Solidarity – YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG

There has been something simmering for a while now that I want to expose, demolish and redirect – right here and right now. Today, I am enraged and I do not apologise for those who are about to be swept up as I deal here with some very seriously messed up attempts at practicing critical analysis of race/racism and ‘solidarity’ in Australia. How people, many of whom I have worked alongside, could have gotten this so wrong, is amazing to me.

Earlier this year, Celeste Liddle (an amazing Arrente woman) had an article on why she prefers to be called Black published here.

Celeste was then set upon by three women who questioned her on her views and wanted to talk about her “light-skin privilege.” Celeste explained multiple times that her piece was from the perspective of an Indigenous Australian and that she would never speak for or about non-Indigenous people of colour and skin colour in this way, as being discriminated on the basis of skin colour is not something she has experienced firsthand – rather she is talking about the political use and historical origins of the term Black for Indigenous Australians and her own oppression as a Black Australian.

Instead of understanding this point, the three set about arguing with Celeste and conflating the issue with broader questions of race – completely taking away the context of what happens here in Australia to Indigenous Australians.

In turn, Celeste decided to write a follow up piece explaining her point again so that people could more broadly understand the concepts of privilege over non-Indigenous people in Australia and Black identity as it relates to Indigenous Australians. Intentional or not, there is also a gentle rebuke in there for the likes of @angrytamilwoman and @jayani77 who sought to add fuel to the fire in a conversation that, frankly, should not involve them as non-Black people. The follow up article is here.

Unfortunately, the issue has now completely gotten out of hand. In a move that can only be described as a very serious comprehension issue, @guantai5 has written responses that continue to mistakenly call out Celeste for things that frankly, she didn’t do, hasn’t done and will not do due to her knowledge, experience and understanding of basic concepts around race, feminism and identity. And in a further move that can only be explained as collective comprehension problems, a whole bunch of Black women from migrant backgrounds have been re-tweeting, sharing and favouriting the responses – as well as writing passive aggressive tweets about not being able to call themselves Black – I’d love some evidence of where Celeste has actually said that, and more generally where any Aboriginal person has said that! My hunch tells me that this is just bandwagon-jumping and not any real understanding and comprehension of the issues here, as well as some serious inability to check privilege.

So let me take another stab at explaining this, since I’m sure Celeste and Blackfellas everywhere are tired of this keyboard warrior fight that has somehow become “Africans vs Aboriginals” (and, if you think about that point right there, that should tell you how ridiculous and shameful this whole situation is – you are fighting against Aboriginal people in their own country – seriously WTAF?!):

1. Black Australians are different from Black people of migrant background: When Australia was invaded by the British, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were considered Black – if we were considered people at all. We were historically (and continue to be) racially discriminated against and oppressed as Black People. Today, we continue to identify as Black, no matter what we look like. In this context, Indigenous Australians can be viewed as Black Australians and other Black people can be viewed as Black people of migrant background. Whilst there is some commonality, the two groups are very different and experience racism differently in Australia.

2. Privilege works differently here: In general yes, there is light skinned privilege and oppression of people with dark skin worldwide and in Australia – no one would be able to say otherwise when presented with those facts. However, in Australia, Indigenous Australians are perpetually on the bottom of the heap. If you are not an Indigenous Australian, in Australia you will always have some level of privilege over and above Indigenous Australians due to the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous Australians in our own country. This is regardless of your skin colour, other oppression you may face, etc. I have further explained this before, here.

3. If you want to work on race and racism in Australia, you need to reference Indigenous Australians: I have spoken on and written about this subject for some years now. Pretty much if you are working on racism and race in Australia you need to defer to Indigenous Australian experiences, history and context. Your anti-racism work in Australia will never succeed until the ongoing oppression and dispossession of Indigenous Australians is addressed as I have previously explained here. Therefore, your anti-racism work needs to be in solidarity with Indigenous Australians – it cannot succeed if it exists on its own, independent of addressing the racism against Indigenous Australians in this country.

That should explain things more simply…if you can check your privilege as a non-Indigenous Australian at the door and if you can do some independent research of your own and have an AUSTRALIAN understanding of race and racism in Australia, not just conveniently applying an American/Canadian/British/whatever analysis.  

