Having watched the irrepressible Anita Heiss navigate the social media arena with pomp, opinion and savvy this past 18 months, I grew increasingly intrigued over her (at the time) upcoming memoir release, with its though-provoking title – Am I Black Enough for You? Absolutely admire a woman of her convictions, me, and also admire a woman who is gutsy enough to tell it like it is, especially when that woman is informed, educated and feeling it.
And boy, is Anita Heiss feeling it.
Born to an Austrian father, Joe, and Aboriginal mother (of Wiradjuri blood), Elsie, who grew up in Cowra under the Aborigines Protection Act (and whose mother was one of the Stolen Generation), Heiss was educated and raised a Catholic, spending much of her life in Sydney, most specifically on Dharawal land (Matraville). I love how she describes herself as an ‘urban, beachside Blackfella, a concrete Koori with Westfield Dreaming’. I love even more that she apologises to no one for this self-imposed identity.
This entire book is essentially about identity. It’s about a woman who has dedicated her life to both studying, sharing and imparting the sometimes convoluted notion of First People identity (to Second People, anyway) . . . their pain, their loss, their desire to hold dear an ancient culture that has already lost so much, and their right to assert who they are and where they’re going.
It’s about stripping stereotypes and refraining from pigeon-holeing and expectation. It’s about celebrating the diversity and richness of our blended cultures and demanding a far greater balance when it comes to recognising and honouring these cultures.
It’s also about the Aboriginal people’s incredible emotional connection to the land, to belonging, to sharing their culture and voicing it – demanding its recognition and importance in this country, and indeed around the world. This book is also about how vital it is to give that identity voice – and Heiss has done this unabashedly and with honesty and great heart.
Although much of this book contains interesting and very personal biographical content, Heiss also discusses the rise and rise of her activist nature, fuelled in part by the continued appalling conditions suffered by many Aboriginal people, the stereotypical misgivings by the general populace, and most recently her frustrations over the media’s insistence that some Aborigines are too ‘fair-skinned ‘to be true First People. Her much-publicised involvement in the Racial Discrimination court case against journalist Andrew Bolt stemmed from this false assumption. Bolt lost the case.
In Am I Black Enough for You?, Heiss has written an account of a life well-lived but also a life deeply endeared to two very different parts of the world, on polar opposite sides of the planet. Regarding her Aboriginal roots and the future of her people, she speaks with passion, conviction and . . . balls. Yes, to the general populace, Anita Heiss may appear ballsy and highly opinionated, but there’s no denying the fact that this is a woman whose chest contains an enormous heart. The greatest social and political changes ever made have been by the voices of the outwardly strong but open of heart.
There is no doubt Heiss will continue on her campaign to enlighten all Australians on the continued imbalance suffered by First People in Australia. She will continue to campaign to alter our appalling Aboriginal literacy rates and to educate other Australians on the notion of First People identity. But most of all, I hope Anita continues to stand strong and uphold her right to Be, no matter her particular shade of black.