Show us your roots

I walk this earth with a gaping hole in my heart the size of ten men. I come from an ancestral line that I was born to without the human right to ever know. I was a bastard child made legitimate by the process of adoption. There is no way for me to answer questions about my ethnic or cultural ancestry with any degree of accuracy. According to the state I am a white person. All cause or occasion for my distinctive “coloured” appearance have been erased from official documentation.

I say coloured because this was my adoptive family’s considered response to my being bullied and discriminated against for being a black child in a country that had official policies regarding the race and appearance of their citizens – “You are not black, you are coloured. You are a half-caste”. I tried it out as a response and, of course, it resulted in much hilarity from those who were ridiculing my appearance in the first place. To them, to be coloured was an even bigger crime than being black.

I have listened to many stories through the years, yet the story of my lineage is incomprehensible to me. It has many variations, all arising from a similar source. Each version of the story includes a number of racist or bigoted statements that directly impacts the way those stories are processed in my mind. Invariably, I continue to summarise the entire story of my birth as – I have no right to family or heritage because I am black and adopted. There is contention on this conclusion. It upsets people, so much so that it has now become an untruth despite the first story I was told containing sentences like “My parents did not want any black children in the family.”

I’ve been African, I’ve been Australian, I’ve been Aboriginal, I’ve never been called Irish, occasionally English, due to the extent and articulation of my vocabulary. I’ve never been called Tanzanian. All these things may or may not be elements of my ancestry, how would I ever be sure? At best, I am considered a migrant, yet I still cannot answer the question, “From where?”

In later years, I also discovered that I’ve been privileged due to the physical location of my birth and the “lightness” of my skin colour. Obviously it came as quite a surprise that I have now simply become the very lowest category of person in the pecking order of any society today – with no effort on my part whatsoever. No biological change prompted this transition from being despised generally to being despised for my privilege. I know that light-skinned privilege is absolutely real against the background of an entire community of black people in a white system. Yet, there is no classification of blackness here in this country except those ideas put forth from migrants and avid followers of US politics.

We do not have an established black (non-indigenous) community to compare my experiences with and see, yes people who look like me get a far better deal in Aussie society (compared to whom, there are so few). Even if we did, I am excluded from any kind of fledgling African Australian community due to this privilege – or so I’ve been repeatedly informed. Not being a migrant is relevant here also but I can’t figure out whether it’s good or bad to people who give me a hard time on this point. I just know I am wrong, and I have never gotten over the disappointment of the attitudes people delivered after waiting my whole life for the first wave of migrations from Africa in over 50,000 years to eventuate. In retrospect it’s hilarious that I was looking forward to it.

I’ve encountered racial discrimination in every area of my life, in every month of my life, from every category of human in life, with such consistency that it is impossible to imagine a life without these aspects. As far as I know I am biologically unacceptable to every “group” of humans I have encountered so far, families notwithstanding.

There is always an exception to the rule. I was at the Invasion Day March in support of First Nations/Indigenous/Aboriginal community on January 26, 2020. (Australia Day, which also coincides with the invasion of Australia by British migrants). Walking through the city I noticed these two distinctly opposite experiences:

  1. Quite a few Aboriginal (blackfellas) recognised me on sight as belonging and called me “Sissy” with welcoming and respectful smiles – I had never met any of them before.
  2. A white lady was attempting to pat me on the head and saying my hair was fuzzy whilst congratulating herself for overcoming her inherited racism by attending the march, yet at no point was it possible in her mind that I may be aboriginal. She spoke about her empathy at length to the Palestinian friend I was marching with. I was neither welcome nor invited to the conversation.

It took all of my emotional resources to come to terms with the idea that I may be Aboriginal, it was one of the earliest things my mother said to me when I met her. Now upon seeking clarification last year, I find that I am not Aboriginal any more according to her. I am humiliated by this. My entire ancestry has now become African (whatever that means as a distinction from every other human on the planet). So it was with much gratitude and surprise to be reminded that Blackfellas (including me) don’t see things in Whitefella terms unless their skin is already as white as the driven snow. As far as my experience so far shows, if they are able to pass for white, then that is the prevailing perspective upon which they consider all the humans around them; white supremacy – eugenics – percentage of human versus savage/native/indigenous. I am proud to say I have never passed for white a single day of my life.

In addition, I have never understood this propensity for people disadvantaged by the White Supremacy system to legitimise the classification game against themselves. As a child I tried to take it on board, but the idea rejected me just as much as I rejected it. It held/holds no logical or rational basis. It has nothing to do with the truth.

At a performance in a Moslem school a few years ago, I received a shower of hugs from the young girls there when I told them my best answer to the question of racial identity or makeup… “I am 100% Australian, I am 100% African, I am 100% Aboriginal, I am 100%, Tanzanian, I am 100% Irish, I am 100% English and whatever other categories you want to add in. I am 100% human. There is no part of me that can be separated.” Still, in my heart I wish I could have said for sure, you know, my father’s family was such and such and my mother’s grandmother was such and such, from this or that place, and I have second cousins in blah blah place, but I have no way to get concrete answers. No right to them because of how/where/when I was born.

I do not apply my conclusions to individuals, it’s a collective summation of my experience, a broad brush viewpoint. People are people and regardless of how they present or the disparity of attitudes they display, I take them all as I find them with as much patience, compassion and acceptance as I can. So for every group that has rejected me there is always at least one person who accepts me in the most beautiful way, even if only for a moment. I treasure these contrasts, they offer the smallest glimmer of hope that somehow, someday perhaps, there will be a tiny group of people I can become acceptable to; and glory of all glories may they be as colourful and diverse as this gorgeous earth intended us all to be.

As it stands though, right now there is only me. If you are also deprived of your ancestry or your dignified place in this world, may we walk beside one another knowing that our loyalty and fortitude have been tempered in the fire of never belonging. We, the unclaimed, do not reap the fruits of the destructive force that’s been sweeping the globe for centuries, leaving a trail of devastation in it’s wake. We are instead, the future.

Immediate access code

I don’t know all the names
by which you are summoned.
Sensing the many-layered resonances
in the stillness between
this heart-beat and that nerve-pulse,
where the breath lies empty,
time is even weaker than gravity.

Wading through the torrential
outpouring of carefully cultivated
bits of data, coalescing into
a category we might call news,
I am becoming as one attuned –
the seer of mysteries and
the oracle of plutocratic expediency.

The keystone for every good joke
is misdirection, like that time
they drained the oceans and provided
desalination-in-a-box kits for arid lands,
quiescing the climate protectors
with seven generations of indenture
for the privilege of a drop of clean water.

The drunkard, drowning in a deluge
of his own illusions will do anything
to extract one last drink, ad nauseum,
spewing out slack-jawed solutions to
supply chain problems – fracks himself
some lubricant for the road to annihilation.
Mate, we’d better hide his bloody car keys
before he kills us all.

I don’t know all the names
by which you are summoned.
In this bottomless cycle of avarice,
the accretion of our histories is forged
in the bodies of children and tattooed
inside our eyelids. No matter how we’re
chained up, we have always been free.

Our immediate access code,
the soul-memory of our ancestors,
is written in the blood of love.