this mixing will continue to leave us, as Ophelia said in Hamlet: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

I say this because as man created new technology he also created the global village. In doing so he has sparked a second great global movement that is changing the world at far greater speed than the first great global movement. I suspect, too, that, in future, and using even more advanced technology, man will spark a third great global movement and that this global movement will see man living in space. When this happens I am in no doubt that man will develop an even greater range of cultures, physiognomies and skin colour.

Some people say I am drawing a very long bow: so be it. But, long bow or not, I hope that when I release my arrows my aim is good and that they find their mark among racists because every arrow has a message that none of them will like. The message: that regardless of what they think, their skin colour is simply a “paler shade of black”.

This message will, of course, provoke anger among a certain section of white people who will never accept that their genetic inheritance is black. Indeed, I feel sure they will argue that Africa’s original inhabitants were white and that the changes I have outlined happened in reverse. Some, of course, won’t even accept that argument and continue to argue that whites were created as super humans and non-whites as inferior humans. Never will they ever be persuaded that colour is only skin deep.

Not that racism is confined to people whose colour is the palest shade of black. The emotions that drive people to adopt a superior view of their status also drive people of different shades of black to hold the same superior view. Unfortunately, while colour is but skin deep, emotion is not.

Returning to my starting point even if there are only a few groups of Aboriginals left in the world, Australia should be proud of those who live here. We should be hailing them as a unique race not diminishing them by referring to them as indigenous. If something isn’t done soon (although already too late for some) the remainder also will lose their uniqueness and culture.


That said, I’d like to ask Australia’s Aborigines three questions. Why don’t you insist on being given your proper title? Why don’t you make the uniqueness of being Aboriginal a cachet of prestige that will be the envy of many people around the world? (An indigenous Scot myself, I am one of the envious people because I wish I could ascribe the description Aboriginal to my Scottish heritage).

Perhaps they should copy (as reported by Brandy Yanchyk, the BBC World Service, Vancouver) Tewanee Joseph, leader of Canada’s aboriginal umbrella group known as the Four Host First Nations, who said that what Canada’s aboriginals should do [and keep on doing], is rebrand themselves positively so that:

What people will learn is that we're business people, we're entrepreneurs, we're visual artists and we're performing artists. You know our culture is really living and thriving today and it's been through challenges.

We no longer want to be seen as just Dime Store Indians, just beads and feathers. I think for us those stereotypes are very important for us to break.

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About the Author

Don Allan, politically unaligned, is a teenager in the youth of old age but young in spirit and mind. A disabled age pensioner, he writes a weekly column for The Chronicle, a free community newspaper in Canberra. Don blogs at:

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