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 4.4k4.5k 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.
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
In October 2011, I interviewed Keith Morris whilst he was on the road with OFF!. We had a yarn about ‘what is wrong with the world’, the Pied Piper paradigm, his experiences with Black Flag and Circle Jerks, and evil West African warlords. The connection kept cutting out – Keith reckons that it was because he was around tall buildings, but I suspect our transmissions were being intercepted by Greys. Despite this, we had a good old bro-down and chuckle-a-thon. I’ve chosen to present our talk with minimal editing to retain the authentic tone of our conversation. I’ve kept the bad connection bullshit in so you can see how much of a patient legend he was. The original, edited version can be found here.
photo credit unknown
Hi Keithy*, how are ya mate?
Good, how are you?
I’m pretty good. What have you been up to?
Well, OFF! are in the van. We’re driving to the most beautiful city in this part of the world, in Texas – a town called Austin. We can see the skyline from here but it’s kinda bumper-to-bumper right now. Luckily we don’t play until about 12.30 tonight…which is kind of late for an all ages show, but hey.
Yeah, that is kinda late hey?
So, you guys are playing a few shows there and then you’re coming to Australia in December. Are you pumped for that?
Yes, we are very, very, very much looking forward to it. I have never been there before.
Yeah I was gonna ask if you’d ever been here…so, first time? Are you ready for the heat?
You know what? I’m getting some kinda like…it sounds like a microwave or kinda science fiction noise…
That’s just the UFOs in the background. The Greys are coming.
This connection is terrible. I’m getting some kind of like grindy noise on this thing. ‘Dot’, is it cool if I call you back?
Yeah no worries mate.
[Totally unintelligable crackly Keith robot voice and static]
Hey ‘Dot’, sorry about that.
You’re right mate.
We’ll just try again…[more robot death crackles…I am put on hold and forced to endure some pop-punk bullshit that I later found out is Weightless’ ‘All Time Low’. Fucking terrible]. Are you there?
Is the connection clearer?
Yeah awesome. That sounds way better.
Hi, again. That’s better, I just had the most horrible on-hold waiting music. Okay so, I was asking you about coming to Australia…
We will be there in December and I’m, like, totally psyched on this because I’ve never been there before. Mario [Rubalcaba] our drummer’s been there with his other band Earthless [as well as with Hot Snakes and Rocket From The Crypt], and Dimitri [Coates] our guitarist has been there with his other band Burning Brides. I don’t know if Steven [McDonald] our bass player, who plays in Redd Kross has been to Australia…
[“Twice!” – Steven in the background]
Okay, twice. See, so I’m the guy that’s not been there, so…
Oooh! Virgin territory.
I guess I’m the most excited about going. All these other guys can say they’re excited but they’re only slightly excited. I’m totally excited; I’m literally shaking with anticipation [laughs].
Yours is legit excitement! Nice, well you’ll have to be ready for the heat because it gets a bit sticky around here in December.
But we are Southern Californians…the majority of us. [Dimitri] is the cold weather guy and he’s Polish so he can fend off any kind of weather whereas the other three of us, the three guys who are more important, the most important guys in the band, are from Southern California and that kind of climate so your weather is not that far removed. That Pacific tropical weather…we’re used to that.
Okay, good. I’m glad. We don’t want you faintin’. I’m pretty stoked that you guys are playing some all-ages shows, and you’re doing one tonight obviously. Is it fun to sweat on all those little kids, and get in their faces?
Um, I can barely hear you…
Oh I was just asking, at the all-ages gigs that you’re playing tonight and that you…
This connection is really bad again. Maybe it’s because I’m passing through a bunch of taller buildings. Maybe…I don’t know. I don’t know how these things work. Can you hear okay now?
Yeah, I can. Keith?
Um, speak up please? You may have to yell into the phone because it’s a bit delayed as well.
Can you hear me now? I’m hovering right over the phone.
Yes, I can hear you now.
Sweet, I’ll just hold this pose then [downward dog] for the rest of our yarn. So OFF! came out of the ashes from a fight with Circle Jerks, who also came out of the ashes of a fight with Black Flag. I think that sets the tone really nicely for your sound, you know – that fighting, aggressive, in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall rocknroll thing.
