In Solidarity, Let Us All Be Outraged

There is a shared history between Australia’s First Nations people and black Americans. From the black dockers in Sydney who shared their knowledge with our early political organisations; to the African-American sailors who joined our struggles at La Perouse; to our Black Panther comrades who inspired and collobarated with our mobs in the Black Power movement in West End and Redfern; to our own Deaths in Custody battles – we always have and we always will stand in solidarity. America’s civil rights struggles have informed our own, and it is apt that Martin Luther King looks out atop our red, black and yellow flag in Newtown, one of the very first crime scenes in this country.

In solidarity at The Block, Redfern  Photo by Barbara McGrady, 13th September 2014

In solidarity at The Block, Redfern
Photo by Barbara McGrady, 13th September 2014

We also have a shared present reality in that our young black people are being murdered by the system at epidemic rates. According to Operation Ghetto Storm, this is at the rate of one every 28 hours in the USA. Here, police custodial deaths for First Peoples, and for all Australians, have gone up instead of down since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADC). First Peoples are less than 3 per cent of Australia’s total population, yet we comprised 29 per cent of the total Australian prison population. Broken down by gender, First Nations women account for more than 33 per cent of all incarcerated women in Australia, while First Nations men account for 28 per cent of all incarcerated men. From 2008-11, 33 of the 159 deaths in prison custody were Indigenous prisoners. The reality here is that it is much more likely that a black person will die in custody than a non-Indigenous person because we are grossly overrepresented by our disproportion inside, in proportion to our small population outside.

Since 1788, with the importation of the English injustice system, our people have been locked up inside white cages. We have been condemned as criminal by an alien legal framework, not judged by our own culturally appropriate frameworks. We never caged our animals, let alone our criminals, and being caged is not in our genetic or cultural memories.  Our people do not belong in cages, and we certainly do not belong in cages because of unpaid fines. Gerry Georgatos states that “Hundreds of Australians endure the ordeal of jail because of unpaid fines, their poverty a burden. Disproportionately First Nations people are incarcerated ‘to pay off’ their fines.” The only people who belong in cages are those who are a real, not perceived, threat to society.

Being caged is traumatic enough; add on the distress of not being believed when you are sick, being humiliated because of stereotypes, being excessively punished, and the crippling impacts of isolation and guilt on a person’s spiritual health. Consider also that many of our people come out of the system in a worse state than they went in. It is indeed true that a significant proportion of our suicides are by people who have been incarcerated, and this does not even count those who have previously been interred by the welfare system.

Yet for every black person who has broken a white law, where is the equality of the converse? How many whitefellas have broken our laws against rape, murder, massacre, child theft, the permanent destruction of our underground water, the theft of land and of resources? Why are they not only not sentenced in our law, but not even in their own? The answer to this lies within the historical and ongoing structures of institutional racism, summarily: Break black law and prosper. Break white law and die.

What message does this institutional racism send to young black people, who are trying to transcend their historical legacies and live lives worthy of the fight our ancestors bled for? To stay down in the gutter where they were born? To become potential target practise if it’s cold outside and they choose to reach for their hoodie? To believe that if they see cops they have to run in fear for their lives? To see unpaid parking fines as a choice between continuing poverty or death in a cage? To see a criminal every time they look in the mirror? To feel guilty for their skin?

For the victims of the state, this is not just a case of wrong place and wrong time, or even wrong skin, wrong side of the system, or wrong luck. It’s too easy to make this circumstantial. It is not a passive act to shoot a child, or leave a young woman dying, so let’s not victim-blame. These are killings. This is active death-dealing. It is not circumstantial that these people are black and it is not circumstantial that the killers are part of a racist system. There is a pattern here, evidence; a tapestry woven of white chains choking frail black threads, winding so tight that it becomes stained red. The system does not just passively not care; more than this, it actively does not care. It actively neglects and brutalises.

It is not enough that grieving families be given an impartial coronial inquest. It is not enough that the murderers in uniform go to trial. It is not enough that Deaths in Custody receive a Royal Commission, or that disempowered communities riot to be heard. None of this, in the statistically improbable chance that they are followed through in a total, unbiased and satisfactory manner, will bring back our dead. No sentence or coronial finding will take away the hurt and anger their system has brought about. The problem cannot be the solution.

