I do not quite yet have the words to fluidly articulate the decades of damage that I need to get off my chest, so this may be a ramble-y, unpolished post – and I do not apologise for this. It is 4am on a Monday and I am exhausted by life.
Tonight (or in the early hours of this morning, rather) I was aimlessly scrolling through my twitter feed and saw multiple instances of ableism – someone being compared to a disabled person in order to insult them, another person mocking the body of someone who actually has a history of medical trauma and physical impairment, mental illness shaming, a tweet highlighting the horrifically ableist policies being fought against in the United States, and a despicable headline from BBC News titled “Is having a disabled partner a burden?” – which apparently centres the opinions of three non-disabled women.
I say ‘apparently’ because I did not click on the link itself. I cannot click on links like these. Reading the headline alone triggered an emotional response in me that I would like to say is rare but is in fact a regular occurrence in my life, and has been for decades. That triggering is a regular cause of insomnia, as I stay awake trying with all my might to halt the angry and sad tears involuntarily erupting from my body, in conjunction with memories of the ableist damage my mind, body and soul has been subjected to for most of my life.
Despite a pretty amazing ability to suppress my own emotions in front of people, I read a headline like that (or hear a comment from someone along those lines) and in an instant a barrage of pain memories erupt within me. The pain of being abandoned by a long term partner just a week after declaring an intention to spend life with me, because he could not bear the thought of being with a woman in a wheelchair – prior to the surgery that resulted in me needing one. The pain of being rejected for ableist reasons but simultaneously used, time and time again, by people who have been content to use my life energy to power their own, leaving me empty and further wounded. The pain of accepting abusive and unequal love relationships because I internalised the ableist idea that I could not expect any better.
The pain of being bullied at school because of my physical impairments and trauma. The pain of endless job discrimination and resulting poverty because of my physical impairments and trauma. The pain of traveling for 3 hours in a frail and ailing body with a clinically depressed mind to study at institutions, but being forced out of them because of lack of educational support for my physical impairments and trauma. The pain of being forced out of education because of a lack of accessible public transport and lack of funds for alternative transport because… aforementioned employment discrimination.
The pain of everyone who claims to love you actually being ableist and not giving a fuck nor making any effort to educate themselves about the ableism you face. The pain of supposed allies being so only in word, not in consistent action. The pain of having to constantly ask people to consider not discriminating against you because making something accessible is seen as a charitable optional act rather than the recognition of your basic human right. The pain of being shamed, tone policed and further marginalised by the non-disabled when you have the audacity to express sincere emotions about how awful their ableism is. The pain of all this being preceded by multiple instances of medical malpractice, for which I will never be compensated and for which no apologies were ever offered.
And a thousand other pains I do not yet have the ability to name.
When your mind and body is ill, ALL OF SOCIETY rejects you, over and over. This has been my experience of the disability intersection of my identity – it of course intersects with being a Black woman, being queer, being poor (which for me is directly connected to being disabled, having physical impairments, an interrupted education, and psychological trauma). Navigating a world that tacitly accepts the idea of your inferiority and undesirability is really, really fucking hard. It takes an emotional toll that no amount of super human positive thinking can overcome. And when the people who purport to care about you are ableist too, what are you to do? How do you survive?
I am trying to figure that out.
It’s been a long minute since I posted here. That hiatus ends this week. My intention is to publish a post every weekend going forward. I’m also trying to find a way to make this blog more accessible to people with some kinds of disabilities – without changing my writing style. I will be making changes gradually as time progresses and I figure these things out.
Since being away I have been making some lifestyle changes, grounding myself and finding new direction. Soon I will be writing here about some events and initiatives I have been blessed to be a part of or witness here in Naarm (Melbourne, Australia).
Until then, I thought I’d share some clips of one of my new Sheroes below 🙂
I started 2018 at the local gym, working on my new years resolution to make the foundation of my day to day life taking care of and loving this body. The reason for this, other than the fact that I am physically disabled, is that I have spent a large portion of my life so far hating and seriously abusing this body through both active harm and neglect.
Now in my third decade of what I know will be a very long life, it is important for me to make physical self care, which I have always struggled with, a habit. I have gone to the gym almost 5 days a week, every week. I am going again tomorrow. A close friend of mine is generously training me and I envision a time when I will be strong enough and motivated enough to train solo on days when there is no one available to assist me with my program.
Ultimately, I would love to be like this Woman right here – meet 80 year old Ernestine Shepherd:
She is goals AF:
Cried the first time I watched the above clip. May I continue to build this foundation so that my core, my body, my mind and my spirit are as whole, strong, and peaceful as Ernestine’s appears to be. Let it be so.
Hello again! As previously mentioned, I will have a new post up at the end of this week.
Today I just wanted to share this poem. It’s by ALPHAMAMA, and it is Divine ❤
WATCH HER VIDEO HERE ON FACEBOOK.
These are the words:
Love is a decision, and some decisions are wrong
But when are you gonna learn girl, that you can’t make them meet you there
When you’re giving 100% but they don’t know the value of your wholeness
Guess what – he doesn’t need you, he needs himself
If you are a strong integrated magical being who can stand up and look anyone in the eye with power and pride
And he can’t rise above the sum of his experiences
Then how would he begin to know what you could add to his life?
It’s not his fault; you just don’t know what you don’t know
I know you see the best in him, but you can’t deny the rest of him
And you can’t continue testing him and measuring his answers when they don’t add up
It’s not that he’s just not that into you, it’s that his not into himself yet
He’s scared of his own power and greatness and wants to stay small, and that’s okay
But not for you.
You’re offering a starving man a diamond
But he can’t find the opportunity there because, you can’t eat a diamond
And girl let me tell you this – you. are. a diamond
Endured the condensed weight of your process and experience
That transformed your darkness into brilliant resilience
In a trillion, you are ONE
But some people still want to feel numb and you are Life itself
So go give your life to the sky
Go shoot your beams to the moon and grab your kisses from the stars
Go love the trees and let their leaves stroke your face
Go tell yourself that you’re free and then dance naked to the beat of your own racing heart
Your rhythm is too perfect to slow down for anyone
Your dance is too expert to partner with a beginner
Your life is too precious to waste, waiting for someone to step up and meet you where you are
No Queen, you do not need a King, you do not need a thing
You have all that you are, and that, is enough.
Highly recommend watching and absorbing the knowledge Harsha Walia shares in this – it will take just 13 and a half minutes out of your day:
I just wanted to share this clip packed with wisdom with you 🙂
I barely had a summer vacation period, but my year – really, next two years – of creative work (film, art, writing, poetry, etc) and service official starts tomorrow. Spending this evening getting spiritually centred, and this is my mantra:
I have the blessing of the Divine. Feeling tremendously grateful.
I love and relate to this! Here’s to activating Black spaces in a white colony!
I was just having a conversation with a friend (a fellow Black person) yesterday about the importance of Black spaces and (self) representation: of ourselves. of our stories, of our images, of our art. And then I came across performance poet Manal Younus’ TEDxAdelaide Talk on Facebook.
I had the good fortune of meeting this trail blazing woman last year. Manal Younus is a writer, performance artist and creative producer in Adelaide. As a Muslim with Eritrean origins living in Australia, Manal has used her work to spark discussion amongst audiences and communities.
Manal has performed around Australia including at the Sydney Opera House, featured on ABC television’s Q&A program and was a finalist for Young South Australian of the year in 2016. Manal released ‘Reap’, her self-published book of poetry in 2015. You can purchase it HERE.
In thisTEDxAdelaide Talk, Manal Younus explores the importance of ownership, representation and creating spaces where people of colour can discover themselves away from the white gaze. Basically, she breaks down for white folk why we need our own spaces, by us and for us, in order to be whole, healthy people in the world.
(The African-run space Manal talks about in the talk – the one that nourished her soul and inspired her – inspired me in the same way. How I wish I had had a space like that when I was an isolated and damaged teenager.)
Some words from Angela Davis, about the goal for the next few years:
Get woke, stay woke, and with a heart of love and righteous rage, stay ACTIVE.
Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, on telling a specific and not universal story. I saw this film on Sunday; it is a nuanced telling of the story of a Black boy living in poverty in Miami during the ‘War On Drugs’ era, coming to terms with his sexuality in a hyper-masculine subculture.
Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, on telling a specific and not universal story pic.twitter.com/kAPsdomgKB
— April (@aprilsalud) January 9, 2017
Related post from way back in 2010 here.
Beautiful evening 🙂 Below is an edited excerpt of a blog post I published here in 2012. Remembering this wisdom that was generously shared with me, for 2017 and beyond…
Late last year, I had the good fortune of sitting down and chatting with John Foster, mental health nurse, counselling support worker, and karate teacher/practitioner. I had seen in a local magazine for people with disabilities a small advert for a “Wheelchair Karate” class John was running out of the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, of which I am a former inpatient. So, I picked up the phone and made contact.
A few weeks later, I interviewed him. I was curious as to how John came to this particular type of karate, his background. John is third dan black belt and teaches as well – karate is a way of life for him, it is very much integrated into his lifestyle. We talked about the physical side of karate, of course – how he adapted certain moves and sequences for wheelchair users, how he teaches the class from a wheelchair, and how he plans to grow the program. John also explained to me how he had been attracted to the idea that Seidō was ‘karate for all’.