What’s happened is we have a rash of these well-coiffed…um…it’s kind of like a giant box that is spitting out all of these big atoms, they all look and they all sound alike, maybe this is just a reaction to all of that. Also, we live in really horrible, social-political times…
…that, coupled with the anger against some of the other music that’s out there, that’s not a good reason to be in a band, or doing what you’re doing. Maybe being a foil to some of this stuff…also being a mirror of some of this stuff. What had happened was, all of the bands that I’ve usually been associated with, there’s always been some kind of aggressive anger towards certain things that are happening, and that’s also part of the fuel for what we’re doing. Plus we are having a really great time, we’re getting ready to go play in Austin, we get to travel, people like us, a lot of people are into what we are doing, and so we’re having blast. We’re having a great time.
I’m glad to hear that. So you were just saying that you’re pissed off at the world and what’s going on. We do live in in horrible times. There’s all kinds of terrible shit going down and people are being used and abused. You started out over thirty years ago…what things are the same that piss you off from back then and until now? What hasn’t changed?
Well, the only change really is that there’s just more of it going on. You know, more of the abuse, more financial abuse…like, we had these bailouts here, our government gave a group of people a huge bailout and they didn’t use it for what they were given the money for. They turned around and just spread it out amongst themselves rather then helping the people that the big bailout was supposed to be used for. So now we have all of these protests, and hopefully there’ll be some of these protests when we get over to Australia because it’s happened worldwide. It’s not just here. It’s kind of like there’s a group of people who control everything, and when I say everything that means in Australia, in Japan, in Europe, and we’ve pretty much had a bunch of people just string us along and lie to us, and you know, tell us how great things are, and now all of a sudden we have all of these people who are out of work, and can’t pay their bills, and being kicked out of their homes, and you know, that gets back to what I said initially – that our government gave out all of this money to these people to help these other people out and they didn’t.
Human greed at it’s finest, right?
Yeah, it’s really easy, when you see all of this abuse…when you see it next to you, you see it happening to your friends, you see it happening to your relatives, it’s really easy to be angry.
Yeah, definitely. It’s all connected. The music industry especially these days is part of that mega-machine of just churning out marketable, happy-sounding, money-making shit. And it’s nice that you guys don’t.
They’re doing that to save their jobs and the people that buy that probably don’t know any better. They wouldn’t know bad art from great art. But the situation with the record companies – because they’re in such financial disarray – they ordered it…they started scrambling to save their jobs and at one point they had become more important than the musicians and the artists, then the bands they were putting out. So they really have nobody to blame but themselves. If they lose their jobs, fine, they can go stand in the unemployment line, because a lot of them deserve to lose their jobs, just for of the shit they’ve put out. It’s a form of karma.
It is! They create all this bullshit, horrible music that gets put out and it ends up biting them on the arse. And that’s pure poetry.
Yeah, that was our friend Ari who works for a company called Incase. He’s a big fan and we spent the day…[crackling synthed Keith voice, unintelligible answer]…during the hottest day of Summer.
I didn’t get a lot of what you just said Keith, it cut out.
Well I’m passing through a bunch of tall buildings. This connection is not that happening.
Fucken Greys…well, we’ll just see what we can do anyway. The film clip for Black Thoughts shows Raymond Pettibon creating the artwork that you guys are using. It’s awesome to see him featured in that film because you have been tied in with him from the start.
Well, he and I have been friends since the very beginning of Black Flag. We were actually friends in high school, so we go further back than even Black Flag. But he has always helped out and has always wanted to be part of the scene. He sensed the energy. He realised that what we’re doing is very similar to what happened when we were all hanging out and partying at a place called The Church in Hermosa Beach. And Dimitri and I played him four songs and he immediately caught on to what the vibe was about and he offered up his services; he volunteered. He wanted to be a part of it. See he knows that we’re tapping in to something that took place about thirty years ago and he senses the energy, he senses the vibe. He knows that it’s very exciting and he wants to be a part of it.
Yeah, well it goes down really well. Are OFF! working on any new songs, or are you planning to record a new album anytime soon?
We will start chipping away at some new songs when we get back. I mean, we’ve tossed around some ideas. We’ve got music for a couple of songs. I constantly do what Mike Watt from Minutemen and Iggy and The Stooges would say to be the ‘D. Boon method’. D. Boon was the guitarist and the vocalist from the Minutemen, and what it is, it’s when you come up with an idea and you just write words down here and there and then eventually you build upon it. I think it would be like, say, if you were making a movie, it would be like using the Francis Ford Coppola method where you would start off with the skeleton and then you start putting on muscle, and then you start putting flesh on top of the muscle, so you come up with a basic idea and then you expand upon it.
