Men of Colour in a White World 3: Melissa’s Story
Fathers? Oh, where to begin. Not with my own father, who was raised with a refugee’s violence and loss, and passed some of it on. Let me speak instead of some indigenous men I know — men of colour in a white world. Black men, who, like me, are not just afraid that their sons won’t make it into the uni course of choice, but afraid also that our sons may die grubby, violent deaths in police cells or parks.
‘S’ is from a coastal Northern NT community, raised in Darwin, lives in Brisbane. He is light-skinned, has married a white woman and has a blonde, blue-eyed son. He listens to his son, oh how he listens! Every anecdote is theatrically reacted to. At three, this boy can tell a story! Gestures, wide eyes, the lot. On the riverbank, ‘S’ wrestles his boy in play as I and three very black grannies look on. Conversationally, I speak of the violence in the Byron community, and how I want to help change that. ‘It’s not terrible,’ I explain. ‘Not like say in Tennant Creek or somewhere.’ S pauses. As always, he speaks softly but seriously. He is a law man, been through ceremony. No need for loud noise or bluster. ‘Even a little bit — that’s too much,’ he says. Pinches finger and thumb together. ‘Even that much. It’s too much. Any amount.’ He is suggesting a very different universe.
‘B’ is from North Queensland. I hear him ask his five year old, ‘Do you like being an Aboriginal boy?’ and listening carefully to the answer. I have asked another Aboriginal man, a mutual friend, to be an uncle to my own boy, whose father is white. When puberty hits, my partner can do some of the work for our son, but not all of it. He needs black men too. Unasked, ‘B’ says to me in the same fashion as ‘S’, quiet, serious but not pious, ‘He can call me Uncle.’ Unasked, mind you. These black men have broad shoulders.
Another man, also from Queensland. Hurting. In a public mall in an Australian capital city, he is told by police to move on. ‘I can’t, I’m meeting my ex here with my kids,’ he protests. ‘We don’t care,’ the coppers reply. ‘You can’t be around here any longer than two minutes.’ He is forced to leave, to stand up his kids.
There is a mythic Aboriginal man in the white Australian psyche — drunken, violent, raging, dangerous. I know one or two such black men, but I know a lot more like ‘S’, and like ‘B’. Black men who know our kids are precious, and act like it. Whitefellas have a lot to learn from them, but will have to shed their ingrained racism to do so. That’s part of being an Australian father too.
Published in byronchild/Kindred, issue 11, September 04