These outcomes have never brought about satisfactory justice. What needs to happen is a complete overhaul, not just of the judicial system, but of all systems that feed into it; ergo, an overhaul of social attitudes and policy. The police in the USA are doing a great job, upholding their motto to protect and serve – of protecting the system and serving the state, of continuing the deep-rooted racism from a shameful history by bringing it into modernity. If you have kids, who will one day grow up to be cops, judges, nurses or screws, you must show them that the life of Ms Julieka Dhu is worth just as much as the life of a white girl. You must teach them that their duty is to protect and serve us, the people, not their own skin and system.

The reality is that black deaths, here and there, are not seen as worthy. Black deaths are seen as different, lesser. When a white person is killed by a white person, it is a tragedy. When a black person is killed by a black person, it is expected. When a white person is killed by a black person, it is usually reported as a gang-related crime. And so, when blackfellas are killed by a white system, it must also be understood as gang-related and oppressive, not simply dismissed as all in the line of duty. The organised crime gangs, the boys in blue, are the real thugs. Their hierarchy is as tight as sin, their violence is internally encouraged and their self-interest is preserved.

Another reality is that black deaths here are worth even less than black deaths over there. Where were the twitter storms for Julieka Dhu? Where were the pickets at police stations for Mr Phillips in Kalgoorlie? Where is the nation-wide outrage for Maureen Mandijarra? Where was the global solidarity for Mr Ward in Warburton? What is the difference between a boy being shot point blank by cops in the USA, and a boy in Redfern being chased by gunjis, fearing for his life and left bleeding, based on what the narratives in his history have told him? For these killings to be counted, to be seen as important and worthy of the same coverage and outrage as our American counterparts, we also need to be seen as human, worthy and respected. The evidence shows that we are not.

This is not about left or right wing politics, or about skin-deep, socially constructed differences. This is about humanity, and until every mother and father, sister and brother stops to imagine what it would feel like to lose one of their own to violent police brutality, or inhumane murderous neglect, until everybody is just as outraged that this is happening to somebody else’s young people, not much will change. Even more, everybody needs to stop and ask themselves, “How would I feel if this happened to mine, and nobody cared?” Because not caring is very much part of the problem.

Strip this all away and what we have is that a young boy was shot, and a sick woman was left for dead. If you have the privilege of walking around at night with your hoodie up, if you have the privilege of remaining uncaged and alive despite pissy parking fines, if you have the privilege of telling a cop to not shoot you and having them listen, if you have the privilege of riding your bike through your suburb and not being chased by the gunjis, fearing for and losing your life based on narratives in racist histories, this does not mean you should not care.

If you aren’t outraged, chances are you have that privilege. And if that sounds harsh, consider that we envy your privilege, that we do not have the luxury of not caring, that if we could, we would dedicate our lives to the pursuit of pleasure, not fighting for our basic human rights to be respected by a system that is killing our warriors and leaders of tomorrow.

It is not enough to simply be saddened or discomfited by these deaths, dismissing them as fatalistic, dismissing them as something that happened to other people, to people you have no connection to. It is not enough to feel helpless, you must be outraged. You must find the death of Mulrindji just as tragic as the death of Mike Brown. You must be just as outraged at the death of Julieka Dhu as the death of Trayvon Martin. You must find the police killing of Eddie Murray in Wee Waa just as abhorrent as the police killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham. No human life is worth more than another. No black death in Roeburn is worth less than a black death in Ferguson.

Because this is the heart of the problem with Black Deaths in Custody. It is seen as our problem, not touching wider Australia, let alone the world. Our deaths are not widely known about and are not widely protested. Let us take a cue from the people of Ferguson, from the people from Tottenham, UK. When these killings take place, we need to hold those responsible accountable, all of us, not just the families and communities who have lost.

And so, if you’ve only ever protested things that affect your own demographic – those of your nationality, skin colour, sexuality or gender – then you are part of the problem. The false divides of race, religion, geography and politics are entrenched in historical construction and perpetuated by our politicians and their media mouthpieces. The real divide is class, and the truth is that we are disproportionately overrepresented in the lowest rungs. It is not enough that we stand in solidarity with other black communities. It s not enough that a smattering of staunch and dedicated whitefellas stand as allies. This solidarity is very important, but it is not enough.

We have never had anything handed to us; no human rights legislation, no social justice victory. Every little thing we have ever gained inside of this system has been the result of hard work, constant campaigning with solid, loud and outraged voices. Yet twenty years on, they have still not implemented most of the recommendations from the RCADIC. And twenty years on, the rate of active, neglectful killings are higher and growing.

