Hope and dread from Christchurch to the end.
(Some thoughts and feels post-Christchurch on white supremacy, Islamophobia and eco-fascism after a few days of processing and conversations.)
There is no good to come from this. There is no good to come from this. There is no good to come from this and there will be no ‘but’ as an appendage to that assertion. It’s not like I needed to be thrown into an abyss. It’s not like it took a white supremacist terrorist murdering 49 Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch to send me towards hopelessness about racism in this country. My nihilist tendencies already had me here and from here – with no real hope in things changing – I am content to foment my own little moments of resistance to this white supremacist, colonial state. But spare me the light that shines its harsh glare onto my futile, scrambling efforts.
And my Muslim friends! What do they expect you to believe? That it would take something like this to shake white Australia out of its incessant Islamophobia? Its white paranoia, white nationalism, white fragility, white, white, white… That this might be a sliver of hope to grasp after such events?
Like there hasn’t been more than enough in the last two decades (cut that, try again – last two centuries plus) for that shift to occur if it was going to. I am a person of colour, but my racial background means I haven’t been on the pointy end of this country’s racial hatred in the way you have (or in the way our Indigenous brothers and sisters have). But even still, I have enough experience and understanding of this place to know that whiteness won’t disavow the power invested in its position simply on accord of its own ‘good conscience’.
In the days since the terror attack I have admired the mix of stoicism and seething anger I have seen from so many Muslim speakers and commentators. I’ve seen a new edge in how many of you put forth a challenge to white Australia – no longer will there be an asking for acceptance, no longer will there be an attempt to claim why you belong here, instead you (we) will just very much be here and will not sit back while white supremacists come at us, whether under the guise of ‘everyday’ racism or explosions of hate such as Christchurch. I’ve seen so many of you have the graciousness and insight to make the connections between this terror attack and, not just the last few decades of heightened Islamophobia, but the last few centuries of colonisation and white Australia.
I know that some of you still call for ‘unity’ and I understand why that is a necessity coming from a community that has been so under attack. But I won’t so easily be able to accept hearing these calls for ‘unity’ out of the mouths of white people. From their position, unity can only mean a reversion to the comfortable normality that is the day-to-day white supremacy of this country – a normality that we (non-white migrants) are expected to assimilate to. They act like they gave us ‘multiculturalism’ out of their good nature, when it was nothing but a conjured narrative to cover the sins of their past. And now that we’re confident enough to take the space we need – to be as we will be – their fragility is rising to the surface. They see us a threat in all spaces we occupy, and we know that when fragile whiteness feels threatened, it is us who will be endangered.
Many of you have indeed warned that this was coming. Many of us have felt that the next outburst of racist violence was imminent. It wasn’t hard to read the signs. This polarisation existed long before March 15th, 2019. It has been nurtured by white paranoia not, as they will claim, by our incapacity to ‘integrate’. Maybe a part of me misses the naive hope of ‘unity’, of a big umbrella that covers us all. But if so, that part of me is remaining extraordinarily silent these days. Instead, I accept the lines that have been drawn by white supremacy. But I will not call this the ‘good’ that comes from white terrorism, it is simply the state of things. Still, I’m glad that we’re on the same side of this line. There’ll even be a few white people join us – pushed out of the middling, complacent centre. Even on this side, we need not assume we’ll be one easy, unified group. Instead we’ll need to be able accept the discomfort that will be provoked by the differences and disagreements between us.
I hope you are well.
I know that as March 15th, 2019 approached some of you had invested a sneaky portion of hope in a movement that would be taking to the streets. After all these years we’ve spent searching for an opening that we might dive into, tunnelling in subterranean networks, hoping to undermine and topple this whole catastrophic edifice only to hit the next dead-end, it makes sense to find a bit of light and come up for air. I can see why schoolkids walking out of class for a climate strike might seem like both a beacon and an oxygen mask. I couldn’t be invested in the same way, but I’m a cynic and I’m running a bit too short on hope to be doling it out.
Still, I’m sorry that how this day turned out would so brutally shatter that hope. I mightn’t have shared it with you, but I did share the despair and sorrow for the dead that you felt, as well as concern for the Muslim community who, it seems, will just not be allowed to get on with living as they wish, due to serving as the necessary scapegoat for fragile racists everywhere.
I have to admit that I also felt a little haunted about how some of us had, just 4 days earlier, in an open discussion about climate change, been talking about the danger of environmentalism and sustainability politics in this country finding common cause with anti-immigration and white nationalist sentiment. That so soon after this chat, the self-described eco-fascist would strike. Of course, despite its shortcomings, I do not believe that it was the environmental movement that spat forth the white supremacist terrorist. He was simply and entirely a product of the trajectory of Islamophobia, racism and white nationalism in this country.
What haunts me about that conversation isn’t that it seems so prescient in hindsight, but how abstract it was. That it reflected more a sense of dread about possible futures, instead of what already exists. That, despite being able to genuinely say that what happened in Christchurch doesn’t surprise me – echoing the sentiment of so many Muslims since – it still was shocking. Shocking because of its capacity to erupt time, to scatter the future into fragments that can’t be grasped because of the overwhelming reality of the present.
So: hope and dread.
I’m stealing the words of a friend who, in the hours after the terrorist massacre, would aptly relate a sentiment of how in these times of crises and precarity, hope and dread seem to live alongside each other. I liked this framing, but it also presents a problem of time – that these are emotions that are all tangled up in a sense of how things will be in the future. And in this moment, there is no time for the future.
In this moment, maybe we will have to admit that there is some temporal distance in our causes? Fighting climate change seems to be about an affective investment in the future: dread at the potential coming catastrophe or hope about the possibility of unifying enough people to find an effective way to pull the brakes. Fighting racism, colonialism and white supremacy is a demand of the present. It makes no promises of a ‘feelgood’ unifying nature. It is often enough reactive, because pushing back is all we have, creating a bit of space to breathe.
That’s not to say that there is no ‘future’ element to such struggles, of course they are potentially constitutive of a hoped for anti-racist and de-colonised society. However, we also know that it is a regular refrain to tell us that things are changing and that we must wait. But we need only look at the struggles of Aboriginal folk to see that questions of racism and colonisation cannot be subsumed by the promise of the future. We need only look at the normalisation of white supremacy in the mainstream to see that we must be fighting back now. Or if we didn’t see these things, if we only talked about abstract futures, Christchurch came hurtling through our door to knock us back into the present.
So, I’ll keep at you my white friends (and everyone else), insisting that in all struggles that you partake, anti-racism, anti-colonisation and a rejection of all tenets of white supremacy need to be at the very core because up till now ALL politics in this country are defined foremostly by racism and white supremacy. These things can’t be treated as some add-on in a list of oppressions. They can’t be put off to some future day.
Because when climate activists tell us that their issue is more urgent than anything else and that we must put aside all other differences, we must tell them not that they are paving the road to fascism, but that their rhetoric in the immediate moment is fascistic. When they give space to the sort of sustainability politics that delve into over-population and anti-immigration ideas, we must tell them not that they risk forming alliances with racists and white nationalists, but that, in this country, they are right now propagating racism and white nationalism. And ultimately, we must recognise that all environmental politics in this country should be based in solidarity with Indigenous struggles for sovereignty and self-determination in the here and now.
To finish, I’ll return to the climate strike and some of the optimism that surrounded it, the space and type of exposure that it was given. Because another friend reminded me how the previous time there had been a high-school student strike was 15 years ago, around when the Iraq war was starting. Back then, a bunch of brown kids (many Muslims) from the suburbs had come to the city to protest the war and things got rowdy and the cops got hectic, as they tend to do with brown kids from the suburbs.
Those brown kids 15 years ago never had the option of falling back on a respectability politics that the climate strike could (and no, this isn’t the fault of those kids participating in the climate strike). They weren’t the hope of future generations, they were the immediate pain of racism and colonisation tearing through the streets, unconstrained. Most of the exposure around that moment was about the danger they posed, the violence that they would bring. And it is because of race. And it is because people of colour aren’t expected or allowed to take up space and assert ourselves. Except that increasingly we are. In the present. And it feels dangerous to white society because we were always expected to simply, obediently wait for the future.