Just fleshing out the skeleton, right?
It’s the heart of darkness. There’s that word again – darkness. Black thoughts, darkness…
So last year, or was it the year before? There were ‘creative differences’ you had with the rest of the guys from Circle Jerks. I guess you’ll always be friends, but are you on good speaking terms still?
I actually am friends with a couple of the guys. I don’t really spend that much time around them. I don’t really have a reason to because I am in a band, we’re out playing and travelling, and making new friends, and making new fans, and going across the country, and having all of the little kids follow us around, and Steven’s playing the flute, like Peter Pan…
…the Pied Piper, yeah. You know what? We’re in an alleyway right now and I don’t know if you can hear me, but..
I can…I can hear you fine…
Okay. The Pied Piper…
…leading the rats, and then the children…
[laughs] …all of the little kids…
…all at the all-ages shows…
[laughs] …that’s nice…
Back to what you were just saying – that you don’t have the time to sit around and hold grudges because you’re out there doing your own thing now. You’ve got this new band, and you sound amazing, and you’re doing really well, you’re having fun and it seems that that’s the case with the last two bands too. When you start a new band, you don’t sit around and mope. You’re still really respected in the eyes of all your fans and you’re just exploring something new and I think that’s really cool.
We’ve gotta keep the energy going, and keep it rolling. Take it everywhere; take it as many places as we can. What I would like to do though, when it comes to that band that I was in for over thirty years [Circle Jerks], is I would like to thank them for allowing me to be sitting outside the Red7 in Austin, Texas, ‘cos we’re gonna be playing later on and we’re gonna have the fucking time of our lives.
There are no fucken hang-ups, there are no chains around any ankles, no there’s no albatross around anybody’s neck. If there is, it’s around theirs. I get to move forward, I get to have a great time. I get to have a blast! [laughs]
[laughs] Good. It sounds like you are. So are there any other creative things that you do when you’re not rocking the fuck out in OFF!?
Well, I’ve been encouraged to write a book, which I’ve known that I needed to write a book for years – just to get all of that crap out of my head. So I have been chipping away on a book. My friend Brendan Mullen – you might wanna Google Brendan Mullen, who was the guy who pretty much put punk rock on the map in Los Angeles with the underground venue called The Masque – had been encouraging me to write a book. And my friend Brendan has written and worked on books, he did a Jane’s Addiction book and he was working on the third re-write of a Red Hot Chili Peppers book. But he’d also written a book called We Got The Neutron Bomb [The Untold Story Of LA Punk], and that would be the history of LA punk, like The Weirdos, The Alley Cats, and X, Zeros, Germs, TSOL, Flesh Eaters, Middle Class, and so I started chipping away on stories. I’m about six stories in on a book that’s probably gonna have a minimum of maybe twenty to twenty-five chapters in it with varying stories from Black Flag, Circle Jerks, growing up at the Beach, sneaking into the Hollywood Bowl.
I’m also about a third of the way through on a story for a movie. I have a friend, Richard Edson – who is part of Jim Jarmusch’s stable – tell me that “you don’t write a movie script anymore, you have to write a book.” What they are doing is, they’re going around and they’re buying up the rights to books and someone else then writes the screenplay for it, and then they make a movie out of it. When I get ready to do my movie – depending upon how I go about doing it, if I just sell it outright to somebody, or if I get people to help produce it – having lived in Hollywood and having done what I’ve done over all of the years, I’ve made a lot of really great friends and a lot of really great connections in the movie world.
Yeah of course. So what’s the movie gonna be about?
It’s going to be about me [laughs], egotistically speaking [laughs]. It’s a dark comedy. A major portion of the story takes place on the West Coast of Africa. Like, the areas of Monrovia and Freetown. One of the major characters of the movie is a guy who is in prison right now for human rights violations. And when I say violations, the human rights people say that this guy was probably the most brutal character that has ever walked the face of the earth.
And who are you talking about?
One of the presidents or dictators there on the West Coast of Africa. Chopping people’s arms off, chopping their legs off, chopping off ears, yeah.
You write for an Australian magazine? So you’re all over Australia?
Well where out of Australia do you work out of?
At the moment I’m on the Gold Coast, which is about an hour south of Brisbane.
Okay. We’re gonna be playing Brisbane, which is where you’re gonna come to see us?
Of course! I’ll be there, front row, centre, sweating, singing…I’ll be there. And everybody else I know will be there too.
