Articulate response to Bolt

17th May 2012 2:45 PM

Dr Anita Heiss has always defied and railed against stereotype.

While she may wear many different - and fabulous - hats as a writer (academic, comic book creator, poet, novelist, children's author and blogger, to name a few) she refuses to be labelled by anyone but herself.

Am I Black Enough For You? is in part a response to being one of the people attacked by right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt in his notorious mistake-riddled opinion piece under the headline 'It's so hip to be black' where he claimed Aboriginal people chose to identify for personal or professional gain.

Heiss was one of the nine successful litigants who took Bolt to court for breaching the Racial Discrimination Act.

But to say that's all this book is would be to sell it way too short. It's a memoir by an immensely accomplished woman who has already lived an interesting life and touches on many common issues affecting all Australians: racism in its overt and more subtle forms, family, history, education, relationships, language.

Heiss's book invites comparison with Bolt's column because it is everything his piece was not: well-written, well-researched, meticulously referenced, critical without resorting to insult, humorous without being snide, positive and honest.

She does not seek to speak for everyone's experience of Aboriginality; indeed she argues that you cannot because there are as many different definitions of Aboriginality as there are Aboriginal people.

Where she is frustrated about issues or attitudes she articulates it in a critical and forthright manner without being unpleasant or vitriolic.

Heiss is a powerful writer whose unique writing experience across many different genres allows her a style that is at once intelligent, accessible, unconventional and non-linear.

Memoir can be tricky but Heiss nails it; she's such an honest writer that she's prepared to look back at her younger self and admit where she could have done better.

The parts I particularly enjoyed were the sections about her family and the love stories of her parents and maternal grandparents.

Heiss is a self-confessed romantic and the tales of her grandmother Amy Talence, a member of the Stolen Generation, and her four-year courtship with Wiradjuri warrior James Williams are based on letters between the two and conversations with her mother.

Heiss writes that she draws strength from "the incredibly hard life my grandmother lived" and that she "needs to do more than just enjoy the rights that she and the rest of my family went without for so long - I also need to use my position and privilege to help others in the community make the most of the rights our people have fought for".

Am I Black Enough For You? is argued in such a reasonable and compelling manner that at least some members of the mainstream media might stop automatically resorting to stereotype when writing about Aboriginal people.

One day's newspaper is next week's mulch but Dr Heiss can be confident that well-written and reasoned books stay in the consciousness much longer.

Title: Am I Black Enough For You?

Author: Anita Heiss