The ‘Magnanimous Heart’.
Seidō was founded by Master (Kaicho) Tadashi Nakamura in New York City, 1976. What sets this style of karate apart from others is that it incorporates a physical, traditional style and Zen meditation. John said that Kaicho says how the karate should come from ‘magnanimous heart’.
Magnanimous essentially means generous in forgiving; eschewing resentment or revenge; being unselfish. Nobility in mind and heart. In the context of karate, John said this means that it should be ‘karate for all.’ Not merely for those who are coordinated and physically powerful, but available to anybody who wants to try it.
It is with this magnanimous heart, coupled with a long history of association with spinal cord injury services and his role in the Spinal Community Integration Service [SCIS] at Royal Talbot, that John decided to try to adapt this style of karate for anyone who wants to participate in it. Thankfully, he persevered, and last year pioneered the first courses, which he planned to continue this year.
The ‘Sincere Way’.
Karate is of course very much about doing, but there is a well-developed philosophy behind this style of the martial art form.
Much of this is encapsulated right there in its name.
In Japanese, Seidō translates as SEI: “sincere” and DO: “way.”
The word SEI carries the connotation of “calm” or “silence”.
The word DO carries the connotation of “energy” or “activity”.
In Seidō one strives to reach his/her own individual balance of these two principles.
Inner calmness, outer activity.
Humility and the “beginners mind”
There is something else about Seido karate I think is pretty awesome, and it is of course connected to practicing magnanimous heart: the concept of humility in practice, something called Sho-shin, or “beginner’s mind” – essentially, if you think you’re an expert, you’re probably not open to learning anymore. John explained that before a person is promoted to a higher level of karate, they go back to a white belt, for 6-8 weeks, to get in touch with that beginners mind. They stand at the end of the line, and do the basics. It is a good grounding exercise, to go from a senior line back into a junior line, in order to appreciate yourself and the people around you. Whilst it takes a lot of individual commitment and effort to achieve your own development, the support of others around you makes it possible. Interdependence is important.
Practitioners of this martial art are invited to hold “beginner’s mind” at all times.
…and who has experienced unfair projections from other people. This message is for you:
Y’all know the tagline for this blog is ‘Decolonising my mind’. Well I just came across – and was reminded of – this work by my beautiful sister in law, Torika Bolatagici:
Torika is a lecturer in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University, Melbourne where she teaches contemporary theory and practice. Her PhD ‘Somatic Sotia: Commodity, Agency and the Fijian Military Body’ was recently submitted for examination at the School of Art and Design, University of New South Wales.
Torika works across a range of media, including photography, video and mixed media site-specific installation. Her interdisciplinary practice investigates the relationship between visual culture, human ecology, postcolonial counternarrative and visual historiography of the Black Pacific. She is interested in exploring the tensions and intersections between gender, embodied knowledge, commodification, migration and globalization.
Her work has been exhibited in New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, Yogyakarta and throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. She has published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at local and international conferences and symposia about the representation of mixed-race identity; Pacific arts practice in Australia and Fiji; representations of teachers and teaching in cinema; and gender and militarism in the Pacific.
More on Torika and her work HERE.
How I feel about this blog, and my life. Thanks for the reminder 🙂
I love this Tumblr note from Franchesca Ramsey, aka hugely successful web content creator/entertainer/public commentator who centres discussions about racism in her work. In it, she gives a shoutout to the viral video that launched her career (“Shit white girls say… to Black girls”) and talks about a mistake she made in the video in regards to equating being Jewish to being white, and casual antisemitism.
It’s an honest mea culpa about learning and accountability, and I respect that! Read it in full HERE.
“Thanks again for rocking with me all these years & being brave enough to let me know when I fuck up. Here’s to creating more space to grow in the new year.”
“I’m right here, baby!” – me.
Still in holiday mode, stuck in Melbourne but listening to island music to transport me away. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate PNG/Melanesian Men Musicians for the number of love songs about Tolai* Women that exist. REPRESENTATION! Black Love is still strong in the Pacific. And of course ALL Melanesian Women are worthy of a million songs dedicated to their magic.
I am curious as to whether other regions in the world manifest this phenomena; the practice of lyrically identifying the ethnic group of the woman being sung too? It only just occurred to me that this might seem odd or inappropriate to outsiders.
That said, I love this track 🙂 ‘Ayo Meri Tolai’ by Dezine. I’m windin’ to it to wake up my body this morning…
*I am a Tolai Woman.
I really adore this video clip for Frenna directed by AZAD WASTARA; specifically the shots that capture THE PEOPLE, colours, and other sensual impressions of this place so well!
I believe it was filmed in Ghana (there’s a shot of Kiki Bees’s, which is in Ghana). Trying to find information on who the cinematographer was.
And daydreaming of filming in Melanesia…
Last year, this was my simple resolution, set out in the post ‘New Year Resolution: Pure Connection‘:
After several years of trauma and clinically healing from it in 2015, in 2016 I needed to practice remembering I am never alone and that everyone and everything I need (and that is for me), I am connected to; I just needed to let go and align with presence.
This resolution was successful 🙂
So I am doing it again in 2017, with this addendum:
I will love and cultivate my body, without conditions.
Starting today with a BIG healthy breakfast, yoga posture exercises, cardio + strength workout session, and afro hair pampering session.
Other than that I’m going to work on being responsible and stable, pursuing my dream career, and loving the Divine.
Here’s to pursuing and living the life of my dreams in this disabled, scarred, resilient, beautiful body. May it be so.
And here’s to all healthy resolutions you set for yourself this year!
Wishing you success and wellbeing in 2017.
Mood going into 2017 🙂 Listen to the words:
Some more words from the great one Herself:
Its been proved time and time again that a hero was always reluctant of their gift within.
The only difference with myself as an artist now and my audience is I’ve tapped into my strength.
In a year I went from audience to artist.
Solely because of embracing what makes me…. me.
HERoes is about finding the hero within.
The true gift and talents of oneself and nurturing the hero that is already there.
Wear your cape.
A great and timely post on the Media Matters For America blog:
It highlights why magazines that consider and centre the interests and perspectives of young women of colour are producing good journalism and staying in business at the same time.
Yet another theme for my life, going forward.
“What (mostly male) critics fail to recognize is that their reasons for dismissing women’s magazines actually form the foundation of those publications’ success. Magazines created by and for women audiences — not to mention exclusively online outlets like Broadly, Refinery 29, The Establishment, and Jezebel — inherently do things differently, and that’s their strength. They’re helmed by people who wouldn’t normally see their experiences depicted on the pages of papers of record. They’re also answering to an audience of women, especially young women and women of color, by finding ways to inject otherwise untold perspectives into the political discourse.”
Saw this on twitter; a reminder that this season is hard for so many:
And here are some articles for those who do find themselves alone during the holidays. VOLUNTEERING is a suggestion that comes up in many of these kinds of advice articles, and it is a great suggestion in general for those who feel disconnected in some way; even if you are not physically alone.
Oh my goodness, the cinematography in this clip is exquisite, disturbing, loving. Video for Leon Bridges’ ‘River’. 💚
I’m in suburbia tonight so naturally watching an entire Beyonce ‘Formation‘ concert online (she remains a problematic fave). I’ve only really become a true fan with the last two records she has put out. In a previous post I mentioned bell hook’s criticisms of Beyonce as a cultural influencer; as I said, many of her critiques are on point. But I am also a grown ass woman who enjoys the show Beyonce delivers, enjoys exercising to bomb remixes of her tracks, and admires Bey’s insane work ethic and stage presence.
Here’s a compilation of clips of Bey behind the scenes, working hard to execute her grand visions and being human at the same time. As always, the video has a sexist, stupid title (3.16 minute mark onward is where the gold is at):
And here is Queen Bey slaying a ‘Formation Tour’ concert (the entire thing):
2016 has widely been deemed a dog of a year, on a global scale.
I know for me, it has been both incredibly challenging and a year of intense healing, clearing, and further awakening. Back in early January I wrote about how I had spent 2015 healing from PTSD, extreme anxiety and agoraphobia that resulted from the abusive relationship I was embroiled in during the previous 6 or so years. During those years, I learned so much about myself and continued to strip away everything false in my life.
This year was all about slowly getting back on track with my life goals, learning to be my Pro-Black Melanesian Disabled Feminist self without apologising, getting unblocked creatively, and pushing myself out into the social world again 🙂
And I know for many of my beloveds, it was a great year! I am grateful that for them, it was. I came across this article via a friend and it reminded me that though 2016 was the year of Trump (and other calamities), it also delivered many reasons to celebrate:
Props to Sista Zai, storyteller and thought leader, for introducing me to this passage – follow her on Facebook here.
You best believe I’m adding this bell hooks book to my long reading list.