Will you be blowing kisses or will you be throwing drinks?
I’ll be throwing my hair around and jumping all over everybody, and singing and screaming and sweating.
Well, I guess the way we would want to end this conversation for this time and space, you know, we can talk later on, but…is just to let everybody know to come and have fun, jump around, scream and yell…
Oh they will! I’m sure you’ll pack the place out. Definitely mate, definitely. Well listen, have an awesome night tonight and enjoy the rest of your trip and I’ll see you real soon.
Right at the end of my living in London stint I started working at Pogo Café in Hackney. I also found myself in the middle of a riot.
One of the maddogs I used to work with
It was high summer and there was no teaching work for five weeks. I had considered getting a bar job but I couldn’t bring myself to work for six quid an hour – that is not why I went to uni for four years. Anyway, I went to Pogo one night to watch a screening of Noise and Resistance and starting yarning with one of the girls who worked there. It was an all-vegan anarchist co-op – completely volunteer-run, and all profits went to paying the bills and to helping various charities. Pogo would reimburse the workers for travel to and from work, and we were also allowed a free main meal while we were on shift. I explained that I would be moving back to Australia in a month but that I could work three or four days shifts per week up until then. I do realise that I went from refusing to work a bar job because the pay was beneath me to volunteering my services for free, but…it was probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I really loved working there.
Everyone I worked with was amazing in their own way, and we were all there because we wanted to be, not because we had to. I worked with people from all kinds of backgrounds. One thing we all had in common was the café and the ethics and political lifestyle implications that came from that. All of us were vegetarians of varying degrees, mostly vegan. We all supported organic farming and fair trade. We were all part of various alternative subcultures and our lifestyle choices were not compatible with the dominant society. We were all misfits and outcasts in some way, some more obviously than others. We were homo-, hetero-, bi-, a- and trans- kinds of sexual. We were old and young and everything in between. Some of us rented, others lived in co-ops, a few squatted and a couple were homeless. Some used Pogo as their sole means of working and getting a free meal every day, while others just worked out of leisure. We all used it as a social hub.
Foraging in Hackney yields sweet returns
Some of the people I worked with in that last month showed me some of the best times out of the whole time I lived in London. The time Ana from Spain and I went bike-riding through Hackney, found hidden farmland and picked buckets full of wild blackberries, then sat in a field of horses, got blazed and munged out, and talked about human circuses, punk rock and literature. The time Seba from Poland and I sat at Pogo for two hours after it closed and showed each other up in the thrash stakes on Youtube. The day I first worked with the beautiful Eva from Italy and she allowed me the privilege of watching her make mouth-watering, healthful and colourful salads out of our garden, flowers and all. The day that Jozsef from Russia Hungary and I made ten different kinds of scrumptious vegan desserts and taste tested them all. The day that Joel from Byron Bay first came into the café wearing the exact same Dangers jumper as I, and we sat and trouted about hardcore all morning. The day that Summer from LA told me she was a writer, and we read to each other bits and pieces of things we’d written over the years whilst listening to Rodriguez and Neil Young. The time Paul from Dublin introduced me to some low-down and dirty rocknroll from his hometown in the style of the Cramps. All these times were very special to me – bonding with strangers from all over the world about the things that matter the most in my life. I was sad to leave but grateful to have been a part of it. It’s something that I would like to start up here eventually, once I get tired of the academic rat race. A not-for-profit, organic vegan café that doubles as an art and music space, run by a community of like-minded and eclectic individuals that could make it greater than the sum of its parts. One day…one day…
Beauteous Hackney farmland
Anyway, you would have heard something about the England Riots of 2011. What started out as a legitimate angered response to police brutality and lies regarding the shooting of Mark Duggan turned ugly when the cops bashed a young girl in Tottenham on the Saturday night. This of course set the community raging even more so – police stations were picketed all over most of the poorer areas of London – Tottenham, Brixton, Hackney and Croydon amongst others – and full-on riots began that Sunday night and carried over for close to a week in different parts of the country. It started in these areas in London, and the High Streets were set ablaze and looters took advantage of the chaos. What could have turned into a righteous response to ongoing problem of police power tripping quickly turned scummy, and people lost their lives trying to protect the streets, their families and themselves. I witnessed the scumminess, and also the strength, of some of these people firsthand as I went into Pogo on that Monday afternoon. Here is an excerpt from my journal that evening:
<beginning of entry>
Monday, 8th of August, 2011
I just found myself in a pretty fucking intense situation. I went to go and watch a movie at Pogo; I left home early because I wanted to chill and have a feed at the café beforehand. There was a report that Hackney Central station was closed because of the riots yesterday, as was Brixton tube, so I took a train from Tulse Hill to St Pancras, then a tube from King’s Cross to Highbury and Islington, and then the overground towards Homerton, where I was going to get off and walk, but the train ended up stopping at Hackney Central anyway. That was a fucking mission!