To conclude, I just want to say that I have been working in anti-racism for some time now. As an Aboriginal woman, I am without a doubt responding to racism directed at me constantly in Australia – working in anti-racism is something I do by my very nature of being in this country. For the past few years, this work has led me to work in solidarity with refugee and asylum seeker communities and of course as a First Generation migrant myself, with migrant communities.

I am so incredibly hurt, heartsore and upset that whilst I have been working in solidarity with refugee, asylum seeker and migrant communities, members of these communities, individuals I have worked alongside personally, have not only NOT been working in reciprocal solidarity with me as an Aboriginal woman, but have now shown their cards: they do not understand how a critical analysis of race and racism needs to be applied in Australia, in deference to the history and experience of Indigenous Australians.

I thought really long and hard about whether to write this piece and what other responses I could take, but to be perfectly honest, I myself felt set up on, attacked and bullied (I can only begin to imagine how Celeste felt) by the shameful actions of this lynch mob. It has felt like a school-clique of bullies who are attacking me as a blackfella with passive aggressive statements (as Tweets and Facebook statuses), sharing notes about me (as blog posts) and I have been taken straight back to primary school where the white girls would pick on me in much the same way. I am so blindsided by the fact that it has come from Black and Brown sistas with whom I normally have solidarity and who I know personally. It really hurts, and it made me feel so incredibly unsafe that I did not feel in a position of power (way to buy in to the structural and pervasive racism that already exists here, set up by White Australia to oppress Aboriginal people) where I could even talk directly to you all. So I guess in saying all of this, I’m not sure if and when I will feel safe discussing this topic and be open to dialogue, but for now I invite you all to re-think your positions with these (hopefully) new facts.

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10 thoughts on “Solidarity – YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG

  1. I admire Celeste’s fierce thinking and the misguided and ill-informed attacks on her as a result of this thinking lays bare the dysfunctional state of the ‘race conversation’ in this country.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this. I hope a lot of people sit down and think before contributing to the distorted race discourse in this country.

  3. Hi I applaud your plain speaking. However as an individual artist I strongly believe I have been the subject of reverse racism by a group of Indigenous artists in Brisbane whereby those artists have referenced my work and imputed racism onto it. I am specifically referring to Vernon Ahkee’s Can’t Chant work which is set on the Gold Coast and uses surfboards all subjects I have used for some time in my work. I have even overheard Vernon telling one visiting international curators that aboriginal people are not allowed onto Gold Coast beaches which is not true. The indigenous person may ‘feel’ they are unwelcome but no one stops them. Also the Gold Coast is a tourist town all kinds of people are there. However as an out gay man I understand how an individual may feel excluded in certain public situations.

    My argument is this, I believe Richard Bell and Vernon ( who I am quite friendly with) were more motivated by professional jealousy than by some sense that I or my work was somehow racist. Destiny Deacon intimated this to me as Destiny said that she had told them to basically back off. I now seriously question both the quality of so called ‘urban aboriginal’ art (bad term I know) and the effectiveness of the so called ‘political’ stance of such artists. To me it is a formula for instant and short term artistic success and needs to be looked at is the most critical way as it has become the norm in Australia. And we all know the ‘norm’ is not good for us all in the end.

    Best Scott Redford

    1. Hi Scott, thanks for the comment.

      Racism = discrimination based on race + power

      By this definition I don’t believe you have suffered reverse racism as I don’t believe it exists.

      Could you clarify more what you mean regarding Aboriginal art? When it is crowded in by art gossip, it’s quite hard to work out what cogent point you are trying to make about Aboriginal art?

  4. Did I say something stupid to you when we caught up about ‘blah blah, I can’t hold my tongue so I don’t say anything online’. First of all, what a load of crap, I say stuff all the time and can I just say that THIS is why we should all come out in solidarity against these attacks. It reminds me of the quote Celeste has up on her Twitter header: ‘Sorry you think it’s intolerant of me to not tolerate your intolerance’. Yeah. That.

    Eugenia, you make my world better. You make my work easier, and you provide a voice that is measured and strong. Ta.

    1. Sandy – this means so much to me because women like you and Celeste are the very writers and thinkers I look up to. Thank you for your kind words and taking the time to comment!

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