“Even though feminist thinking and practice focusing on connections between racism and sexism helped generate awareness of the way in which black womanhood is devalued in an imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal culture, individual black females must continually work to challenge and change negative perceptions of our being and our behavior. As teachers, we struggle to resist students and colleagues placing us in the role of mammy caretaker because they have been unconsciously taught that this is a black woman’s place. When I began writing and teaching about the connections between racism and sexism, I was often told that I was so angry. I refused to accept this projected identity. Instead, I would challenge audiences to consider why analysis of race, gender, and class that called into question accepted ways of thinking always appeared to them to come from a place of anger rather than a place of awareness. Often, the individuals who accused me of being angry were masking their own rage at being confronted and challenged.” [emphasis mine]
~ bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom
The passage I bolded is of particular interest me, observing the way liberals respond to critical thinkers, and how people take critiques and analyses that are not personal, really personally. I am questioning what is wrong with being angry, if the anger is about a very real injustice. But I am also thinking about how critical thinkers need to do continuous work on themselves to ensure that the critiques they do offer are not coming from ego (ego-related resentment, envy, etc). Sometimes, that does mean reflecting on the anger we feel, making sure it’s coming from a pure place within us. And if it isn’t, doing the work to release that shit so we can focus on what is essential.
Let me start by saying ‘Hamilton’ the musical did mention slavery a few times. Nonetheless, let me quote this:
“If it is not OK to normalise hatred, and of course it is not, then Hamilton is not OK. A musical that bleaches a very savage history, which led to a savage present, by the use of actors of colour is not worth fighting for. A wall has been built by this overwhelming obsession with cultural moments: did Tony Abbott wink, did Mikey Pence “rap” along in a diverse musical that does not mention slavery? That it is painted often in rainbow colours makes no difference at all.”
I enjoyed Hamilton, so I am not posting this to “bash” the artists who created it or the art itself. In fact, the piece from which the above quote is taken is not a critique of the music, great performances, or any technical aspect of the production.
Rather, THIS PIECE at Crikey.com.au is a harsh and flawed take-down of the very premise of Hamilton, which author Helen Razer says excuses the racist horror of America’s past merely by switching the race of its players: “sounds to me like revisionist bullshit.”
There is an excellent response to the piece in the comments section that counters a number of inaccuracies contained within the op ed. Nonetheless, Razer raises a number of important political questions, in addition to criticising the merit of using a diverse cast (as astonishingly talented as they are) to tell the stories of – and humanise – brutal white colonisers.
In another (better, longer) analytical Hamilton “takedown” on currentaffairs.org, that point is also raised by Alex Nichols:
‘The most obvious historical aberration is the portrayal of Washington and Jefferson as black men, a somewhat audacious choice given that both men are strongly associated with owning, and in the case of the latter, raping and impregnating slaves. Changing the races allows these men to appear far more sympathetic than they would otherwise be. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda says he did this intentionally, to make the cast “look like America today,” and that having black actors play the roles “allow[s] you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.” (“Cultural baggage” is an odd way of describing “feeling discomfort at warm portrayals of slaveowners.”) [emphasis mine]
I write stories, so empathising with villains, despite my social justice warrior exterior, actually comes easy to me; but that line (bolded) makes my skin crawl a little. Suffice to say, as someone interested in centering Black and Brown bodies in my work, I am honing my ideas about what diverse representation means and the political implications of not just stories, but how they are told, and who performs them. Here’s another excerpt from that piece:
‘“Casting black and Latino actors as the founders effectively writes nonwhite people into the story, in ways that audiences have powerfully responded to,” said the New York Times. But fixing history makes it seem less objectionable than it actually was. We might call it a kind of, well, “blackwashing,” making something that was heinous seem somehow palatable by retroactively injecting diversity into it.’
I recommend reading the piece HERE entirely because there is so much I want to quote from it that I’ll end up just copying and pasting the whole thing.
But I’ll leave you with this one:
‘As the director of the Hamilton theater said, “It has liberated a lot of people who might feel ambivalent about the American experiment to feel patriotic.” “Ambivalence,” here, means being bothered by the country’s collective idol-worship of men who participated in the slave trade, one of the greatest crimes in human history. To be “liberated” from this means never having to think about it.”’
Ooofph. Let that sink in.
Lord give us a dope theatrical portrayal of Black and Native people valiantly fighting for their freedom since colonizer/invasion day one, please. That would be worth mortgaging ones house to acquire a ticket for.
Another little dose of honesty here. In disability activist circles there is much talk of ‘inspiration porn‘ (the late great Stella Young had a TED talk about it that went viral) – the inspirational memes that proliferated online and in viral emails (back in the day) that feature images of disabled adults, teenagers or children doing some everyday activity or some out-of-the-ordinary thing, paired with some words that encourage the able-bodied viewer to thus believe that anything is possible, not feel sorry for themselves, and generally be inspired by the awesome attitude of the disabled individual.
Let me be clear: in an of itself, I do not think that drawing inspiration from others who clearly have some extra shit to deal with in this world, or who are amazing to us for one reason or another, is a bad thing. I really don’t. Particularly if the inspiration being taken is rooted in an understanding that this world can be a harsh and obstacle-ridden place for us disabled people.
However, there are definitely instances of ‘inspiration porn’ where the message being delivered is harmful to disabled people; they are harmful for the reason articulated perfectly in the following excerpt from this article:
“Instead of paying attention to the conditions that make disabled people’s lives difficult, inspiration porn focuses on attitudes of disabled persons as the thing that will make one’s life better or not,” Erevelles said. “[Inspiration porn] takes away from the actual issues that disabled people want folks to pay attention to – like the lack of access, like exclusion from schools and community activities, the ways in which people stare at you, the ways non-disabled people are so uncomfortable being around disabled people except for when they are a source of inspiration.”
“People are inspired by a child with disabilities coloring, but not by someone with a disability fighting for their rights, because in the former the subject is happy, while in the latter they are frustrated and angry”
So you see, the reason ‘inspiration porn’ is a problem is because it can obscure the fact that disabled people face a lot of discrimination, oppression and marginalisation in all societies on this planet, that no amount of positive thinking and attitude adjustment (although those things are useful on an individual level) will remedy. It’s perfectly okay and humane (and human) to recognise a strong spirit or the positive inner qualities of disabled people; but it is more important for people to recognise and DO SOMETHING ABOUT the systemic barriers disabled people face to participating and contributing to society, and living full lives.
Poetry about a problematic fave (not as bad as a fascist orange-tinted incompetent, but still problematic):
Here is a related article from 2014 (same year the above performance was recorded): Nobel Prize winner Malala told Obama U.S. drone attacks fuel terrorism
“I just want you to think critically about what we do with the Black female body; why we imagine some things and not others.”
– bell hooks, during her introduction to ‘Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.’
It seems appropriate to post this talk, to continue on a theme 😉 I recently re-watched this 2014 panel discussion hosted by The New School (NYU) titled ‘Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body’, and featuring bell hooks, author Marci Blackman (Tradition), film director Shola Lynch (Free Angela and All Political Prisoners), and author and activist Janet Mock (Redefining Realness). bell’s knowledge and provocations are great as always.
- I understand Janet Mock’s perspective that there is power for her in using glamour to affirm herself in the world, particularly as a Black trans* woman. But I am completely skeptical about her assertion that this is not done for “the male gaze” (when so much about the aesthetics of heterosexual femininity is about that. If heterosexual men and women found some flamboyant body adornment truly off putting, for example, I am skeptical that Janet and other women into feminine glamour would embrace it; we should acknowledge this). It should also be noted that in the past before publicly coming out as trans*, Janet was rarely read as a trans* woman unless she disclosed that she is; so adhering to the “standards” of cisgender femininity was also about safety, comfort, “passing”.
- I’d like to point out how stupid it is to not have a dark-skinned woman in this conversation; without it the conversation is skewed and incomplete.
- The Beyoncé TIME ‘Most Influential’ cover discussion – wow. The first time I watched this, I admit my reaction to bell’s use of the term “terrorist” to describe the images Bey puts out into mass culture was to immediately dismiss the hyperbole. But the context here is important; bell was talking about the impact on young girls (and their relationship to their own bodies). There is no doubt, for example, that Beyoncé benefits from colourism and her cultivated physical proximity to whiteness. What impact does this have on Black girls, experiencing racism in the overall culture and colourism in their own communities?
- bell’s point that the major assaults on feminism and women come from image making and visual media is TRUE. I appreciate her call for genuinely liberating image making (I am going to be hated for this, considering how problematic this person is, but Lena Dunham’s representation of her own body in HBO’s ‘Girls’ is liberating for a great many girls and young women because it is unheard of for a woman with her body type to be centred on a television show. She shows herself naked, she shows herself struggling to run, she shows herself compulsively snacking, she shows herself dancing, she shows herself having sex, she shows herself being loved by others… imperfect and real as she is. And she cops grief for it – see how much hateful and vitriolic abuse she gets for daring to be seen at all. She is a white woman and yet I find her representations 100 times more liberating than Beyoncé’s – even though I enjoy Beyoncé).
