Pride, Purpose and Perspectives

This time one week ago I got the shits when confronted with the knowledge that my friends’ black babies are dealing with the shit I, my brothers, my Mum and everyone else, have dealt with all our life, by mostly well-meaning but still rude people. I felt it deeply, knowing that these comments were going to make a new generation of black kids question their authenticity as Aboriginal people, and therefore make them feel inadequate in their identities. It was going to cause them distress, it was going to contribute to the divide within and between our communities.

With the young ones in mind, I hand wrote that post in about an hour, then typed it onto my phone and published it immediately. Today, one week later, it’s clocked over 4.4k 4.5k 4.6k likes and shares on Facebook alone. It might be no big deal in the grand scheme of the blogosphere, but for someone who’s last blog post got 40 likes (and yes I thought that was deadly) 4000 is quite an overwhelming number.

I am under no illusion as to why people are interested in listening to my viewpoint this week. The themes of race, categorisation and identity are topical at the moment, with the RDA coming under intense debate, in no small part by the opinions of George ‘Bigot’ Brandis and Andrew ‘Assimilation’ Bolt. My perspective adds to the discourse. It’s a marginalised and mostly ignored perspective, but a valuable perspective, according to the majority of Australians who want to shrug off our country’s racist reputation and use their privilege to do more good than continuing harm. Yes, my perspective does have value.

That said, there have been a few public comments and private messages from people who missed the point. White people, indignant that my perpective should make them look racist and in the wrong. People who felt their freedom of speech to express their institutionalised embedded racism to young, beautiful, innocent black kids to make them feel not good enough. People who demonstrated their privilege and power by whitesplaining to me why our feelings and reactions are wrong; why their intentions take precedence over my affectation. Again I say to those – you missed the point. There is no need to try and exonerate yourself. I know why you say it and I know your intentions are not malicious. I know you are but a drop in the ocean, that you are a product of your socialisation. I know this. But that doesn’t change the fact, the evidence, the actuality that those words hurt. So instead of telling me I’m wrong, why not just believe my [educated and experienced] viewpoint, cop it on the chin, and just vow to not say those words again? Reconciliation should not just be our responsibility.

I reiterate: I addressed my post to the people who tell Aboriginal people that they don’t look Aboriginal. I addressed it to the ones who think it’s okay to say it. I addressed it to them in the hope they could better understand why it’s not okay, and that even if they couldn’t fully empathise or understand the history or frameworks or language of oppression, or to understand why it’s not okay in a practical sense, that they could at least move forward with the theoretical understanding that its not okay. I addressed it to them so they could consider that what they are doing is more harm than good, more problem than solution, more hurt than healing.

I had considered not publishing the ignorant comments but am glad I did because I’ve been heartened by the dismantling and debate put forth by better-educated commenters. And that said, the support for my post has been overwhelmingly positive. Besides people complimenting my style of writing, I have had communications from people of all walks of life telling me that the message was received in the spirit I’d intended it. Such as:

My white friend who printed this out so that she could give it to nosy busybodies who say this about her black babies, making them feel hurt. The many black people, of all skin-tones, who’ve shared my writing and stood in solidarity with me. My other white friend who, after reading this, felt confident enough to sit her black daughter down to talk about this, and told me that the connection they made and the smile on her daughter’s face was worth all the previous heartache. My black Aunties who thanked me for articulating what they had been too shame or too shy to express all their lives. My white friend who supported me and shared this amongst his mostly non-Indigenous network. A black artist overseas who encounters this outside the context of generic Aussie racism, who thanked me because my writing made her feel less alone, overseas and away from mob. The whitefellas who get it and came in to bat when other people tried to whitesplain their entitlement to me. My black friends who thanked me for speaking for them, for sacrificing my private nature for them by putting my emotional history in the public sphere. My white friends, some of whom I’ve heard say this in the past, sharing it around so that healing could begin.

Here I sit, writing this in my break from marking essays that are discussing race and representation. Essays from mostly non-Indigenous students; the social workers, teachers and policy-makers of the future. People who will have the power to make or break Aboriginal people. Thankfully, they mostly get it, and if they don’t yet, well. Instead of getting angry at them I remind myself that it is only Week Four of a twelve week course, that they should not bear the brunt of my frustration that’s better directed at the history, and at the institutions. That despite their cognitive dissonance in the face of learning true Aboriginal (and therefore Australian) history, they are doing the hard work, the necessary work of decolonising their minds, and examining their assumptions and attitudes that will one day hopefully lead to right action.

Once these essays are marked I will then work on my thesis that is exploring the ways in which women from my community (including myself) have experienced transgenerational trauma as a result of past government policies, and how they interrupt these effects and move forward, spreading strength. Real evidence of Aboriginal people transcending our historical legacies, and doing what we’ve always done: resisting assimilation, healing trauma and caring for our kids. The unsung heroes who are having a go, who have been hurt in different ways by the seemingly innocuous but assimilationist comments of non-Indigenous people.

Here I sit writing this, on the bank of the Deerubban, not far from the place my grandmother was born. The very same place that she last saw her mother before welfare took her because to them, she didn’t look Aboriginal enough. Here I sit, reflecting on the week and the impacts of my writing, the power we all hold to heal instead of hurt. And, here I sit, safe in the knowledge that my grandmother would be proud of me.

