Freedom of speech: it’s probably not what you think it is

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of yelling on social media about free speech. It seems that “free speech” has become the defense du jour against criticism for speech which is offensive, bigoted or prejudiced.

Adapting a line from a favourite film: “You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Freedom of speech is actually quite a tricky issue in Australia. I might eventually get around to doing a proper post on the subject, but for now, I’ll just outline the basics. Continue reading


Shameless eavesdropping and ‘true Aboriginality’

‘Seeds – Women’s Business’, by Janet Nakamarra, from the Warlpiri Language Group near Willowra, in Central Australia.

I overheard a conversation today about people claiming to be Aboriginal ‘when they’re really not’. The core of the discussion was about a woman who, as an adult, discovered she was of Aboriginal heritage, and – according to the speaker – thereafter shamelessly pursued her Aboriginality in order to get benefits such as fast-tracked access to university & subsidized employment. This led to a more general discussion about preferential treatment of Aboriginal people and where taxpayers should draw the line – which was, apparently, at ‘true Aboriginality’. The group had the grace to acknowledge that they didn’t know what ‘true Aboriginality’ was (although black skin was part of it), but they were certain it wasn’t embodied by the (light-haired, blue-eyed, undeserving) woman under discussion. Continue reading