Thursday, 8 March 2018

International Women's Day, 8 March 2018

A voice I am listening to on International Women's Day 2018.....

IndigenousX, 7 March 2018:

“Racism is one that all women in the women’s movement must start to come to terms with. There is no doubt in my mind that racism is expressed by women in the movement. Its roots are many and they go deep.” – Pat O’Shane

Those words were written by former magistrate, First Nations woman Pat O’Shane more than two decades ago and yet still represent an uncomfortable truth for mainstream feminism. Similar criticisms have also been made by First Nations women like Jackie Huggins, Judy Atkinson and Aileen Morton-Robinson and are revived and re-spoken by younger feminists like Larissa Behrendt, Celeste Liddle, Nayuka Gorrie and many more who continue the fight to hold mainstream feminism to account.

The roots of racism within mainstream feminism are still there, under the soil. But that’s not to say there haven’t been changes in the mainstream feminist movement. Rather than outright denial on racism and how race impacts gender, an even more damaging phenomenon has taken hold: co-option.

Intersectionality, grounded in critical race theory, is now used by many white feminists but has been watered down to a buzzword: a superficial display of “inclusiveness” whereby it is used to deflect rather than interrogate the way race impacts the lived experience of gender, class, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.  An example of this, is the way Aboriginal women are consigned to a footnote with no context in articles about domestic violence, aligning the staggering statistics with the continuing colonial portrayal of the Aboriginal ‘other’ as inherently violent.

Much like International Women’s Day, which has become a day for corporates and fancy breakfasts that few women outside of the upper and middle classes can attend – the term has been re-purposed to fit into a limited type of white feminist thought.
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time being angry at the failings of white liberal feminism, largely because it is the type of feminism that finds the loudest voice in mainstream media. Because it has this voice it has become synonymous with ‘feminism’, despite the movement itself being a broad church. I even questioned whether to continue calling myself a feminist.

I have realised that as an Aboriginal feminist, I don’t have to continue reacting to these failures. There is already a foundation built by brilliant black women which allows us to continue developing an Aboriginal feminism. And the reason this is so important is because the unique experiences of Aboriginal people, the way racism impacts our lived experiences as women, brotherboys, sistergirls and non-binary peoples, is a matter of life and death.

While the national conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault is undoubtedly important, often Aboriginal voices are bypassed altogether. An example of this was the recent Our Watch media awards, where a white male journalist was given an accolade for reporting on “the violence no one talks about”. Aboriginal women have been talking about violence for decades – the ‘silence’ is not the issue. It is that no one listens unless it is spoken in a way that bypasses the role of white Australia, and places blame right back onto Aboriginal people themselves. 

That is why arguments about Aboriginal culture being inherently violent are so appealing. There may have been instances of violence in pre-colonial Aboriginal society –   but from my perspective, if Aboriginal people were participating in the level of violence we see now in many communities, we would not have survived for tens of thousands of years, and we would not have developed a sophisticated system of land management, astronomy and science that intertwined with our spirituality.

But the cultural arguments around Aboriginal violence find an audience in a white Australia that denies its continuing role in the current circumstances affecting our people. And white feminists can often be complicit in the perpetuation of the myth, particularly when it comes to ‘saving black women and children’ from the hands of Aboriginal men. The fact is, Aboriginal communities are not inhuman – we care deeply about violence and the impact on our people, particularly our children. But the conversation has become dangerous due to the centring of white outrage and the appetite for black pathology which borders on pornographic.

Meanwhile, Aboriginal women are painted as depraved for this perceived silence. Like the colonial images that rendered Aboriginal women as uncaring ‘infanticidal cannibals’ who did not love their children, we are again caricatured as powerless and unconcerned about our children. This is the real silence: the silencing of the strong Aboriginal women all across the country who have worked day in and day out on this problem in the face of continual slander. …..

Full article can be read here.

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