Not the sort of writing I usually post here, but a couple of pieces inspired by experiences while I’ve been traveling this year that touch on issues of anti-racism and colonisation.
1. A story about hanging with some hooligans at a football match in Ireland and a confronting moment of racism that is handled in the best possible way.
2. A somewhat free-form piece describing a beautiful place and the feeling of swimming in water that leads to reflections on history and place.
We had come to be there as a result of a night drinking Guinness at The Cobblestone in Dublin, where we met our Scottish football hooligan chaperones – from Glasgow, but not fans of either of ‘the Old Firm’ teams, instead choosing to follow the middling fortunes of Motherwell FC. We were invited to join them in making the trip from Dublin to Sligo in the west of Ireland for the match the next day. Motherwell were due to play Sligo Rovers in a game to qualify for a low-level Europe-wide competition – a big moment for both teams and their fanbases.
In the midst of the COVID-related lockdown I wrote of how “time passes at the tenor of a slow murmur” to try and describe the sense of a distortion that I was feeling. It might have been apt at the time, but the weeks following have passed at a different, much quicker tempo. Now the institutions (police, prisons) and systems of oppression (white supremacy, anti-blackness, colonialism) that seemed so fundamental to daily life that they must have been born with the changing of the seasons are teetering on the precipice. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has sparked a rebellion that has spread and taken form in all corners of the globe. Suddenly, time is a blur as history crashes around us.
(I’ve pushed what is chronologically the fifth ‘dispatch’ to the top of the pile because it’s probably the most important).
Dispatch #5 (January 8th- 10th): Delivering supplies to affected areas on the lands of the Gunaikurnai nation (East Gippsland)
Just spent a couple of days delivering supplies with two friends to some of the affected areas in East Gippsland. We went as far out as Orbost, but roads were closed beyond that. Yesterday we made some deliveries around Bairnsdale and Bruthen. We decided to leave the area last night, because conditions were due to get hectic again today. These were my main thoughts from being out there:
For people who aren’t white and living in a colonised and white supremacist society, being able to understand and process feelings of guilt, shame and trauma is an ongoing exercise that requires honest reflection and accountability. Where We Stand is a dance/ performance ‘ritual’ that facilitates this by inviting Indigenous and other people of colour into a theatre turned into a healing space filled with warm, soothing aural tones and soft places to be in. In that space, personal stories of the damage of these interlocking oppressive systems are shared amongst us. In being there, feeling the intimacy of relating such experiences, a question arises in my mind: how do these personal affects, these lifelong traumas shared between us as confessional mementos translate into forms of anti-colonial solidarity and action that might upturn the colonial, white supremacist society that we inhabit?
Reflections on the blockade of IMARC, police violence and how to act politically against it.
For a few days in late October, protesters attempted to shut down the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) because fuck mining and capitalist resource extraction as it murders Indigenous peoples, devastates the environment and creates the conditions for the world to burn. Numbers weren’t large enough and tactics not fluid enough* to be entirely successful but there was significant disruption.
And so the police went hard. And people were staunch. And the police went harder. I’ve been up close with plenty of scenes of police violence and even still it was distressing as I stood there unable to see – having lost my glasses in the scuffles – but hearing people wailing and being sick from the effects of copious amounts of capsicum spray used viciously at close quarters.
An affectation of innocence underscores white Australia’s relation to non-white migrants who arrive here. It exists as a certainty in the inherent goodness of the structures of liberal democracy, a belief that the welcome that has been given to us migrants is charitable and tolerant in such a way that reinforces a position of benevolent authority. In conjunction with this belief is the sense that non-white migrants are always looking to exploit the naïve, kindness of white Australia. This is a continuation of racist, colonial narratives that disguises the violence of colonisation by positioning white people as constantly endangered by the lurking, dangerous brown/ black other, who will use any means – barbaric and violent or sneaky and underhanded – to access all the goodness of white society. The sense of fragility and paranoia that these colonial narratives engender mean that migrants’ place here is predicated on endlessly demonstrating our gratitude for having been allowed to stay. We are expected to display our affection and attachment in ways that are both recognisable to, and uphold, the assumed neutrality of liberal democracy by not calling it for what it is: white, liberal democracy. This veil of innocence, of impartiality, attempts to obscure a founding violence that defines all racial politics in this country, while allowing for the ongoing exploitation and dispossession faced by First Nations people.
(from my notebook): The embassy is spread across three camp sites, each a few kilometres apart. It is a beautiful stretch of bush, a land signposted by awesome gums with secret hollows and gnarly limbs – the sacred birthing trees of the DjabWurrung people. You feel the presence of history in this country, of lives having passed through here for millenia, existing in symbiosis with everything this landscape provides. And all fully framed by the stunning, imposing presence of the sandstone outcrops and ranges known as Gariwerd. The highway cuts through like a scar, and the state of Victoria now intends to prise it open, creating a seeping, exposed wound.
DjabWurrung Heritage Protection Embassy stands as a blockage against the incessant flow of colonising, state violence that attempts to wash away all trace of the cultural and environmental custodianship that Aboriginal people claim over this land. In this moment, that violence takes a most banal form – a state infrastructure project to widen the already existing highway between Melbourne and Adelaide. This would eradicate a site of sacred importance to the DjabWurrung people, including an 800 year old birthing tree that has seen over 50 generations born in the hollow of its trunk (more here).
The suggestion that non-indigenous people living in this colonised land should seek out and connect with their own cultural roots and use this as a source of strength in acting with anti-colonial struggles here, is a common one in radical milieus. I understand how investigating ‘cultural roots’ is important for some people, that being able to trace lines of connection to ancestors who resisted colonisation in their time can be a great inspiration in the present. However, I have also found its abstract use to be both confusing and simplistically dismissive of the global consequences of capitalist colonisation and resultant migrations. I think that it is necessary to interrogate some of the problems that are contained within such an uncritical valorisation of historical identity and culture.
These issues recently arose again at a workshop I attended that was centred around issues of Aboriginal sovereignty and colonisation/ de-colonisation. One of the facilitators, a non-indigenous woman of colour, gave a spiel about the importance of locating cultural roots, of knowing the land where your ‘bones are buried’, and drawing strength from this heritage. While I don’t believe that my personal experience should be taken as constitutive of a critique of this position, I will begin by laying out my subjective position just as a bit of background, but also because I’m pretty sure that I might not be alone in this.
The first time I heard a non-white migrant use the word
‘settler’ to describe all other non-white migrants in so-called Australia, I
recoiled at this naming that felt so unfamiliar to my experience. I didn’t
associate with being a settler because that term seemed to place me within the
same racialised group as white people – and I had my own familiarity facing their
In any case, the discomfort of that moment provoked some
thinking on my part, as well as a few conversations with Aboriginal people, non-indigenous
people of colour and white folk. After initially feeling that my position as a
brown migrant bore no relation to white colonialism, it became apparent that for
many Aboriginal people it most certainly did. Dispossession from country, loss
of access to resources, and the struggle to hold onto cultural forms are all
ongoing effects of an unceasing colonisation that remains in full swing. While
racial power in this country is still specifically invested in whiteness, there
are significant material benefits that non-indigenous people of colour have
been able to access as an effect of colonisation.
I’ve been noticing, and feeling inspired, by how many non-indigenous POC are increasingly finding ways to resist racism and colonisation and ensuring that they do this by actively acting in solidarity with Aboriginal struggle. This feeling was confirmed by seeing all the crews of POC on the march – whether just groups of friends or slightly more organised networks/alliances, it was a noticeable presence. The significance of this was further amplified in an excellent, fiery speech by Harry Bonifacio Baughan of the Asian Anti-Colonial Alliance.
I think it’s important to recognise that an outcome of colonisation and white supremacy is to keep disparate, marginalised peoples in a state of competition with each other. Our struggles are too often oriented towards appealing to the dominant, white power structures. When migrants cut across that by orienting our action towards First Nations people, we are undermining some of the power that whiteness holds and, more significantly, forging bonds of solidarity against racism, colonisation and white supremacy that could lead to new angles of attack.