– Defender Of The Faith, 31st of March 2014

Medicinal Paranoia

Verdant Medicine, Dharug country

I’ve always had a healthy dose of paranoia – probably a latent genetic inheritance – and in my teens, the sleeping giant awoke with a roar at the realisation of society’s invasive attempts at spiritual colonisation. I actively resisted enslavement, using the wisdom of printed tomes and tools of the technological revolution to armour my mind. However I am still, to this day, overshadowed by a fear of Orwellian hells. And so, because I was already pre-disposed to paranoia from my larval years, I am still highly susceptible to conspiratorial hypotheses as an adult. Although I have stronger barriers today, this wound has never completely closed and transdermal reinfection is recurring; propaganda permeates even the toughest membranes.

Familial baggage has also been a blessed preservative in my case: the effects of transgenerational trauma ensure that I have never trusted the medical and welfare establishments to have my best interests at heart because historically, these institutions have rarely done the right thing by my kin. I have always refused to take the pills that various medical charlatans have ignorantly prescribed me to treat the symptoms of socio-spiritual diseases, because I’ve always intuited that these dubiously-tested psychotropic drugs are not the cure for what ails me. Besides, I have been self-medicating from an early age. Biochemically and entheogenically both – experimenting with substances, breath, endorphins, trance, creative pursuits – in various combinations, dosages and means of administration. I’m no physician but I know what medicine to use to heal myself. And I know that if I ingest their pharmaceutical toxins, I will become a dumbed-down, apathetic and unfeeling shell of myself. My fire will be extinguished.

I am suffiently paranoid to fear that their drugs would annihilate my curiosity, eradicate my creativity, eliminate my sex-drive, obliterate my passion and terminate my righteous rage. These things are good and necessary in a functioning person. Any paranoid, depressive, anxious or manic symptoms that surface show me that I am functioning well; these are healthy reactions to a sick culture. Only the living dead show no symptoms because they have no fire left. Without fire, we are easily controlled, herded and sacrificed. I will never be one of those. I will always burn for something, no matter how inconvenient it may be for society.

A few weeks ago, I awoke with a mild case of apocalyptic paranoia; disturbing dreams did stalk my sleep and their hangover carried over into my waking existence. Later on in the morning, a particular social networking site further fuelled the fire. Facebook: that intangible yet all-too-real noosphere that is the habitat of the voyeur and/or narcissist. It has truly opened up the ways in which we can understand each other. Before, we only had contact with certain facets of certain people’s faces. Now, we can gain an experiential understanding of more than we ‘should’; we gain knowledge of people by seeing the things they like and judging the content of their comments.

With Facebook*, I can step outside of myself and into the paradigms of other people; or rather, I can let other paradigms infuse my own. I’ve had to become selective with what gets on my feed – no more song casino poker quiz shit, no more rednecks, no more bimbos, no more ignorant nationalists, no more boring drivel. Instead, I let myself be affected by the stuff that really matters: astronomy, political critiques, heavy metal lore, plebian art, living geography, obscure Youtube film clips of the first wave of hardcore punk bands, backyard tattoos, psychedelic consciousness, Indigenous rights and cultural pride, Carl Sagan and other less important scientists, drug law reform, Earth-centred theologies and DIY lifestyle tips. I’m a discerning woman, so I sort through the chaff to find the seeds that will germinate in my subconscious and inspire my evolving and increasingly complex worldview. You can’t change the world, but you can change how the world appears; by choosing what is emphasised and what recedes you can thus manipulate how the world materialises.

For an empathic person like myself, I must be careful what I take in because I truly take things on, mind body and soul. I’m highly susceptible to other people’s altered states. I get free contact highs, I get sick with other people’s anxiety, and I am soothed in the presence of relaxed folk. Back when I had a television, I wasn’t able to watch the news without crying uncontrollably and I couldn’t even watch puppy dog ads without misting up. I’m not as tough as I would lead you to believe.

On this particular morning, I was inundated by unsubstantiated pseudo-evidence that a tidal wave was going to drown the city in which I reside. Intellectually, I knew it was bullshit, but I found myself enjoying the immediacy of the doomsday prophecies. I promptly threw the essentials in my car and drove two hours inland; not so much ‘just in case’, but more of ‘a need for verdant medicine’. And so, to the mountains! Apocalypse or no, I wanted to be myself again, and my paranoia was a timely reminder that I was long overdue.

On the first day I explored the mountains, stopping the internal chatter and being where I was instead of in the past or future, in books or theory, in social paradigms or spiritual crises. The air was so clean and cold and it was snowing. I sat underneath a sheer mossy cliff face and ate some fruit. Soon, a lyrebird came over near me and started foraging in the littoral rot, and in its wake three tiny sparrows scavenged around her abandoned sites. I began to remember that I am a part of the world, not apart from it – a forgetting that is unfortunately somewhat necessary to function in a zoo city life. More and more, I was listening, connecting and communing without the social mind.

On the second day, I walked over twenty kilometres through majestic rainforests and down steep cliffs and up mountains following the trails of pristine waterfalls. I got high off myself and had profound psychedelic experiences. I relied on my ears and turned my vision down, letting the sounds come to the fore, and all the subtleties revealed themselves to my ears when I relied on them more. I was hearing everything which was amazing because I’m ninety per cent deaf in one ear. I was hearing all the high and low, close and far sounds as though they were inside of me, not out there. I cried a few times with joy and I was dizzy with the greenness, high off the clean green air. Again, there was no distinction between ‘me’ and ‘the world’. I was not moving through the landscape; rather, we were one and moving together. My skin wasn’t a barrier anymore.

This walkabout reawakened my yearning to quit my lifestyle and live in the mountains where I experience the most natural acceptance. This was a legitimate experience of singularity and it was especially powerful in this place because it’s where some of my ancestors are from. The trees were singing a welcome home song to my DNA, and my DNA was singing a love song of belonging.

– Defender Of the Faith, 22.08.12

*Quit Facebook? Check. My reality is now my own.