Developing Aboriginal identity as a light-skinned person

Bindi Bennett

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review


Due to Australia's colonisation history, Aboriginal people now have a complex process of both claiming and building their cultural identity. To date, the core argument in the literature concerning culture and cultural identity is that it is socially constructed (Bolt, 2009; Matsu­moto, 1996) within families and communities. For Australian Aboriginal peoples, arguments about 'who is' and 'what counts' as Aboriginal are highly contentious. The construction of an Aboriginal identity has been influenced (and distorted) by colonisation and successive government policies such as forced assimilation, protectionism and Stolen Genera­tion (see Bennett, Chapter 1) which have resulted in inter-generational traumas. This has strongly impacted the ability of some Aboriginal people to develop and forge their cultural identity.
There are varied interpretations in society about what constitutes being Aboriginal, many of which relate to particular physical traits, including skin colour. Light-skinned Aboriginal people are frequently questioned about their legitimacy by both wider society and Aboriginal communities. This can result in anxiety, and even fear of identifying as Aboriginal, particularly if the individual feels they don't quite meet the perceived norms of what it is to be Aboriginal.
In 2013-14, as part of my doctoral research, I explored how light skinned Aboriginal people, with little or no family or community Aboriginal ties, formulate their cultural identity. This chapter
details the findings of 15 in-depth interviews conducted with Aboriginal participants as well as a media analysis exploring this issue. It also assesses the relevance and value for the development of cultural identity and their implications for social work knowledge, teaching and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOur voices: Aboriginal social work
EditorsBindi Bennett, Sue Green
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRed Globe Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781352004106
ISBN (Print)9781352004090, 1352004097
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


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  • Our voices: Aboriginal social work

    Bennett, B. (ed.) & Green, S. (ed.), 2019, 2nd ed. London: Red Globe Press. 265 p.

    Research output: Book/ReportScholarly editionResearchpeer-review

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