As soon as I got out of the station shit was weird. Riot cops had shut off the ramp and directed us down the stairs towards Amherst Road. Across the road, there were about thirty people gathered in the square – some masked or scarfed over, but most brave-faced. Something was being anticipated. You could see it in the way everyone was shuffling their feet, hands in pockets or clutching drink bottles, eyes flicking in a 360° vista, placing themselves in relation to everyone else. Always feeling safer amongst my own and wary of the real bad guys, I stood amongst this crew and looked to the right, toward the ramp of the station. Four riot cops stood, blocking the way of the nobodies trying (yet) to get through.
I took my headphones out – I realised I would need to be catlike and alert to be safe – and that’s when I noticed the unholy noise of drone and doom from the sky. I usually love that shit but hearing it live and not at a gig is fucking unsettling. I counted four black choppers in my direct vicinity and a few more scattered further away and hovering in and out of sight. This shit was serious.
Well, no way was I going to get onto Mare Road where I usually walked to the café. As I walked north along Amherst Road to go the long way towards Dalston Lane, I could see through the alleyways on my right that Mare Road was blocked off – the cops clearly anticipated that rioters would be looting the shit out of those swanky High Street stores. Thing is, for all of their armour and batons and weapons, I could see even at this early stage that the cops were outnumbered at least four to one and this isn’t even the intense part yet. I kept walking along the strangely silent street, overdubbed with the sound of the blades spinning overhead. I got to Kenmure Road which is a side access to Mare Road and walked up to one of the cops blocking the way in.
“Hey mate, I need to get to Clarence Street,” I said.
“Where’s that?” he asked.
“Well usually I walk straight up here and past the estate, up that street.”
“Well that’s all blocked off, you’re best to walk up and around and then you’d have to go through the estate, but I would advise against walking through there by yourself.”
“Are you talking about Pembury Annex on the corner? Like, don’t go through there?” I asked, not sure of what he was telling me to do.
“Yeah. Stay away from the estate.”
“Why’s that? No, don’t worry. I know exactly why. I’ll sort something out.”
“Righto,” he said.
“Racist cunt,” I thought. “You think I’m one of you and so you’re trying to point out false boogeymen in the places where the brown and poor live. Well, I am brown and poor, and the only people on this earth that scare me in situations like this are white men in uniforms.”
I walked back down the way, debating whether to walk up to Homerton and jump on a train home, or just go around the long way to Pogo. “Fuck it, I’ve come all this way, may as well have a go.” As I kept walking I noticed a tall young man fall into step beside me.
“Hello, are you going through Pembury?” he asked in a heavy Eastern European accent.
“Yeah, are you?”
“Yes, I have to meet my friends up the road. I can walk with you if you like.”
“Yeah thanks. What’s your name?”
“I’m ‘Dot’. Where are you from?”
As we got yarning, I learnt that this young man was from Romania, and had just lost his job at a construction company. He’d been living in London for nine months, in Hackney, and wasn’t educated past Year 10, making it really hard for him to get work.
“How old are you?” he asked, peering sideways into my face.
“Too old for you love!” I joked.
“No, you’re only about twenty-one or twenty-two,” he argued.
“Actually I’m nearly twenty-seven mate,” I laughed.
“Oh! Oh okay. You look like a kid still. How old do you think I am?”
“I don’t know. I don’t like these games.”
I turned and smiled at him. “Sixteen?”
“No, of course not,” he puffed, his manly pride clearly hurt, “I’m twenty-three.”
“Still too young darlin’.”
After a minute or so he asked me: “What makes you feel crazy?”
Unsure of what he meant, I asked him to elaborate. He wanted to know the things that made my blood heat up, that made my toes tingle, that gave me butterflies, that made me smile secretly. He wasn’t being smutty, and this was one of those interesting conversations that punctuates the mostly banal exchanges I have come to expect from strangers in London. No shit, I have been told too many times to count that I was the most interesting person that some people had ever met, and it made me sad because there are millions more interesting than me out there. This is what I crave – chaos, unfamiliarity, that which creates friction and so, growth. I am glad that I gave that young man the time of day. Anyway, back to the conversation.