- I LOVE this from Shola Lynch, which I will just loosely transcribe, because it nails everything that I want to do:
“There’s a term that I discovered in college that is so relevant these days, it’s a feminist term for media studies, called ‘symbolic annihilation’. It is two things: one, not seeing yourself, and two, only seeing yourself denigrated, victimised, et cetera, and what that does to you. And I think that we can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze, and look for the images and the people and places that feed me. The more we create our culture – cultural images, the books you write, the films we make, the alternatives – these are artefacts that live, and they speak to people whether we are there or not. Bodies of work, that’s critical. [Shola tells a story of her young daughter, obsessed with blonde princesses and battling her naturally big hair, becoming proud of her “Angela Davis hair” after repeat viewings of her Angela Davis film]. So the more we create the alternative universe… which then creates the universe…” [end of comment]
- bell hooks talks about how the journey to freedom is also the journey of imagination; the capacity to imagine yourself differently… counter-hegemonically. Creativity and the uses of the imagination is what led each of the panellists to freedom and a self-defined life path; I love that.
- I love what Janet says about imagining she is worthy in a world that tells her she is unworthy; imagining that she deserves to have a book published, to be heard and seen, to take up as much space as she wants and to share a stage with bell hooks! Creating a foundation of self love and esteem in the face of adverse circumstances is both healing work AND a creative act. If you have to create a larger persona that you will eventually grow into, that is absolutely a creative act (I’m thinking of an interview I saw with Sampa the Great, an anti-hegemonic force if I ever saw one, who said her stage name was something she gave herself to grow into. She’s so dope.)
Last word from bell hooks:
“the incredible power of images. Image changes something. Little girls read ‘happy to be nappy’ and it changes something. We have to be about that work of creating the counter-hegemonic image in order for that transformation to take place.”
This short post follows on from my previous one, ‘ANTI-BLACKNESS/BLACK *BODIES* & THE ‘TOO PRETTY TO BE ABORIGINAL’ TALK.’
In that post, I identified anti-Blackness, anti-Black and non-mixed bodies, as the basis of the offensive, back-handed compliment “too pretty to be Aboriginal” and the superficial favour many people of colour who approximate whiteness (due to mixed ancestry, European ancestry) experience.
Sasha Sarago and Nayuka Gorrie had compelling presentations, Nayuka in particular (by that I mean many of her thoughts on the topic discussed applied to people of colour and the choices we make). Still, I could not help but think about Celeste Liddle‘s broad feminist critique of the ideas and assumptions that underpin the creation of things like Indigenous beauty pageants and modelling in general. If you don’t know who she is, look up her ‘Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist’ blog and her public writing.
If I was curating the event, I would have loved the Q&A session at the end of the two talks to be conducted by Celeste – for her to ask a few provocative questions herself, and then throw it open to the audience to put forth their questions. Celeste looks at things structurally and critiques the very notion of wanting to be pretty in the eyes of white and colonised folk – a really important idea that to me represents the next level of “wokeness” and decolonisation.
Here’s a quote of hers from this blog post: ‘I am very much of the “Audre Lorde” school of thought here whereby “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house”. Buying into coloniser notions of blackness, as well as patriarchal notions of beauty is not going to change anything for the better in the long term.’
I enjoy beautiful (as defined within this culture) representations of people of colour, and appreciate how *individually* economically/self esteem empowering it can be for women of colour to capitalise on being able to conform to western standards of beauty or be attractive to/within the dominant culture. That said, Celeste is fucking right – *collectively* it doesn’t advance either people of colour or women generally. We can partake in the politics of western-defined beauty, and use it to empower ourselves as individuals, feel more confident and comfortable, et cetera. But we should not kid ourselves that this is liberation.
In Celeste’s blog post quoted from above, she also defends herself from (incorrect) accusations that by pointing out the flawed thinking behind beauty pageants she was committing “lateral violence”. I highly recommend reading it here.
BLACK BEAUTY, OR ‘BLACK™’ WESTERNISED BEAUTY?
One more thing… something that I thought about as Sasha and Nayuka discussed the gorgeous Black Aboriginal model from Yirrkala in North East Arnhem, Magnolia Maymuru; and representations of Aboriginal people/people of colour in media, magazines, and modelling shoots (including Sasha’s wonderful Ascension Magazine… read Magnolia’s extended interview in Ascension HERE). I wanted to ask them about it on the day but didn’t quite know how to phrase it concisely; I still don’t, so I’ll just put it here as an incomplete thought.
I enjoy consuming western-based ‘Black media’ – magazines, films, television, radio, podcasts, vloggers, and so forth. When it comes to ‘beauty’, I prefer (aesthetically and politically) natural Black hair and holistically focused Black media makers. My favourite Black beauty vlogger uses all natural and ethically sourced ingredients in her hair and body remedies, and though not against make-up, she does not wear it on a day-to-day basis (beating your face is fun, but time consuming and expensive). I find her work affirming and healthy – she emphasises health, feeling good from the inside but also embracing ones Black body as it is; that feels very Pro-Black (and Pro-Woman) to me. I also enjoy watching vloggers with physical differences (scars, physical conditions) who use make-up to empower themselves, and vloggers who use make-up to transform themselves into characters. It is fun, it is inspiring, it is art.
Scanning western BLACK™ media though, there are patterns of representation that, whilst presented as proudly Black, actually discourage and attempt to hide things that are, by genetics, hella Black: afro-kinky hair texture, skin tone, certain types of noses and facial features. I have seen so many tutorials made by and for Black women instructing how to use contour to make your nose appear more European like, westernised (it is never phrased in this way, but that is essentially what is being done). “How to make your nose look slimmer” tutorials. I have lost count of the number of tutorials in which Black women use a shade of foundation that is obviously lighter than their actual skin tone.
I watch and enjoy all of this (often playful) transformation, truly. But I also feel grossed out by some of it. I firmly believe in the power and importance of representation – and in particular, self representation – but it seems to me that even in self representations of Black people, particularly in more prominent magazines and on film, we shun physical Blackness in favour of Blackness™, a version of blackness that has “tamed” hair, evened out (with make-up or bleach or simply mixed genetics) skin tone, “prettier” (closer to white) noses. And I wonder whether we (in the West, particularly third culture Black kids) will get to a place where the bulk of our self representations as Black people will reject the projections of the coloniser regarding the genetically gifted traits that white supremacy and colourism denigrate and stigmatise… and fully embrace physical Blackness.
So last week I attended this talk by Sasha Sarago (Editor/Founder of Ascension Mag) and Nayuka Gorrie (activist and writer) – ‘Beauty & the Beast: Indigenous beauty decolonised’. This was the blurb for it:
“You’re too pretty to be Aboriginal. This is the abhorrent statement Aboriginal women are confronted with by everyday Australians. Where did this demoralising statement originate? How do Aboriginal women feel about this statement? This talk explores the objectification of Indigenous beauty via Australia’s colonial history. How beauty is viewed by Indigenous women and the rise of decolonisation – a global movement to reclaim the beauty inherent in Indigenous values and traditions, revived through contemporary mediums.”
I went along to the talk for two reasons in particular:
1) I have a mental crush on Nayuka and truly admire Sasha; and
2) I wanted to see if either speakers would identify anti-Blackness – anti-non-mixed black bodies, specifically – as the actual origin of the backhanded and offensive phrase “too pretty to be Aboriginal’.
Because I have been reading about and hearing the views of people of mixed heritage on this topic – COLOURISM – for a long time. And, sometimes, the conversation stays focused on the person of mixed heritage’s feelings regarding having their identity questioned, whilst the bodies being denigrated by such comments – the bodies of non-mixed Black/Indigenous people, women in particular – are not represented in the conversation at all.
As first speaker, Sasha Sarago gave an amazing breakdown of the complex, often traumatic historical reasons why many Aboriginal people are of mixed heritage today. The former model then spoke about being called, many times, “too pretty to be Aboriginal”. She explained how it feels to be on the receiving end of such ignorant comments; her explanation understandably focused on how such comments deny or question her proud Indigenous heritage.
However, it was odd to me that no connection was made between that offensive back-handed “compliment” and the other group of people being denigrated by such comments: non-mixed Aboriginal people’s bodies. Bodies that look as far from whiteness and the standards of western ‘beauty’ as possible. The “too pretty to be…” comment exists because Black bodies/features are stigmatised and devalued. It reflects the privileging of bodies that approximate PHYSICAL whiteness (or non-Aboriginality) more than the bodies that don’t; to not mention anti-Blackness in these conversations is therefore to miss the point.
Thankfully though, Nayuka did mention this, and made the connection. As second speaker, she discussed her experiences and interactions on dating App Tinder; she shared anecdotes about having her Aboriginality fetishised by (white) non-Aboriginal men. She talked about being complimented for her brown skin, green eyes, and other mixed features; crucially, though, Nayuka talked about how it is actually her “proximity to whiteness” as an Aboriginal woman of mixed heritage that these kinds of men are attracted to.
In essence, it is COLOURISM; a toxic physical offshoot of WHITE SUPREMACY.
Being the superstar that she is, Nayuka went on to explain how WHITE SUPREMACIST COLOURISM is deeply embedded not just in white people, but in Aboriginal people (and many colonised Black and Brown people in general, I would argue) too. The first time Nayuka heard the “too pretty to be Aboriginal” line, for example, was depressingly from a young Aboriginal man.
This toxin runs deep. It is the internalised white supremacy that PEOPLE OF COLOUR *ourselves* need to uproot and reckon with. In order to do this, physical anti-Blackness (anti-Black bodies, features, hair textures, skin tones and body shapes) needs to be IDENTIFIED and COUNTERED, always.
Correctly identifying physical anti-Blackness in the statement “too pretty to be a…” is part of that.
Nayuka discussed some ways she is doing the work of unlearning colourism and decolonising the way she sees Black bodies; they involve privileging BLACKNESS in her online and offline life. Surrounding yourself with images of Black & Indigenous people, consuming Black & Indigenous media, participating in Black & Indigenous culture, socialising with and loving Black & Indigenous people… is all a part of ridding oneself of the anti-Black conditioning of immersion in a white culture. Within which Black bodies are marginalised, tokenised, fetishised, stigmatised or simply erased.
And it is all so important. Truly. This may sound like a conversation about superficial beauty, but it is actually a conversation about UNLEARNING UNCONSCIOUS (and conscious) WHITE SUPREMACIST BIAS against Black and indigenous bodies – a bias many Black and Brown people also have.
So CENTERING BLACK AND BROWN BODIES – those bodies that do not approximate whiteness – is a way of countering the dehumanisation and denigration of non-white, non-mixed bodies. For decolonising Black and Brown people, it is affirming, empowering, anti-colourism, anti-racism work. We are not merely our bodies, and our identities need not even be related to our bodies… but the fact remains that bodies further away from whiteness are treated and regarded differently than others. The “unlearning” bias and colourism work is about shifting that paradigm and ensuring we are not replicating that toxic bias with what we create, and the choices we make.
That said, there were two counter-arguments that weren’t covered in the talk (or the ensuing Q&A session) that I will get into in my next post: the idea that collective empowerment of women of colour cannot come through beauty pageants and modelling, as Celeste Liddle has argued in the past (I basically agree); and that sometimes representations of Black and Brown beauty created by Black and Brown people can also be fairly conformist and “colonised”, aesthetically speaking (two really basic examples: the use of contour to make noses look thinner, and hair straightening and lightening for those of us with naturally afro-kinky hair.) To be continued soon 🙂
READ NEXT POST: Embracing the Black body (beyond the western aesthetic)
READ ADDITIONAL FOLLOW UP POST: Filed under ‘this is why we have to acknowledge anti-*Blackness* in Australia’
RELATED POST: Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body
This graphic is from my 2012 post, ‘The Healer‘.
It is the theme for my weekend. Hope you’re having a blessed one.
I had a ball tonight delivering this little speech at Women of the World Festival Melbourne Opening (invite only). Was honoured to present alongside MzRizk, Katrina Sedgwick, Aseel Tayah, Inez Martorell, and Heather Horrocks. We were each asked to respond to this in 5 minutes: “As a woman of the world what are your top 3 priorities?” And end with “as a woman of the world, my dream for our future is…”. I love how different our responses were from each other! And that in delivering my own, I actually found a whole new group of comrades who vibed with what I said 🙂
Much thanks to Tammy Anderson for being our charismatic MC for the evening, Karen Jackson for a beautiful Acknowledgement of Country, the West Papuan Black Sistaz for bringing the music, and to Producer Alia Gabres for inviting me to share my thoughts!
SO. When I received the brief for this talk today, it sounded pretty simple … until I remembered how HUGE and complex the world is, how MANY women there are in it, and how diverse our world views and lived experiences are.
Because of this, I feel the need to preface my 3 priorities by stating clearly that I am a Black Pacific Islander, immigrant citizen of a white settler colony. THAT IS THE LENS through which I see the world.
When I think of diversity feminism, because of the hugeness of the world, I tend to focus on what I know and what I can shape – and that is the societies of white settler colonies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States.
These nation-states have similar histories in terms of genocidal settler violence against indigenous peoples, slavery or coerced labour, waves of white migration, waves of persistent opposition to NON-white migration, and internal histories of struggle to extend civil and human rights to various groups within them – struggles that continue today.
Bearing this in mind, here are my 3 priorities as a woman of the world.
Priority Number One. Think Globally.
I had the good fortune this year of meeting my hero, scholar, activist and feminist Angela Davis. One of many things I admire about Angela, is her ability to see the connections between social justice and environmental struggles in different parts of the globe; and how they ALL connect to the global economic system, and the decadence of the industrialised world. Corporatism. The profit motive.
Fundamentally, I know that this is CRUCIAL to understand. So my NUMBER ONE lifelong priority is to educate myself, and then others, on these global interconnections. That understanding enables cross border solidarity, strategizing, and collective action, for the liberation of humankind including womankind.
Priority Number Two. Act intersectionally, locally.
This one is actually a little bit easier for me to get than most; mainly because my own lived experience is extremely intersectional. I’m Black. I’m a Black Woman. I’m a Black disabled woman who lives with a mental illness. And I am on a very low income.
On a weekly basis, I come up against the intersections of various types of marginalization I experience because of structural discrimination against me.
There are a range of structural -isms and phobias built into our colonies’ foundations that INTERSECT to make some people’s lives much harder than they should be. Whilst most women will face sexism and misogyny, focusing only on those issues fails to take into account those other systemic barriers that people who are not part of the power structure, also face: racism, colorism, homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, classism, ageism, to name a few.
Then there is the fact that indigenous Australians – like indigenous peoples in other white settler colonies whose sovereignty has never been ceded – contend with pervasive and deep rooted racism, the intergenerational effects of genocidal actions taken by colonisers over centuries, and present day settler violence against indigenous communities and bodies.
Add to that the plight of the truly vulnerable stateless people, asylum seekers and refugees, who are dealt appalling carceral punishments for committing the supposed crime of seeking asylum and a future on our imperfect but safer shores.
For any woman of the world truly concerned with social justice and liberation, prioritizing the ability to think INTERSECTIONALLY and align our social justice organizing with that vision, is essential.
Priority Number Three. Make ethical consumer and political choices.
We live in a country that is one of the beneficiaries of the global capitalist system, which relies on the exploitation of whole countries and regions, people, natural resources and animals to create products that all of us who have forgotten how to live in harmony with nature, choose to consume. Those choices maintain demand for products. None of us, therefore, are untainted by the injustice built into the system that we are born into. My phone, for example, was created in part with elements exploitatively mined from the Congo and made by workers under indefensible conditions in China.
I am a writer and also a person with a disability; I need technology to work and live, so giving up the phone is not a choice I can make anytime soon. But there are myriad choices we as consumers living in the West make all the time, particularly if you have disposable income.
So my priority going forward is to make sure that my choices, as much as possible, are made consciously. By that I mean, I want to know where my stuff was made, who made it and under what conditions, and what it was made out of. As much as possible, I want to make ethical and educated choices.
And speaking of that, I haven’t yet mentioned the democratic system. Here again, choices must be made, not only at elections, but at all times between them. I want to choose to stay engaged with what is happening in politics on all levels, to remain ACTIVE and support the people and political collectives who champion the values I hold dear, and policies I know to be best for the implementation of those values. If Trump’s ascension to the presidency has taught us anything, it is to stay awake, engaged, and ACTIVE — over 90 million people eligible to vote did not do so, in the recent U.S election.
To conclude, as a woman of the world, my dream for our future is that we start recognising that DIVERSITY IS REALITY, globally and locally. And that we work hard together to create a world where diverse peoples, diverse women, can live free of structural exploitation, oppression and marginalization.
Just wanted to share a few wonderful clips that have inspired me in the last 24 hours: women with physical differences and “abnormalities” who LOVE the shit out of themselves (as they should 🙂 ) This is what body acceptance look like. (Note: this has already been a week of dealing with ableism, racism, sexism and gender policing, which has left me weary and emotional, so I personally needed the reminder to sure up my own foundation).
1. “She’s built a solid foundation for self-love.”
This clip I saw via George Takei’s fb page; a young woman who lost all her limbs and sustained scarring as a result of bacterial meningitis, but found a way to love and enjoy her new form through make-up. Now her make-up tutorials on youtube inspire people to love and enjoy their own forms too (I am against “inspiration porn”, but this is different; a disabled woman representing herself and moving others in the process).
George wrote, “She’s built a solid foundation for self-love.” Such a foundation is essential.
2. “This is who I am. I’m different, and I’ve learned to accept it, fully.”
Three clips on the beautiful Harnaam Kaur. I love this woman so much. The British Sikh, appearance and body positivity activist has polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition she was diagnosed with as a child. One of the byproducts of it is excess body and facial hair. As a child and teenager she tried desperately to maintain a hair free appearance through shaving and waxing, but doing so harmed her body and did not stop the relentless, sadistic bullying that came. Upon reaching adulthood, Harnaam had had enough and wanted to just learn to love her body, as is. With the support of her incredible (and equally beautiful) brother Gurdeep, she did (he said, “As long as she’s happy, that’s all I really care about.”)
With that decision, Harnaam found a foundation of self love that continues to inspire people to nurture their own; people who see the light that she most definitely is in the world. It’s not that the whole world embraces her – she still gets stared at, vilified, and threatened both on and offline by damaged, ableist, misogynistic gender police for daring to just exist unapologetically in her body. But her foundation is so strong that they cannot crack it.
This is Harnaam’s story:
This is a Aisha Mirza music video collaboration Harnaam starred in: “fuck me or destroy me”.
And here Harnaam is doing a live feed for Cosmopolitan, telling her story, answering questions, and looking so damn cute (click on the picture to open the video link). She talks about how she enjoys her body and femininity through makeup and beard care, too:
And here’s a previously related post on my own (ongoing) journey to body acceptance and self love: ‘I will live the life of my dreams… in *this* body.’
You best believe I am getting the above logo on a t-shirt! Mike Mort creates ‘SUPER ACCESSIBILITY LOGOS’, fun variations of the international accessibility logo inspired by comic book, film, television, video-game and pop-culture icons.
Here is some information on Mike from his site: “Mike Mort is a 25-year-old blogger and wheelchair-user, living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. He believes deeply in intersectional social justice and ending all forms of oppression. Disabled activism is a major passion and personal cause in his everyday life. With this blog, Mike hopes to educate others about ableism and promote the equality and understanding of all disabled and chronically ill individuals.”
Click on the image above – Black Wonder-Woman (Pride) – to go to his blog. Love that he has a STELLA YOUNG quote on his masthead. I truly miss her; and am only now developing the proud ‘crip’ moxy that she departed this earth with at the tender age of 32. It has taken me a decade to truly understand this, but Stella taught me that pride is not about ego for disabled people… it is about dignity and valuing ourselves – and our bodies – in a world that affords us neither dignity nor value.
Disability pride (like Black pride and LGBTQI pride) is therefore a revolutionary tool, a paradigm shifter in a world that marginalises us physically, culturally and institutionally everyday – which can be demoralising in the extreme. As a Black Woman in a white settler colony, I can physically go into most spaces, but know I will often have to deal with misogynoir once I get in there; however, as a Disabled Black Woman, I am frequently prevented from even entering the building. Most public spaces are inaccessible to me. And when I do get in, I know – from years of experience – that I will have to deal with cultural ableism along with racist misogyny at some point (and classism, ableism related to mental illness, et cetera.)
Black Disability Pride in the face of all of this is not an indulgence, it is essential; a way of affirming our humanity and right to exist without the barriers that society erects against us, whether maliciously or not. And since disability forces an extreme and painful type of marginalisation very few of my Black friends (let alone other lighter skinned people of colour) understand, it is up to me to fight my battles alone. So I will stare at the above logo whenever I need a reminder to be my own damn hero.
Love you Stella – I know you hated the concept of being an “inspiration”, but you have inspired me to grow a pair and be unwavering when it comes to speaking up for others, and for myself (something I have hitherto been tremendously shit at doing), in the face of pervasive ableist marginalisation/discrimination. You encouraged me to do so five years ago, and I am finally doing it. I am certain you would be mighty pleased about that.
So this happened:
I was truly blessed to be invited to attend a private dinner with the incomparable Angela Davis on Tuesday evening; an event organised by RISE Refugee in conjunction with Sisters Inside Inc, Eclipse, Morrocan Deli-cacy and Engenda.
If you’re not familiar with Angela Davis’ work, you really need to rectify this at once. Angela is an amazingly generous, holistically focused and incomparable American political activist, academic scholar, and author. Here is a list of her published written work – I highly recommend reading all of it. In addition, watch the lectures of hers that have been published on YouTube.
Highlight of this glorious evening of conscious conversation for me was when Angela came up behind my friend Wani Le Frère (who had met her twice before, two meetings and conversations Angela remembered because he is profoundly intelligent, charismatic, and asks great questions) and I, placed her hand on our shoulders and gently interrupted to introduce herself … and called me by name ❤️
What happened next was hilarious; earlier in the day I was on Twitter and saw prison abolitionist/activist Deb Kilroy tweet Angela Davis’ own selfie, taken at her public lecture at the University of Melbourne the previous day. I spotted my sistagirl Taloi Havini (artist/curator/thinker/beautiful human) behind Angela, so messaged her and asked if she was indeed in Melbourne and if that was her. Taloi later messaged Angela to tell her about the tweet thing and said that her “solid sista” Pauline would be at the dinner. Angela told me this. Yep. I talked to my intellectual hero Angela Davis about a selfie and twitter, ha!
Angela then talked with us for a while, and answered our questions about social justice work, intersectional feminism and global collective activism, before popping off to have her dinner.
I am still tingling from it all. So in awe of Angela’s energy: accessible, warm, generous and down-to-earth. No pretences or airs. Just an authentic human, soulfully committed to the collective struggle for the liberation of the planet.
I’m writing up notes about the University of Melbourne public lecture she gave, and will post them here when that’s done!
“We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”
~ Angela Davis
This is a post about spirituality and connecting to ones indigenous cultural roots (which to me, are one and the same).
I recently came across the below video and experienced these wonderful goosebumps of recognition… the ones I get when I read something, see something or hear something that confirms an intuition I have already had about the path I am travelling on.
The interview clip is called ‘Decolonizing as a Spiritual Path – Leny Strobel, Center of Babaylan Studies’.
Below the youtube video is this statement:
“If decolonization has taught us anything, it’s this: part of our own healing is to no longer be the willing receptacle of these projections from the colonizer. What then becomes of us when we are emptied of colonial projections? I was reminded by a very wise woman mentor from India that my colonized self is only a sliver in the totality of my Filipino self. Yet, temporarily, it was necessary for the process of decolonization to take up time and space in the psyche in order to purge these projections so that I can come home full circle to the largeness of my own indigenous self.
“I use the term indigenous to refer to the self that has found its place, its home in the world. Emptied of projections of “inferiority,’ “third world,” “undeveloped,” “uncivilized,” “exotic and primitive,” and “modernizing,” it is the self capable of conjuring one’s place and growing roots through the work of imagination, re-framing history, and re-telling the Filipino story that centers our history of resistance, survival, and re-generation.” (A Book of Her Own, 182).
This decolonization process is in part what I wanted to capture in my piece ‘Blak on Both Sides‘. In that, I describe how I had to really struggle to fend off the projections of the colonizer+racists+colorists and accept both my indigenous “Black on Both Sides” Melanesian body and my inherited indigenous intuitive abilities. Today, I fully embrace my indigenous identity and my connection to my cultural roots – which I connect to through my intuition… my holistic connection with my ancestors and guides.
So now I have a new vocabulary for my spiritual life: the path is one of decolonization 🙂 Pretty neat!!!
BELOW is the second piece I wrote then “performed” at ‘Fifty Shades of Blak: Performance Night’, inside Blak Dot Gallery last night. It was an intimate, energising evening of performances from a beautiful, powerful and diverse group of women of colour, and I am really lucky to have been invited to be amongst them. You can read about the Fifty Shades of Blak Exhibition, and the first piece I wrote then performed last night, right HERE.
A brief intro for context: There is an American scholar named Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe the study of how different forms of systemic oppression can intersect and overlap. This is concept that I think about frequently in terms of the world at large, but also in terms of my own lived experience – because I’m not just Black, I’m a Black WOMAN, and a Black DISABLED Woman, so I have and do experience both racism, the specific kinds of misogyny and sexism that Black Women face, and Ableism. This piece is about what it feels like to move through the world in a body that, even though I love it, and the people who love me love it, comes up against multiple kinds of marginalisation on a fairly regular basis.
(© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.)
Living in a body that is marginalized for three different reasons feels like this: like constantly watching the traffic lights rapidly change from joyful green to halting red, and feeling the joy wane inside you every time.
Black friend sends out an invite. “We’re having a party, at this place, all welcome!”
Black friend says, “oh, I forgot to ask if there’s access… I think there’s only one step…”
Black friend says, “sorry it’s not accessible! The venue is already booked and paid for. But we’ll make sure you can be included in the next event.”
The next event is not accessible either.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I convince myself I have better things to do than be included in society.
I drive on.
NEXT GREEN light:
White feminist friend sends out an invite. “We’re having a discussion, at this place, all welcome!”
White feminist friend says, “no, none of the panelists are women of colour, but we’re talking about universal topics like breaking the glass ceiling, leaning in, and women on boards.”
White feminist friend says, “yeah I hear what you’re saying but we want to stick to topics that affect all women; you can stage another forum that discusses issues affecting Black women and Disabled women another time.”
All women means white and able bodied women, too often. It does not mean me. It probably doesn’t mean queer or gender non conforming people either.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I stay home and read Angela Davis books.
NEXT GREEN light:
Black male friend says, “I’m pro Black… I love my Black mother and my Black sister and Black women in general.”
Black male friend says, “I just think you can be pro-Black and still have a preference for lighter skinned women”.
Black male friend says, “I’m just saying that darker women can be a little masculine sometimes, and that isn’t attractive.”
Beware of the white supremacist who lives within Black skin.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I have to remind myself each time, “yes but not ALL Black men…”
NEXT GREEN light:
White male colleague says, “just so you know I am a huge champion of women of colour.”
White male colleague says, “I’m just saying that being against someone’s culture and someone’s skin colour are two different things.”
White male colleague says, “I think our military should airlift every woman out of that third world hellhole so that those men can’t reproduce.”
This sentiment is echoed by western supremacists five thousand times across the media landscape.
I remind myself of who I am, of my cultural roots, of the beautiful Black men who loved me into existence, and draw strength from them. I send love to all the innocent Black and Brown men in the world who are deemed guilty before the trial they will never have.
Then, I drive on.
NEXT GREEN light:
Former white male boyfriend says, “racism is stupid. You and I are basically the same person. And you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Former white male boyfriend says, tears in his eyes, after the illness that would lead to me becoming disabled, “I love you so much, but… I don’t think I can handle this, handle your condition.”
Every institutional structure says: “Whites rule. Lights rule. Males rule. Able Bodies ONLY.”
I build up an armour, train myself to spot and avoid the supremacists around me and work hard every day not to internalize any of it, whilst staving off the aloneness that marginalization often forces upon you.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I drive on anyway.
BELOW is the first piece I wrote then “performed” at ‘Fifty Shades of Blak: Performance Night’, inside Blak Dot Gallery last night. It was an intimate, energising evening of performances from a beautiful, powerful and diverse group of women of colour, and I am really lucky to have been invited to be amongst them.
‘Fifty Shades of Blak’ was an art exhibition held as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival this year – and it just took out the Best Visual Art Show Award!!! Curated by force of nature and Blak Dot visionary Kimba Thompson, ‘Fifty Shades of Blak’ highlighted the voices of fifty visual and performing female artists, each addressing issues of stereotyping, colour coding, racism, identity and societal perceptions of First Nations women and women of colour. It was the first exhibition in the gallery’s fantastic new location at 33 Saxon Street, Brunswick. Support Blak Dot!!! Pay them a visit in person and follow them on Facebook here.
Congratulations to the ‘Fifty Shades’ visual artists: Atong Atem | Cora-Allan Wickliffe | Dulcie Stewart | Frances Tapueluelu | Georgia MacGuire | Gina Ropiha | Ira Fernandez | Jasmine Togo-Brisby | Julie O’Toole | Katie West | Katherine Gailer | Kirsten Lyttle | Lily Laita | Lisa Hilli | Maree Clarke | Megan Van Den Berg | Paola Balla | Sarah Hudson | Shona Tawhiao | Tania Remana | Texta Queen | Treahna Hamm | Vicki Couzens | Ying Huang.
(Side note: In 2012, another Blak Dot Gallery show I co-curated with Leuli Eshraghi took out the Melbourne Fringe Festival Best Visual Art Show Award that year; I feel lucky to have even a peripheral association with the second winning show haha!)
BLAK ON BOTH SIDES
(© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.)
Many years ago, I made a little film called ‘Coconut’.
The uncomfortable coconut in question, was myself. It was something I was called as a young person many times. But the larger question I sought to explore through the film, was this:
“If there is such a thing as being Black on the outside and white on the inside, what does it mean to be Black on the inside?”
This is the question that plagued my entire adolescence and young adulthood; when I was tortuously straightening out my beautiful big natural afro, that both my Tolai father and my Tolai mother blessed me with, and wishing I didn’t have all the thoroughly Melanesian features I am proud to have today.
It is the question that rang in my ears as I would deliberately stay out of the sun, because the ever present hum of non-Black racists, and Black colorists, all around me, let me know pretty unambiguously that my Blackness was too Black. That my Blackness needed to be watered down with whiteness both in colour of skin and in content of character.
It is the question that lingered in the background when I was being affirmed by friendly, kindly white racist “friends” for not being like the only other Black girl in the schoolyard (who by the way was my best friend) for being more Martin Luther King to her Malcolm X, for quietly integrating and assimilating before I even knew what that was or that assimilating meant erasing… starving… myself.
It is the question that pained me, deep inside, when white people would say “you’re a different kind of Black girl”, and mean ‘coconut’, and think it was a compliment. When Black people would say “you’re a different kind of Black girl”, and mean ‘coconut’, and know it was an insult.
It is the question that represented the void within me that used to exist. The void left by the absence of a home, language and culture that can haunt Black immigrant kids growing up disconnected from a motherland long left, with indigenous immigrant parents also feeling the pain of that disconnection, and living in a colonial illegal settlement that will only accept you if you reject an identity you are strongly yet subtly encouraged at every turn to never fully develop… to instead stay cocooned and never become the butterfly.
I used to think that not developing those wings of identity would serve me well, somehow; at least allow me to live and pursue my watered down dreams in this white colony to some degree, accepting a second class reality of never feeling at home in my surroundings let alone my own skin and features. A wingless existence. In some kind of spiritual way I felt like turning myself into colourless WATER would allow me to flow into any space and become anything I needed to be to survive in that time and place.
That is true, to some degree. And I know now that this was lesson PART A in the wisdom syllabus that my Tolai Melanesian Black ancestors passed to me as I grew, through a vital and alive INTUITIVE GIFT that only in the last few years I have realised is my genetic family legacy… the gift of being indigenous, the inherited gift of my Black genetic lines on both sides. Guidance from my ancestors.
In the midst of a “rational “white supremacist culture it took me years of honing that intuition to even trust it, let alone to recognise its true origin being my indigenous cultural roots.
But now, I know. And that is my birthright identity. I claim it now, every single day.
Some years ago, a friend sent me a short story she found about the necessity of struggle as a precursor to wholeness. Sadly I don’t know who wrote it, but there is this passage in it that talks about how a restricting cocoon and the struggle that the emerging butterfly has to go through to break free of it, are the Life Force’s way of forcing fluid, WATER, from its body and into it’s wings, so that the butterfly can be as strong as it can be… and be able to fly.
In other words, the WATER came before the flight. So, today I like to think of my coconutty struggle through the confusing wasteland of whiteness and pervasive colorism that I went through, as having empowered me to be as strong as I am today. That struggle, ironically, gave me wings.
Because my ancestors whispers to me were right. Water is LIFE. Water is powerful, and forceful, it animates us and fills us and although colourless it reflects every colour we can see. It is a shape shifter, an adapter. It is an important element to understand, and master, and in some cases become… in order to survive. But once it is mastered and contained it must be directed back to the roots, to our cultural roots, to feed and nourish them,WATER them, so the life of our people can continue. In the person, the water must be forced into the wings, so that they, the butterfly, can fly.
I live so far from the land where my ancestors bodies returned to the soil yet I see with such clarity now that they have reached through time and space every day my whole life to give me guidance, even when I didn’t yet know their names. This is the gift that I say with embarrassment now that I almost forfeited to be accepted into a world that lacks the wisdom that my ancestors – my people – embodied. The gift of being Black on both sides.
Why would I ever want to be anything else?
Appreciating resilient Black womanhood, with 3 poems.
First. In the clip below, poets Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad name and shame the misogynist/racist toxins I bled out of my system long ago to be free, whole, and at ease in this temple I live in.
After the bloodletting, my inner voice spoke thusly:
“Unconditionally love your body, Black Woman – your proud existence is defiance. And be grateful for the men that won’t come your way.”
Echoes of those words are in this poem.
Second. A celebration of the creative, destructive, regenerative, fiercely protective POWER of the Goddess and all the female bodies she animates… disguised as a defiant clap back to period shaming. Mother/poet Dominique Christina is astonishing and her swearing is divine:
Third. This poem of body acceptance as a skinny Black Woman, by Alyesha Wise, illustrates how avoiding body criticism as an everyday Black Woman is damned near impossible … any self love defiantly flourishes in the depths of some serious shit: “I am not here for the non-believers; I am not here for those who cringe when they see me seeing all of my self. This bodily prayer is strictly between my sight and the sun; and all the good folk who enter the presence of this church with no other words on their tongue but ‘AMEN’.”
Yes, I know, it has been a long while. This year has been intense and challenging and full of unexpected curveballs… but glorious. I will have a fresh post up in a few days. Just thought I’d leave this here in the meantime.
“My passage through pain gave birth to the pathway that I am able to share with you today. I became intrigued by the quality and outcome of the recovery process. I became in awe of the capacity of human potential, resiliency, and the momentum of healing. My journey has taken me from the depths of pain and sadness to the uncovering of a life that is vibrant and fulfilled.”
– Keira Wetherup Brown, Gossamer Path
Hello 🙂 I’m coming out of a few weeks of dealing with intense life stuff, hence my 27 day absence from here… but rest assured that I will have two new essays up for you this week. Today I just want to share this image I randomly spotted on social media yesterday. It resonated so profoundly that I googled ‘Gossamer Path’ and found the words quoted above. The first 3 sentences resonate… I trust that the 4th will too, eventually:
And here is a post I published two years ago that the image reminded me of: “Intergenerational healing? Papu, Mum, Me… Freedom.”
A quick post about something funny, moving, and entertaining.
After many recommendations, I finally watched the web series ‘High Maintenance’; it really is a thing of beauty.
Below are three of my favourite episodes so far, in the order you should watch them in (the first two episodes are related).
First up, ‘BRAD PITTS’:
This second one kind of struck a nerve – and features the hungry lady from the video above. Dating after recovering from serious illness, in my experience, can be a little weird – you just hope for someone who isn’t completely freaked out by the realness of your life, and there are many people who don’t want to deal with that. But exposing that reality to someone on the second date isn’t as challenging as having chilli on your… sensitive areas. ‘RUTH’:
And I enjoyed this one about a couple doing the Airbnb hosting thing, putting up with grating house guests (including a couple of Australians) to pay the rent (incidentally the recent episode of ‘Broad City‘ in which they rent out their apartments to international visitors for one night to make money made me laugh so hard). This scenario is really my personal nightmare – I hate people all up in my stuff and personal space. But maintenance guy really helps a brother put his foot down in ‘TRIXIE’:
New post soon, as mentioned.
‘The fact that they co-host the same show yet only one has been the subject of pointed attacks in the media makes it hard to argue that the problem, from the perspective of long-term TV insiders, isn’t one of race.’
– from ‘Why you should care about the casual racism on television‘; comparing the reaction to Waleed Aly’s Gold Logie nomination to the reaction to colleague Carrie Bickmore’s.
Back in 2010, I wrote this post titled ‘People like us: media representation and social cohesion’. In short, the post is about the importance of seeing the full diversity of a country’s population reflected in the cultural media landscape; how good storytelling and media representation can foster understanding and respect for fellow citizens, and a sense of belonging and inclusion for otherwise marginalised people.
In that post, I quoted something Waleed Aly (whom I have been critical of on various occasions) said in his interview with Andrew Denton on program Enough Rope – about the importance of positive Muslim “role models” and icons in the media and public life, at a time when mistrust and marginalisation of Muslim people had taken root in Australia:
“I think we like to see reflections of ourselves in the public space and Muslims have been really short on role models in the public space in Australia or even in the western world. We’ve had some very successful Muslims. John Ilhan, the late John Ilhan’s a very good example of that. But at the same time his real name was Mustafa and he had to become John to become a success.”
“And when you see him [Bashar Haoli, first top grade Muslim AFL player], out there, and you see him do that, you suddenly for a moment have this belief, this realisation that I could do that, if I had the talent. But the thing that’s stopping me is that I’m no good, not that I happen to be a Muslim or that I come from a Middle Eastern background, and that’s incredibly powerful. It’s so powerful, I don’t think people who don’t have that problem who have never encountered not being represented in the public space in some way understand how debilitating that can be.” [emphasis mine]
Fast foward to April 2016, and public intellectual+professional print/radio/television broadcaster of many years Waleed Aly – along with broadcasting veteran and avant garde icon Lee Lin Chin – have become the FIRST EVER non-white Gold Logie nominees (in a list that includes 6 people). The Logie nominations are awarded based on a popular vote by citizens who care enough to cast votes in this popularity contest.
The response from media gate keepers and segments of the (white) media establishment to the announcement that these two public figures were on the list was… incredibly telling. Karl Stefanovic, 2011 Gold Logie winner who has attempted with some success to put himself forth as an enlightened person in regards to Indigenous relations and gender equality, couldn’t help but betray a sizeable blind spot he has in this pathetic Today show exchange with two other well-paid white public figures:
Ben: “Where is Lisa Wilkinson’s Gold Logie?”
Karl: “Lisa’s too white.”
Ben: “Is that it?”
Karl: “That’s it.”
Lisa: (laughing) “I got a spray tan and everything, still didn’t make it. What can you do?”
Karl: “Logies controversy. Boom.”
In the segment later defended by the host network as not about race, Stefanovic also joked that despite being white “on the outside”, he was “dark on the inside”; then was hailed by co-host Ben Fordham as a trailblazer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects in the media establishment reacted to the announcement of the two highly accomplished non-white broadcasters being nominees as if a political leader had tried to steal an election.
New Matilda published this rebuttal pointing out the rank hypocrisy, inconsistency, racism and Islamophobia that characterised the bizarrely heated (but not surprising) reactions to Aly and Lin Chin being nominated. I just want you to ponder, for one minute, what it might be like to live as a brown-skinned person in a country in which one of the only public figures who looks like you, and that you may identify with – an accomplished, law-abiding centrist intellectual – is attacked based only on his status as a non-white man.
Regardless of what other privileges of citizenship you have, do you think it does an individual’s or community’s psychological state any favours to live in a context in which any success that non-white (or non-majority) people enjoy is denigrated, mocked and blamed on the ego-preserving concept of “reverse discrimination”? Or blamed on affirmative action – an often necessary policy approach to redress well-established pro-white hiring and selection bias? Even when the non-white people in question were actually selected based on popular public vote?
Think about how the reaction to these two media figures might mirror the marginalisation of unapologetically non-majority people in Australian society at large. And I use the term unapologetically in a positive sense. Both Aly and Lin Chin have been on our screens for ages. Lin Chin has endured much abuse for her ethnicity, voice, looks and style over her career; yet continues to kick ass as an avant garde icon. Aly has endured a lot of racist abuse, but continues to speak out against racism and a range of social abuses.
Perhaps the “issue” unconscious racists are having is not that mild-mannered Aly and non-political Lin Chin are not white – I can imagine the same people and news organisation wholeheartedly embracing and supporting a non-white person who attacks others who speak out about racism, cultivates a conventional style and uncritically supports the status quo and nationalism (they gave one such person her own column and regularly consult her for these kinds of opinions).
Maybe the real root to the aversion to Lin Chin and Aly is that they have not shed the things that make them ‘the Other’ in many people’s minds – whilst simultaneously owning their identity as Australians. As it should be.
Interesting fact: the proportion of Australians born overseas has hit a 120-year high (March 2016 ABS statistics) and Screen Australia recently announced a research project to ascertain just how diverse cast and storyline diversity has been in Australian television drama over the last five years. I’ll write about this in an upcoming post.
And I’m sorry this post was late – it’s been a crazy, but intensely creative, week.
This is a quick post for those of us on an intuitive life path; who follow our inner compass, come what may.
My Facebook profile pic this year is the words ‘grown-ass woman’ – which I created to celebrate this painfully hard earned phase of adult life I have entered. So naturally I got excited when I stumbled across this video on youtube yesterday 🙂 Titled ‘How to be a Grown Ass Woman’, it is a WNYC panel of four public figures discussing the major moments of transition in their lives – when they knew they had each gone from (mousy) young lady to grown-ass woman.
I freaked out when I read the description and noticed comedian Sara Schaefer (whose twitter presence I enjoy) and The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams (who I am truly infatuated with) were both on the panel. I related to Jessica’s story, about having to be tough and doing what needs to be done to protect others and ourselves.
But it was Katja Blichfeld, co-creator of web series (and TV show) ‘High Maintenance’ (which friends have raved about but I still haven’t watched) whose ‘transition’ story resonated with me the most… completely, actually. She essentially articulated why I feel like a grown-ass woman today.
Katja tells her tale from 23:39 to 29:54. The quote below is the heart of it, though – what made her realise she was already a ‘grown-ass woman’.
When deciding to turn down solid career opportunities to pursue a “side weekend project” she had little experience in (High Maintenance) she looked back at her other life experiences and noticed something: that despite the constant objections and judgments of multiple people in her life about Katja letting her inner compass direct her choices (rather than just going with the stable salary, the rational path) Katja had done so anyway – and discovered her intuition was a BOSS:
“I started surveying my life before that, and thinking about just how I had ended up where I was. And it was a series of decisions based on gut intuition, over and over again.
A lot of those decisions, I realised, were similar, in that they did not make a whole lot of sense on the page, and I realised ‘Oh, I’ve kind of lived my whole life in defense mode, having to explain myself or why I am doing these things that don’t make a lot of sense, but I feel the pull towards doing these things’.
I kind of just had a realisation, like, ‘Oh, I have wisdom! I’ve collected some wisdom and I’m in my thirties and I know some things, and I can look back over my life and see how me following my intuition has yielded these incredible results, time and time again, even when those said decisions didn’t make a lot of sense in the moment.
And I think that’s kind of when I felt like ‘I’m a grown woman’, because I can sort of look and see that I’ve accumulated these experiences and that they’ve yielded wisdom and that this wisdom is worth listening to, and my intuition is worthwhile and worth listening to… and I’m just going to trust in that and do it.
And I did, and obviously it’s worked out pretty great… that was my growing up moment, realising I have wisdom, that I know what’s best for me, and other people don’t know what’s best for me.
And that’s that.”
I will keep listening to my BOSS. My day-to-day mind may be hopeless, nervous, sometimes unsure of itself… but the Boss knows what’s good.
You can check out the full easygoing panel discussion right here. NY Magazine writer Heather Hasvrilesky is the fourth woman. This is what she said about being in her forties: “I’m the happiest I’ve been, for sure. but I’m still insane.”
Good morning. I have finally updated and renewed the blog! And changed the appearance of it.
Please have a look at the new pages (top menu bar). I will have a brand new post up later next week.
Here’s the new look: