Rethinking Indigenous Histories – some reflections

conference logo and scheduleThe plenary on Thursday morning at the Australian Historical Association conference was about ‘Rethinking Indigenous Histories’.  The history of Aboriginal people since European settlement has been the focus of a couple of decades of outstanding work by Australian historians.  Yet there is still much work to do.  This plenary was timely, especially as this week is NAIDOC week.

“We are one species with lots of variations”, stated Professor Marcia Langton.  We may regard this as self-evident but Langton argued that discredited racial theories still pervade current thinking in Australia.  “Only undesirable ‘others’ are defined as part of a race”, she noted. She said that defining Aboriginal people as a race, rather than ‘first peoples’ sets up conditions where Aboriginal people are regarded as exceptional, incapable of being participating members of the national society.

The fact that people are defined by race at all is giving credence to a theory that the theories about race are valid.  Reflecting on Langton’s comments I looked up the ‘United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination‘.  Reflect on this statement in the preamble:

Considering that any doctrine of racial differentiation or superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination either in theory or in practice..

Why indeed are we still thinking in terms of racial categories in our everyday lives? Historians need to research the discourse and operation of the ideas of racial theories because they had a significant impact on society in the past, but in our everyday lives today we need to watch that we are not perpetuating these miserable ideas. Continue reading