Repositioning the Racial Gaze: Aboriginal Perspectives on Race, Race Relations and Governance

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Daphne HABIBIS , School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
Penny TAYLOR , Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Darwin, Australia
Maggie WALTERS , School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
Catriona ELDER , Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney, Australia
In Australia, public debate about recognition of the nation’s First Australians through constitutional change has highlighted the need to improve public understanding between Aboriginal peoples and the Euro-Australian mainstream.  But the unevenness of race relations has meant Aboriginal perspectives on race relations are not well known. This is an obstacle for reconciliation which, by definition, must be a reciprocal process.  It is especially problematic in regions with substantial Aboriginal populations, where their visibility make race relations a matter of everyday experience and discussion.

There has been considerable research on how mainstream Australia views Aboriginal people but little is known about how Aboriginal people view non-Aboriginal people or mainstream institutions.  This paper is based on an Australian Research Council project undertaken in partnership with Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation.  It aims to reposition the racial gaze by investigating how Aboriginal peoples in Darwin recognize and understand who is Euro-Australian, who is Aboriginal, and Aboriginal views on Euro-Australian values, priorities and lifestyles.  We argue that a necessary ingredient for improving race relations in Australia is for dominant cultures to understand the relative nature of their own cultural attachments. Through interviews, social media and survey with Aboriginal people this research provides a basis for Euro-Australians to discover how they are viewed from the outside.  It repositions the normativity of Euro-Australian culture which is a prerequisite for a truly multicultural society.

Aboriginal disengagement from mainstream political and civil law processes and institutions contributes to their social exclusion but the reasons for this distance are not well understood.  Through ideas of agency, recognition and resistance we also explore how Aboriginal people view and understand the gap between Western-style governance and traditional Aboriginal approaches to decision-making and the impact this has on patterns of compliance and participation.