Doctor Luther King’s dream has turned into a nightmare: his vision for resilient leaders has been shot full of bullet holes; his hope for our daughters has been left for dead in a cage, ridiculed and forgotten; his hope for our sons has been crushed under the weight of police feet and knees, bleeding and broken. In solidarity with the communities who are grieving wrongful losses, and in alliance with those still protesting their injustices, then and now, let us all be outraged.

– Defender Of The Faith, 15th September 2014, Cadigal country

What Fire Has Taught Me About Love And Communion: Part I – Relationship With Myself

I have been out in the mountains for five days, alone

Studying the ways of fire

Alone, but not lonely

The campfires of my ancestors above me kept me in safety and in love

 

Constellations sharply delineated; hard diamond dust strewn across the satin sky above

A deep black sky that contains the secrets of my being, my past and my future

 

Each star, a sun

Each sun, a nucleus

Each nucleus, the centre of a slowly unfolding dance

Each dance, dramatic

Each drama, a world

Each world, possibilities so infinite it makes a mockery of probability

Each mockery, chaos

And in chaos, wonder and the potential for new patterns

As without, so within

 

I and my campfire, a flesh and flame simulacrum of the campfires overhead

A perfect, fleeting expression of the universe’s desire to know itself

As above, so below

 

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Come sit down with me, and I will teach you what I know about fire and love

I love to build a fire, then sit and watch the flames dance around and see the embers in its heart shift and change in the brilliant heat. I love the smell of smoke in the air, it settles deep in my skin and can linger for days in my hair. I love the smell because it is an echo, a ghost of the fire I built, and reminds me of the warmth and beauty I created days before. It reminds me that I am human, that I am doing what humans have done since we first began to be human.

Yes, here is my fire, and I am of the earth, sitting by its warm light, doing what my ancestors did, in this exact place they did it. I am honoured, that what I am doing in the here and now is what the flesh and blood roots of my family tree did for aeons too. Here, too, they did what I am doing right now, in this very place. My fire is connection, and communion. I am communing with them in the earth below me, in the trees around me, in the stars above me, and in my blood inside me, because I am them in their newest, most resilient expression.

I am home here because this is where my ancestors were born, where they made their lives and made love, where they fought and grieved and passed down their ways of making fires down the line to my own keeping. I, the effect of their causes, as I can be a cause of many effects. I am the latest in a long, unbroken line of fire-makers and I won’t be the last. This is a certainty, and this knowledge comes from below me, around me, above me and inside me. I am important, they tell me. Tonight, they say to me:

 “The universe is a cradle, gently rocking life into its own realisations.

You are a living, breathing manifestation of the universe’s longing to experience itself.

A dream within a dream, constantly dreaming yourself into existence.

Your lineage stretches back to the dawn of life, and you have inherited the entire Earth’s history of intelligence, creativity, sensuality and passion.

Your parents, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, forever back, ad infinitum, all the way to us: in familiar and unrecognisable creatures both; we all existed to deliver you into Life’s keeping for this short time.

You are the culmination of aeons of living and loving and dying.

You are our dream come true.”

 

I feed my campfire, and I am communing with my ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears nourished this country in life, and whose flesh and bones fed this country in death. In this very place, time contracts to a singularity, the way my enormous black pupils dilate when I shift my eyes from the black sky above to look inside the flames before me. I am surrounded by their love and pregnant with their gratitude for me, and I reciprocate by feeding another log into my fire.

Tonight the fire has been speaking to me about life and love. And as I, a tiny insignificant human, built this earthly fire to reflect the star fires in the heavens, not only am I talking to myself, and teaching, but I am also listening to what I have to say, and learning. The lessons my ancestors speak to me, through the flames, on this night, are being taken in and weighed; sifted, sorted, ingested, digested and expressed in a way as to give form to this feeling. Because what I learn I can also teach. And the more I teach, the deeper the lessons settle in, just the way this earthy woodsmoke will do for days onward. A gift from the gods, and from my ancestors. A gift for myself, and therefore a gift to you.

 

You can’t start a fire without a spark

Some people don’t know how to build a fire. Maybe their culture doesn’t teach it, maybe their society doesn’t need it. That said, what kind of culture or society does not engage in one of the most basic things that essentialises us as humans? Whether you’ve only been lit up through artificial means, with the most recent, coldest evolution of the family hearth – the television, where everybody faces the screen, faces illuminated by the cold blue micro flickers, but not facing each other and not talking, not getting warm. But as part of society and of culture, you are also a contributor. Learn to make a fire. Inject some humanity into where you came from.