“This,” I said, “this is what gives me butterflies – connections, warmth, belonging. Throwing a net out in the vast and overpopulated ocean, not to catch a multitude but just one or two special, rare and willing finds.” Not sure he wouldn’t take that as encouragement, I added to distract him, but no less honestly: “When I talk to and when I think about the person that I love, I feel a thousand times happier than I did before.”
“Mmm. This is a nice answer. I like it. Would you like to have a drink with me later?”
“No, I don’t drink.”
“What about a coffee then?”
“Look, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea about me. I’m not interested in anything romantic.”
“That’s okay, I understand. Somebody is very lucky to have your heart,” he said sweetly.
I smiled, and thanked him, and wondered how accurate that statement really was.
We turned the corner and stopped, taking in the sight of burning bins on the rubbish strewn northern end of Clarence Road; hundreds of people, mostly masked and hooded, gathered around, sporadically visible through the black smoke of burning plastic and rubber, which moved through the air around us in zigzags, pushed this way and that by the helicopters chopping into the ether just above us. Mikael suddenly put his arm across my chest and pushed me back as something flew past us and glass smashed on the wall next to my face.
“Holy shit! Thankyou! There’s no way I’m going into work tonight.” I stared all around me. Mikael grabbed my hand and offered to walk me through.
“No, I think I’ll just go home. Thankyou anyway, and good luck!”
“So I can’t see you again?”
“Look, I think not. I’m moving back to Australia soon. But please, stay sweet. Its very refreshing.”
We hugged, then I smiled at him and walked away past a young woman and man putting out a council bin fire and moving it off the road. An older man was heckling them. The young woman had enough, stood up and looked him in the eye.
“You know what Uncle? My mum and baby brother need to drive home very soon. We live here, this is our street. So I’ll just clean up your mess Uncle, and you respect my family in turn.” Chastised, he let them be and wandered into the crowd, muttering to himself. I hope that strong young girl’s family got home safe and sound.
I wanted to walk north through the park of Hackney Downs, but was loathe to pull out my work smartphone in the middle of this, to check out my direction, which lines were down, and the best way to get back south without putting myself in any dangerous situations.
There was a pub nearby, and I went in to the toilet and pulled the phone out to check where the closest open station was. Satisfied with my orienteering skills, I went out into the bar for a few minutes. The pub was packed, all patrons with pints in their hands, staring at the news on the flatscreen. They were watching news of the riots in Hackney, when they could well have just looked outside for a flesh and blood update.
“Fuck this flatscreen culture,” I thought. “Hyperreality sucks everyone in.”
I walked through the community orchard, and the apocalyptic doomsday atmosphere got under my skin. There were random packs of other humans, and I was a lone wolf, a female, and very fucking thankful that I dress like a teenage boy in times like this. I pulled my hood over my face and my scarf up where my beard would be if I’d had a Y chromosome. I wasn’t hassled the whole way home – I kept to myself and stayed alert.
I caught a train from Rectory Road to Seven Sisters, and then into Camden Town. I treated myself to a nice dinner at Inspiral Café, and sat and wrote and people-watched. I caught a few more trains to get back, sticking to the peripheries of the city itself, giving wide berth to the hotspots. It was a long and winding road home, going around the tedious way, narrowly avoiding some crazy shop fires and opportunistic looting in the centre of Brixton, but I eventually got home safe and sound. I’m glad I didn’t get caught up in anything gnarlier!
London’s burning?! Camden Lock, Monday night of the riots.
<end of entry>
The next day I spoke to some of the Pogo crew. They had locked the café and watched the rioting from inside. Some of the photos they took were pretty full on. There was a car upended in front of the shop and set alight. It gave off so much heat that the front window of the shop cracked! A few shops down the street were looted and destroyed. We started up a fund straightaway to help our neighbours. It was rad to see everybody lending a hand.
Delicious Pogo food
Anyway, that was my experience of arson, stealth and romance in the London Riots of August 2011. Namaste.
In October 2011, I interviewed Jake Kolatis and Rick Lopez from The Casualties just before their show at The Hi-Fi Bar in Brisbane. We sat and had a yarn about touring, recording and the 99%. They were nice blokes and great interviewees – open-minded, funny, thoughtful and intelligent. Here’s the resulting clip: