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.

Prevailing force

Some claim to know the will of heaven.
Today, I'm waiting for the rain to fall.
Dense clouds fly in from the west to leaven
Dysgenic populations, so they're called.

Fettered by settler colonisation,
Midst appeals for the right to remain free.
The world responds in tergiversations.
Old man casts his oranges to the sea.

Mineral rights, land theft and free water,
Lusts that raze earth 'til young lives cannot fruit,
Displace generations with blood-drenched tears.
The sorry legacy of men in suits.

Foes in torrents doth wield prevailing force.
Pre-emptive strikes simply par for the course.

This poem is my response to a recent podcast interview on local radio with Australian Palestinian, Nasser Mashni. His stories recounting personal experiences of life growing up in Melbourne are skilfully interwoven with bewildering depictions of daily life for Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories and the continually-expanding Israeli state. Even with a map, it’s impossible to comprehend the situation via the populist diatribe that floods our media. For clarity’s sake, I highly recommend a listen. https://www.3cr.org.au/radicalaustralia/episode-202002121600/nasser-mashni

The old man throwing oranges into the sea appears in a story told by Sara Roy in her 2007 book, Failing Peace. Her idea of de-development to describe the impact of Israeli occupation over generations has impacted my thinking on this topic for almost a decade.

I wish every human being understood that the colonisations are still underway across the world, nowhere is immune, no categorisation of people who can’t be defined as expendable, no matter how many times we lament this or that previous outcome. If there are resources, if there is land, if there is water, you can be sure that over-the-top prestidigitators waving big guns in the faces of civilians will be used to control whatever they think you have until eternity.

If we want the prevailing force to be otherwise we have to demand it.

Distracting dramatics

The last poem was prompted by an intense period of ridiculous things happening. These kinds of experiences are occurring more and more frequently when I am reasonably certain I pose virtually zero threat to most people. It’s a bit of a mind-bender in isolation, but looking at the state of the entire world, Australia can run backwards faster than you can. Check our climate policy score if you aren’t convinced.

At this stage, I would posit the state of race/class relations in Australia is significantly more disharmonious than your everyday person would have you believe. I am not going to back it up though. Here’s one of the ridiculous things that’s been in play for the past 1-2 months.

Workers near my place, long hours, too loud. I approach one worker to find out how long it is going on for and what we can do about it. She wouldn’t answer me so I called the company responsible and they made a plan. Response. 4 weeks of harassment from the workers so far. More details in the link.

I reached out a little to see if there were any local community members who could help with ideas (for keeping sane and not escalating the situation into something even more unmanageable). Here is how that is going: https://www.reddit.com/r/melbourne/comments/e8wknn/what_rights_do_contractors_conducting_civil_works/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x – good people exist.

I always feel as though I have failed somehow when I find myself in a racially charged situation. My mind gets stuck on — this shouldn’t be happening now, there is no reason for it and all my energy is put to work on not letting each incident escalate to the emotional stage.

Yet in so many interactions I have had this year (bar a few amazing friends that I rarely or never see in person) I have been required to swallow hundreds of negative racial images often left unaddressed through a sort of courtesy or expediency.

We’ve got some violent youth gangs and even though there are many races represented in these gangs, the African kids are in a distinctive number and therefore sole perpetrators and responsible for everything wrong in this country. I feel like every second person I talk to wants to orate on the topic and share their deeply illogical opinion with me – I call it African bashing.

I can’t listen to it. I wonder why they want to discuss it with me? In other ways these are not very stupid people — or perhaps they are. Inevitably my response is to leave, or break off communications with this or that excuse and for most of the last couple of years I have been very isolated as a result.

My impression is that the occurrence of racially charged situations is more frequent in my life than when I wrote Go Home, You Black Bitch back in 2012 and more on a par with, say 1979 than what I hoped for in 2019, perhaps because many of the incidents have quite a negative effect on my day-to-day living.

For a bit there I didn’t even want to try to take another breath I was so disheartened.

So it was my secrets I was trying to uncover, the secrets I have in response to the prehistoric racist ideals I am constantly being fed… secrets starting to turn ugly in the dark, and I wrote Private Neutral Secret to be there for me the next time I struggle with it and forget that I am colonised to the hilt and so is everyone around me. To recall that I reinforce it when I am not aware, and most important to me – there is nothing I need to do to overcome racism.

Doesn’t mean I won’t, but right now it is beyond me and survival is not, so we look there, at how we are going to traverse this period.

Peace. x

ps: now you all know why I keep disappearing regularly 😉

Metaphorical Mountain Climbing

It was only when I finally accepted the reality of my situation within the dominant paradigm that things started to really shift and rearrange themselves in my internal landscape. It occurred once I gave voice to the understanding that I would never be fully acceptable regardless of whether I followed every rule laid out before me or I ignored them, whether I shut up or spoke up, whether I was naughty or nice, whether I loved or hated. Sure, the language and particular brand of oppression and punishment varied, but the established and reinforced image of “unacceptability of everything associated with Robyn because she must make amends for the terrible misfortune of not being born white” was overwhelmingly persistent.

This is not an idea I picked up via fanciful and naive notions combined with a misunderstanding about society, rather it’s a perspective that was deliberately drummed (or beaten) into me by various people and circumstances throughout my life, such as the White Australia policy intended. The actuality of my being in this society, in this time, in this body, with this mind and animated by this spirit is considered to be some kind of offense to creation, or likened as such, by many a supreme white god during a brief moment of you’ve-got-a-chip-on-your-shoulder righteous indignation and hold-the-liniment-while-I-deliver a tongue-lashing clarity. And I’m talking about the non-racist supreme white gods, don’t get them confused with those other types(!).

but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive
—Audrey Lorde, A litany for survival

I’m not going to gloss this…it hurt. To fully accept the level of oppression you have been living under when you are not literally running for your life every day, will likely plunge a person into some kind of temporary depression or anger, grief, whatever. It hurt like I didn’t think I would survive it, and to be honest I am not so sure I did. Eventually, it did stop hurting so acutely, as anyone who’s been through anything can tell you. Once the shock and devastation subsided, after the tears and rage exhausted themselves, beyond all that pain and self-pity and many miles past the “why can’t it be different?” phase – I began to understand simple things.

If everything I do is already tainted because it is done by me, it follows that I am free to be and do as I please. Let that taint be my insignia.

It surprises me that there is no more worrying about avoiding potential consequences and no more wasting my energy on frivolous attempts to be understood, welcomed or appreciated. There are no more external masters to please as they have already proven that they cannot be pleased by the likes of me. My days are no longer populated with “Yessirs” unless I totally accept that behaviour in the moment as my choice and my honour. More importantly, I am now in a position to set my own standards and to judge, to draw boundaries and define borders, to erase and replace them at will, but never to be judged. No, I absolutely do not confer upon my oppressors the right to judge me.

It is inevitable in a divide and conquer approach to discrimination, that I would have no peers, so who would be left to judge me in any meaningful way? Of course, I am not oblivious, all manner of people will have a crack at passing judgement on their fellow humans, but these judgements are well below the standard and level of humanity to which I aspire, thus rendering them entirely irrelevant within the context of my life. Similarly, my judgements are irrelevant to rural families, sporting heroes and every single one of the political candidates in the recent election, to point out a few. We are each operating in entirely different reality frameworks.

The mental image I hold for this set of experiences is akin to climbing a mountain through all kinds of weather, until the moment you break through the cloud barrier into pure sunlight and clear air. At this point, we become invisible to those who remain at the base of the mountain.

I posit that there is no greater gift for freedom than to be considered utterly inconsequential and therefore to be consistently overlooked.

I ask you in all sincerity, is there a greater advantage to the cause for freedom than spectacularly failing to inspire people to want to use me or enslave me to serve their own agendas?

My measures and markers for success are no longer dependent on the persistence of white supremacy as a social norm, and in this manner the race war within has ended and the human journey has begun.

*

Your negligee is showing

Now that I have written a post about questions… I have a question!

Seeing as the most common defense for racist acts is that any offense was not intended, what role, if any, does negligence play in racism?

Proposing a new term here: the negligee racist, a much more amusing visual combined with a proportionate degree of levity.

Negligent sounds so malignant and you can be assured, anyone using the negligee defense does not want to be considered malignant. In fact, inappropriately bringing up such thoughts can inadvertently bring forth the very malignancy being denied.

So next time you are stereotyped, racially-profiled, mammied, ridiculed, put down, followed around a shop by security, refused service, asked where you are from 17 times in one minute, abused on public transport, die in police custody, etc consider that you’ve not been the victim of racism, you’ve simply been negligee’d.

Negligee racism. A curious but generally considered harmless Aussie social ritual specifically designed for the purposes of paying tribute to the most beautiful, interesting and capable members of our society – really, if you cop some negligee racism, you should feel especially privileged. You’ve been seen, noted, honoured with that special brand of reverse-logic we are famous for and suitably brought back down – to level the playing field somewhat.

You must really spare a thought for those who aren’t special enough to be on the receiving end of such outstanding and effortful tribute. A certain degree of over-stated humility is considered very appropriate when receiving negligee tributes, it makes the racist (oops, negligee-ist) feel their efforts are being appreciated.

ooo…negligee…sounds posh

 

Really being a human

If you’ve had enough of bad news, or you can relate to anything in my last couple of poems – check out this news article today. It’s a fine example of diversity in action in Australia.

Snip of triple M article

Excerpt from the Triple M article

In truth, we have all sorts of people here with very loud voices representing their various interests and, oftentimes they are all arguing with one another. Dan represents the voice that almost never gets heard and it’s a testament to our shared humanity that his beautiful attitude (in my humble opinion) has even made it’s way into the news stream.

Objecting, opposing, denouncing, calling out bad behaviour, resisting, etc. they all have their place. Here’s a reminder that there is also another way…

Read the article here —>  Dan becomes anti-racism hero

An evening with Dr Cornel West

An intellectual evening with Dr Cornel West | The Saturday Paper.

For all kinds of reasons, I would have to say this was the best night of my life. The author of the linked article, Maxine Beneba Clarke, hasn’t mentioned anything here about her own magical, heart-opening performance. However, the article does a nice job of capturing the spirit of the experience.

While he was in town, Dr West was also a guest on the highest rating episode of ABC’s Q&A show ever – so he made a big impact during his visit to Australia.

My friends and I spent a few minutes afterwards discussing the immediate highlights such as the delightful experience of hearing the statement “there’s a white supremacist in me” said by a black man in a public forum. It’s one of those things that has an instant effect on everyone who actually lets the idea sink in. We also spent some time thinking of what questions we would ask Dr West if we had the chance. I was as enthusiastic and excitable as a teenager so I shot out of the blocks with, “Do you want to come and live at my house?” Everyone agreed that should be the first question we ask.

When it came down to actually meeting him though I asked Dr West about resistance to facts/information/other perspectives by the white population and what role negative rhetoric by the black community might play in this. He spoke with me about how people learn through catastrophe if they don’t learn any other way.

After sitting on this experience for a week, I can see how off-track my question was… oh well we live and learn. In hindsight, I should have just asked myself about my own resistance in response to all the negative rhetoric I hear and read. More importantly though, I can see how timid I’ve been. I’m not saying that with any judgment, we do what is essential to survival and anyway, it is what it is.

What I do know – is that I have been holding out to see whether the most valued aspects of my way of being could be positively reflected in a world dominated and shaped by those and their minions who have a lust for power and money and various other things of dubious virtue. Those who aren’t afraid to use violence to achieve their goals. Those who are patting themselves on the back for all that number-crunching, someone-else’s back-breaking success they’ve managed to snatch like candy from a baby. Those who think they have won.

Click! knowing and awe have become artists-in-residence;
a flowing arrangement of clear vision and virtuous men returning to simple truths.
line from a poem earlier this year – Smashing Beliefs

In short, Dr Cornel West appears to be the type of man I always expected and hoped to see in the world but hadn’t found. So many times I’ve been told, and by so many, that I have unrealistic expectations… yet here he is. This man not only exists – I got to meet him.

Robyn_DrWest

I am eternally grateful to the friend who took me to this event, Nasser, a fellow magician who is also burdened with the curse of unreasonable expectations and and the wherewithal to make them happen.

*

Peace, brothers and sisters. Over here the love is still flowing 😉