Sometimes we become adults and our family has not shown us how to build a good fire. Maybe they forgot how. Maybe their parents never showed them, maybe they were punished for it, maybe their ancestors were burnt at the stake. Maybe their fire-building practises burnt you, or smothered you; maybe you watched them build unhealthy fires with others and thought that’s the way it’s done. But it’s okay. Making fire is easy and anybody can learn to do it themself.

Culture, society and family may be good explanations for our issues with fire, but an explanation does not have to be an excuse. Plenty of people have overcome these excuses and learnt how to build healthy fires. And instead of being angry at your parents for not showing you, have some compassion, learn how to do it yourself and then teach them what you know. Begin the healing by taking it into your own hands. Show your parents how to build a fire. Don’t leave them cold. Be the change.

How do you learn how to build a good fire? You can read books or watch others do it, but the only real way is to just practise, practise, practise. You’ll fuck up here and there but don’t get frustrated. It’s only a fire. Just take note of your mistakes, remember what worked really well and figure out what you can do better next time. And try again. But if, before trying again, you don’t reflect by the flames and assess yourself in its unforgiving light, you will never get any better. You’ll spend more time in the dark than you need to.

Building a fire is a science because it requires a foundation of axiomatic knowledge and the application of observation, patience and dedication. Building a fire is an art, because it requires innovation and intuition for what is required at each phase. It needs an artist who can allow it to fulfil its most burning desire. No two fires are the same, so tried and tested formulas will not always work. Keep your senses open and give what is needed.

Because building a fire is both a science and an art, it is therefore a magical practice. As with all of the most sacred acts it can also be one of the most mundane. We imbue life, and fire-building, with whatever meaning we choose. Fire can be for necessity or luxury, for warmth, light, nourishment or entertainment. Maybe for prayer, as my campfire sends its earthy incense up to the heavens, and I commune with the camps of my ancestors above.

Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice. And when it hits the ground magic happens, but if you rely on lightning to start your fire you’ll be mostly cold and waiting for something that will rarely happen again. Be grateful you had that experience but learn from it, and learn to create your own spark. Don’t rely on fate to recreate it because Chaos doesn’t work that way. You need to learn how to start and maintain one yourself, in all and any conditions. *As you shall see in the postscript, timing is an inadequate excuse.

The thing with fire is that it is a fickle thing. Air temperature and pressure, wind direction and precipitation all connive to create differing environments. In some, fire thrives all too well and needs tempering. In others it requires a lot of effort to maintain. But environment needn’t be an excuse to not try. Just make sure you watch, see and behold; don’t get burnt and don’t burn out trying.

A fiery metaphor

As an embodied metaphor, building a fire is useful to explain and explore the processes of building relationships. All metaphors are useful, not only as a literal or poetic description, but because you can make it as relevant as you want. No matter what I mean to write, you will take away only the meaning that you need to understand, on your own terms, and it will be better and more important than anything I intend.

This fire is an externalised projection, a symbolic transformation, a metaphorical transmutation, and an internalised injection of what I need to know – what I’ve always known, but is only now being revealed to me by the light this fire casts into the depth of my black and innocent heart. As I build this fire tonight, I understand it as a living metaphor for building a relationship with myself, which is the foundation for building relationships with others. Building a fire is a meditation in building warmth and giving nourishment. To build a good fire, you need to be both playful and sincere.

Fire is a tool; a transformative, purifying and clarifying technology. Our environment has been shaped by fire since before forever. Firestick farming has been practiced here for centuries, it has shaped our country so profoundly that many of our native plants can’t release their seeds without fire. Regular and controlled burning ensured no dead wood buildup, no fuel for the blazing bushfires that we’ve seen in recent years. Take heart, and read the lessons in this. Don’t let your own deadshit build up waiting for a tiny spark, or you’re asking for trouble. Burn things off systemically, regularly; renew and replenish, and baptise your seeds by fire.

I am taught to be indebted to Prometheus, but in my creation myth I am both god herself and a mortal woman, and so nothing was stolen from a jealous guarding god, no sneaky thieving human stole my secret. We are one and the same, the fire given freely by god herself in a spirit of gratitude for the woman to take the light back to the earthly realm, to share with all my brothers and sisters. The fire is also received in a spirit of gratitude by the human, for the special gift it is to heal, warm, nourish and teach, to illuminate even this darkest frozen night when the sun and moon have just disappeared behind the mountains together.

Here’s to the fire inside each and every one of us. May we always keep our own flames fed, may we ever enjoy the nourishing fires of each other and may we all be beacons of light and bringers of warmth wherever we go.

 – Defender Of The Faith,  5th of June, 2014

Dharug country

Read Part II: Relationships with Others, here

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

But You Don’t Look Aboriginal

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are denying that I am Aboriginal. To deny that I am Aboriginal is to deny that my grandmother was taken by welfare because she was Aboriginal, by the dictates of past government policies. To deny that she was taken because she was Aboriginal is to deny that past policies attempted genocide of Aboriginal people. To deny that the government’s objective was genocide is to deny that the government is responsible for the widespread decimation of Aboriginal language, traditions, land rights and intact family trees today. To deny that there is no widespread crises of identity within Aboriginal individuals, families, communities – and indeed our entire country – is to deny our lived reality. And when you deny our reality, you deny us our humanity. And so when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, it goes much further than just skin-deep.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, it says much to me about your level of misunderstanding and your adherence to the tenets of the obsolete pseudo-science that is biological race theory. Your individual ignorance is however, symptomatic of a widespread pandemic, where these beliefs are not systematically dismantled in the education system from a young age, thereby perpetuating the dominant white-male-heterosexual-Christian-dual binary values that are normalised and exude from the hidden curriculum. And so when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you’re not entirely to blame; the weight of such culpability is much too much for an individual to bear.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are nevertheless still guilty of perpetuating violence control through your embodiment of racist values. You are acting as a vehicle for oppression, an agent of history and part of the framework that continues the legacies of past assimilation policies. Does this come as a shock to you? Are you in denial? This is where the recognition of your privilege must come into play on your part. You must locate your beliefs in the historical and spacial continuum of oppression, and only then will you realise how you are an agent, acting out this culture. Conversely, you will then be responsible to be an agent of change. With knowledge comes responsibility, because education without action does nothing. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you’re not getting off that easily with a seemingly innocuous comment; ignorance does not equal innocence, and I’m going to take this as an opportunity to do my responsibility.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are implicitly perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Prevalent misperceptions and misconceptions of Aboriginal people include that we are lazy, drunk, dole-bludging, violent, sneaky and uneducated [sorry, I couldn’t think of any good ones that I’ve encountered in my whole life; not my fault]. When you compliment me for not embodying any of these negative stereotypes, and upholding me as the paragon of black virtues because of my perceived whiteness, you are reinforcing these stereotypes of what all “real”, “authentic” Aboriginal people are like. By telling me I’m the exception to the rule you are reinforcing the rules. You are promulgating a colonial hangover of media-created deficiencies. You are telling me that I’m inauthentic and you are telling yourself everything that centuries of racist politicians, scientists, missionaries and journalists have told you is the truth. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are deluding yourself with the very tools they created to oppress us.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, and you grill me about the whyfores and how-sos I have the gall to identify as such, you are being invasive and rude. By believing you are entitled to know the minutiae of my family tree, you are presuming that your sense of entitlement takes precedence over my personal boundaries. But not so. When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, and you drill me with your intrusive eyes and prod me with your blunt questions, you are telling me that you do not respect me.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, and add that I ‘mustn’t have much’ in me, or enquiring after my caste and blood percentage, you are attempting to reduce over 40 000 years of deep and vibrant culture to a quantifiable measure; over two hundred years of survival and resilience against colonialism, attempted genocide and ongoing assimilation to a drop of blood; my own nearly thirty years of lived culture in family and community to a miniscule section of mammoth lengths of DNA. You are reducing who I am in flux and flow to an immutable, graspable number for ease of understanding, to further reduce and divide the entirety of me and mine. By continuing to ask how much I have in me, after not getting the hint to drop this line of eugenic economic interrogation, ‘what part?’, ‘what caste?’, you continue to ignore the fact that it just doesn’t work that way. That despite centuries of imposed definitions that sought to variously segregate and assimilate us, to provide a solution as though we were a problem to be solved, that tried to cut us down enough so that we would fit into their constricting frameworks, you do not hear the truth that I just am. Not half of me, nor a quarter, or one seventy-eighth; not my head or my heart or my left arm or right pinkie toe; not my eyes or hair, not tooth or nail. I just am. All of me, all the time. Always was and always will be. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’ you are attempting to reduce the entirety of my identity and relationships and activism to one single moment, now, where you want the answer that I will never give you the satisfaction of giving you. You will never cut me down to size.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, and add that I am too pretty, my features too fine, my height too wonderful, my feminised body too elegant, you are telling me that you believe all other Aboriginal women to be ugly. You are saying that my Mum and my grandmother, my Aunties, my cousins, friends, nieces and my unborn daughter are all ugly. Not just different by the narrow standards of the male gaze of the white beauty industry, but actually unattractive, fullstop, done. How then could you explain all of our non-Indigenous fathers? Lovers? One-night stands? Here I will acknowledge the fact that rape has been a reality for us the last couple of centuries. However, this does not explain the many healthy mixed race relationships, or even the unhealthy fetishisation of black women. You are ignoring the reality that black women have always been desirable to non-Indigenous men and women. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are not only saying that desirable black women are not authentic black women, you are also saying that only non-Indigenous women are allowed to be beautiful.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, that I look more Lebanese, or Italian, or Spanish, or Croatian, or whatever, you are reducing what it means to be Aboriginal in all its gorgeous complexity to an essential list of clinical physical features, to a cold and simple checklist for cookie-cutter authenticity. Not only is this sheerly stupid because of the evidence that Aboriginal people today come in all shapes and sizes, with an astonishing diversity of facial features and skin colours; to discount certain items off the checklist in favour of other items is to racialise our bodies, to racialise our very beings. By subscribing to the Dulux colour-card myth of Aboriginality, you are continuing the work of past welfare and government institutions who held colour swatches up to the skin of black babies before they ripped them from their mothers’ arms. They grouped these babies according to tone, often separating siblings by this completely arbitrary division that could change seasonally with the strength of the sun. Further to this unpredictability, it was an actual division in many cases where sister and brother were physically separated not only from their mother, but also from each other. This was the case with my grandmother, who was taken from her Aboriginal mother at the age of four, along with her seven-month-old brother, never for any of them to see each other ever again. Yes, they took their heartbreak to their graves. So for me and mine, colour is not just an objective judgement of a visual hue, it has a crushing historical weight that has crippled all of my family members, each in their own way. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, this shameful historical legacy reaches to me from the past to haunt me to this very day.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, my deep-running empathy and over-active imagination come into play. I imagine and feel what this would have meant to me if I had been born one hundred, eighty, sixty, or even forty years ago. And I consider myself lucky that I was born in the year of Orwell’s hell, although my Mum still did instil in us her very deep fear of the welfare, so that we knew how to perform for society and never draw attention to ourselves. Because growing up as we did, with a single Aboriginal mother, if we had not performed well and hidden ourselves, if we had been born ten years earlier, there is a statistical probability that we would have been taken too. Do not misunderstand me; we were very much loved and always supported. We weren’t abused and we were never in danger, however we never had any money and poverty is criminal in the eyes of the welfare. Furthermore, traumatic events necessitated that we move far away from our extended family – my Mum’s only support network – and begin to integrate into a completely disconnected community who thankfully very soon took us in. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’ you are telling me how lucky I am to have been born when I was.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, I imagine that you are the welfare with the authority of government policies behind your words, and that you have the power to take me from my mother and my brothers. And in a way, you have, because I step back in time to the known story of my grandmother’s life. My grandmother, who never knew me, walks beside me every day in the only form I’ve ever known her. I look very much like her, and it’s not just her beautiful features that have left their mark on me. Her entire life-story haunts mine, and I continue to try to make sense of myself in the context of her struggles. She walks inside me every day and I have an ongoing relationship with her. I have an obligation to ensure that what she suffered through is known, and also that it stops. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you have taken me away from my family and into her life.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, I feel, viscerally, my grandmother’s pain; I panic in the knowledge that I will never see my mother again, that every letter I write to her will not receive an answer. That instead of the girl’s home guardians telling me the truth that they are not passing her replies on to me, they instead tell me that she has forgotten about me and that she doesn’t love me. I am paralysed by the knowledge that my mother will not be there when I am sick, when I need her to love me. I will never hear her voice again, nor smell her skin, or have her kiss me goodnight. Ever, ever again, forever, never. Never. She will never pass on parenting practises to me, and the adults I have as parent figures are inturn abusive, cold and transient; all unloving. These early role models imprint on me and my first escape from them is straight into the arms and wedlock of a man with an uncanny resemblance to my early caregivers. My mother will not be there when I get married, when I am in labour, when I am sick, and when I die too young. She will not be there for my children, when I need her to love them. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you have taken my mother from me. You have taken my world from me.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, my breath catches, knowing that if not for the grace of my being born when I was, that I would never see my brothers again. As we five, joined to each other through our Mum, and glued to each other through our close upbringing, some of us have different Dads, creating a beautiful diversity within our obvious similarities. But that because we have different skin colours, body types, nose shapes and eye colours, we would not be deemed similar enough in the eyes of the law to remain together as would support our basic human dignity. That some of us would grow up in cold hard institutions, trained for domestic or menial labour according to gender, yet regardless of gender as befits our darker skin. That the others would be adopted into a white family to become their chattel, neglecting to nourish our connection to our true culture; denying us our rightful inheritance, severing who we are from who they want us to be, and therefore butchering our very being. Placed far apart, names changed and changed and changed again, we would never even know where to start looking for each other, and so we would all live out the rest of our lives as only, lonely children. So when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are tearing me from my big and little, but all strong brothers. You are dictating that we have different worth and different levels of usefulness according to your cold and convenient colour-coordinated doctrine.

When you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’, you are alerting me to the fact that if left unchecked and uncorrected, you will repeat this comment to others, maybe others who are less resilient or strong in their identity than I am. Perhaps young children, maybe of my blood or maybe not. Perhaps one day my own daughter. Probably, you will impress upon your own children that this comment is okay, maybe they will continue this legacy. I do hope you might leave that in the past where it belongs. I also hope you might get with the times. When you comment, I wonder who you are and what power you wield in the world, and what influence you have on Aboriginal people. Are you a social worker, a teacher, a doctor, a cop? A football coach, a journalist? A shop assistant, an employer? A real estate agent, a model scout? An anthropologist, an art dealer, a miner, a farmer? A magistrate, a screw? Or are you just the average busybody, keeping the hard-to-kill-but-not-yet-obsolete White Australia policy alive and well? Whoever you are, do you have the power to invoke feelings of shyness, shame and inadequacy in our young black kids? Or even our Elders? So, when you tell me ‘you don’t look Aboriginal’ you make me wonder whether you can change your position, change your course, catalyse reconciliation and continue on as an embodiment of alliance, acceptance, validation, respect and healing that our cultures have so sorely missed from you.

– Defender Of The Faith, 24th March, 2014

I highlight this because I’ve heard it said that recognition and identity is only a “small issue” compared with the health, housing, education, employment, and criminal justice statistics that describe our situation today. I first point this out to demonstrate how imposed definitions blatantly attempted our genocide in the past, and I further point this out because this attempted genocide is absolutely, unequivocally responsible for our fourth-world socio-economic status that we live through today. Finally, I point this out because our current low life expectancy, high infant mortality rate, incarceration and deaths in custody ratio, and child removal rates – that far surpass Stolen Generations rates – tell the tale. These facts and figures speak to a government who still do not care. Although they have changed the terminology and phrasing of their policies, the effects of their actions and interference is ongoing, yet with even worse outcomes than at the times the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths and Custody, and the Bringing Them Home report, were published.

I wrote this for the people who still come up against this, in the hopes that they can more deeply understand why it’s not appropriate, and maybe get some new angles on their reactions. I especially wrote this for the parents of black kids: the Indigenous parents who may also know what it’s like, and the non-Indigenous parents who might not know on a personal level. I wrote it for all the parents who want to defend our black babies, so that they know what to say, but more importantly, so that they can instil the pride in their kids that my Mum instilled in me – pride so that they can be resilient and not buy into out-dated myths.

However, I addressed this to non-Indigenous people who do this, who might be setting a bad example for their own kids to follow in their footsteps. I addressed this to those people who might be making our kids feel angry and hurt and defensive, for all those who have made me and mine feel this way, and for those who still attempt to. So whether you intend to belittle us or not, you can recognise where you are located in the continuum of oppression, and hopefully make the decision that racism stops with you, to become our allies instead of remaining as obstacles in allowing our babies, and even ourselves, to feel as valued and strong as we should. As we must.

This post was published by The Stringer on 1st of April, 2014

Leave Me Alone, Thankyou, Bye

Obey the Graffiti

An open letter to various fuckwits and assorted psychic vampires, and to anyone else this may concern:

I don’t want to be constantly engaged in the selfish concern-trolling of others. I am not a curiosity to comment on and question. I am a creature of this earth and I have just as much right to be here, to breathe air and to take up space, as everybody else, without having to justify it. The way I choose to live my life and express myself has no bearing on who you are and the choices you make so just leave me alone as I do you. Leave me to be disconnected from your stupidity, so my stores remain full of vitality. Go be a drain on the psyche of someone else.

Teaching is my job, not my vocation. Although I am qualified for such and I get paid for it, when I clock off the uniform is shed and I am myself again. When I teach I am simultaneously acting and censoring myself and so understandably, I don’t want to do this all the time. I want to laugh and learn as well. I don’t want to constantly explain my ideologies and lifestyle choices. I don’t want to answer twenty questions about what I like and why, and what I don’t and why not. I just want to be me without having to defend what being me entails, especially when being me does not offend or trespass against you being you. I am not interested in being a light bringer or a revealer of truths. It’s not my karma, fate or destiny. I’m not arrogant enough for a messiah complex, and it doesn’t fit my skinny frame.

On that note, if you feel the need to comment on my body shape and size you would do well to examine why you think you are entitled to do so. If you have a problem with the way I look you need to realise that the problem is with yourself and your belligerence, not with the way my deoxyribonucleic acid expresses itself through my healthy lifestyle choices. As such, don’t try to pass your problem off as mine. I love myself and I am happy in the beautiful skin my parents gifted me. Just because you don’t feel the same does not give you the right to try and pull me into your self-loathing. So no, I won’t wear that either.

Further, whenever you make stupid remarks about what I choose not to eat (as if it has any effect on your happiness), you are saying more about yourself than about me. I don’t preach. I am happy with who I am and what I choose and I have no need to try and belittle others because I do things differently. To wit: everyone I meet is surprised that I am a vegan and I like it that way. In fact, if you know me, you were probably surprised too. That is because I just walk the walk and I let others talk the talk. I don’t think I’m better than anybody else; I recognise that everybody has their own journeys to live and things to learn. What I think is important is certainly not the forefront of everybody else’s concerns and I am not disillusioned enough to think so, or arrogant enough to impose my worldview onto anybody else. I just wanna do what I wanna do, if that’s okay with you?

Next on the subject of skin-deep ignorance: if you have a problem with my being a fair-skinned Koori who doesn’t look the way you mistakenly believe that Blackfellas are supposed to look as a homogenous group, then that’s also your problem. I’m sorry I don’t look the way you want me to in order confirm your outdated paradigm of what Blackfellas are supposed to look like. If you think that because I look white then therefore I am, you need to go do some reading on how long-debunked race theories have come to be dismantled as Eurocentric and Assimilationist pseudo-science. You need to understand the role of memetics in shaping culture, and that culture has for too long been misrepresented as biological race, and that biological race has no basis in true science. I know who I am. I know where I’ve come from and I know where I’m going. If, for you, what I look like clashes with the strength of my identity, I suggest that it is you who has the problem.

Similarly, if you feel the need to express your unwanted ignorance about ‘faggots and dykes’ in my earshot, then good for you. Your comments say more about you as an unevolved human than anything you intend it to. I may not ‘look’ gay or identify as gay, but I’m certainly not straight either. I’m proud to be queer. So no, I don’t find your jokes about me and mine funny or endearing; it doesn’t make me like you more that you shared an insider joke with me. However, I am glad to hear you talk this way as it just makes it easier for me to not pretend to be nice to you. Go, wave your freak flag high! Censoring doesn’t work, nor should it be encouraged. Society is benefitted when you out yourself as a fuckwit, and the world will be a better place when your backwards ideas are buried six feet under or scattered as dead ash like your remains.

I used to feign patience and act happy to explain myself, adhering to the maxim that ‘one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar’. But I’ve done my time, and it’s well nigh to retire those pretentions. Let someone else take up the mantle. If you want to learn more about any of the above topics or other themes that express themselves through your narrow perceptions of what I represent to you, go elsewhere. I am done with explaining, with my frustration thinly veiled beneath a tight-lipped smile. I’m still happy to be a mirror to reflect your asinine assumptions and attitudes, but I sure as fuck won’t let your rotten seeds take root in my verdant energy. I’m too old for this shit, and I’ve got better things to pour my precious thoughts into.

– Defender Of The Faith, 26.08.2013

UPDATE EDIT – for those who took this personally:

If you think I specifically wrote this for you, I didn’t. If you think this was written as a passive-aggressive missive to you, it wasn’t. If you think my lifetime of frustration being expressed in a public blog post is all about you and you alone, it isn’t. That being said: if you do believe that this is about you, why the guilty conscience?