Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Stop the Stigma

We need to talk about mental illness. 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Digital Writers Festival, Valentine's Day

Who doesn't love a literary festival? I'm thrilled to be a part of this years online Digital Writers Festival.

This weekend I'll be in a google hangout for Valentine's Day....

Session link - click here

For the full Digital Writers Festival program please click here

Please follow @digitalwriters & #dwf15 

As well as Valentine's Day dedications, I will be reading my short story 'Honey' with illustrations by Sam Wallman.

See more of 2014 Walkey-nominated artist Sam Wallman's work here

And here follows the link to Sam Wallman's work 
('the Serco story') a finalist in the 
Walkleys  Category: 'All Media Multimedia Storytelling' 


Thursday, 5 February 2015

On feminism

I've mentioned in passing to a few mates that I've decided that 2015 would be my time to take an organised approach to understanding my perspective on feminism.

So why feminism and why now? Here’s ten reasons:

1. The little I know about feminism is enough to spark my interest. The definition is fairly straightforward and I can’t fault it – aiming for equal political, economic, cultural and social rights for women, especially in education and employment are worth supporting.

2. I consider feminism to be a free space. I would have had to be living under a moss covered rock in the moist undergrowth beneath my back stairs not to notice that there’s been conflict around feminism.  Fortunately for me, I do not run in packs and aren’t prepared to die in a ditch trying to get the last word. 

3. Yes, I understand that from time to time, trolls are a nuisance and have forced some extreme measures. I had the unfortunate experience of being roped into a stable of people seeking safety in numbers. The only thing we had in common was an ability to keep secrets. They wouldn’t tell me who they were and how they got the idea to exploit me ‘because trolls’, and when I worked out who one of the main trolls was, I kept that to myself.  All water under the troll bridge now. I don’t have a problem with trolls and I doubt they are interested in me either. 

4. Much of the literature that is referred to as feminist in nature was already on my to read list. I intend to read a lot more in 2015. These two notions go together like a good cheese and quince paste. I admit the idea of learning a whole heap of definitions doesn’t excite me. I wonder if much of the teething problems can’t be solved by cupping my hands around my mouth and saying very clearly “if you have a problem with black people, why not just say that?’
If Rosa Park’s words are as fresh as anything I could have said yesterday, there are no surprises that people continue to argue they are going to need some time to process (their) racism. Quite frankly, do it in your own time. I know more than enough women who have hurdled that low lying barrier to keep me sated in the bounty of good conversation and fresh ideas till my dying day.

5. Many of the really interesting* black writers that I’ve come across to date** are Native American and black feminist writers from the US and First Nations writers from Canada.
* There are issues in black Australia that have yet to be put in to words. The US has the highest profile or maybe they just went there first and just like in Australia, it takes some delving to find references to the unspoken undercurrents that are starting to drag us down.
** lists of Indigenous and black writers takes some work to track down and I expect the list to grow.

6. Online feminism campaigns rarely include black women. To point it out is to spark an awkward response. If black women are there at all, there is one of us.
That’s not inclusion – that’s chasing the brown tick of approval. I don’t know what’s worse – the person who seeks a token black representative or the feminist-inclined who want for nothing providing they can bask in the vicarious glory of the sisterhood’s sole black comrade.

I don’t know how I could confine myself to one white friend. What selection criteria would I use to arrive at just one?  There is not one kind of black or brown woman, so how is there one kind of white? Do I go for the whitest shade of skin and reject the fake tanned?

Yes, Indigenous and other black women understand the pressure to unite as one group and settle for invisibility for 99% of us. Don’t we ever. We’re more than aware that the same expectations do not apply to, for example, Palestinian and Israeli women uniting, or for Serbian and Croatian women discarding their differences, with the intention of selecting one to enter the equality fray like a mascot at the super bowl.

6. I choose to engage in feminism by avoiding being the token black feminist writer. You know the kind – each and every written piece is a reminder that black women are excluded from full participation in more ways than you can poke a stick at it.
Again African American writers are way ahead – at 16%+ of the US population and in the land of the unlimited broadband, they’ve refined their voice into a perfectly pitched withering tone regarding the mining of black writers to provide the colour-by-numbers polarized views to beige publishing landscapes.

Exclusion is the norm only if I choose it to be. Just as I have more than one of every colour friend WITHOUT EVEN TRYING, I can choose to engage with people who don’t practice OBFF (one black friend feminism).  Lord knows they are not hard to spot. This is not an act of hostility but rather an act of emancipation because to not point out the recurring examples of token black women is to participate in my own marginalization.

7. L-plate feminism means I don’t need to know what everything means. In fact I revel in it. There is no shame in not knowing what to my ears sounds like a foreign language and not being able to tell one notable feminist from another because I continue to meet people everyday who confess to never having met an Aboriginal person and we’ve been here for over 200 years.
No, sorry I don’t know who that feminist is you’ve mentioned. But can you tell me the history of the land you live on? No, having one black friend is not your lifeline.

8. I heard a rumour…that from time to time feminists have sought to include Indigenous history and perspectives in their theories. I don’t see it as my role to correct every piece of misinformation. If I started, I would never stop. And that would relegate me to a second rung of feminism. Blackfellas have been misunderstood, misquoted, misrepresented and missed out on the discussions about us, for too long to revise it all.

9. Feminism doesn’t belong to anyone so I don’t really understand why distinct camps have formed. I’m inclined to think it’s because the different perspectives are paid for by the word. Social media campaigns ring hollow to me, when the only measure is an enhanced profile for who ever it is that is recognized for creating the hashtags that go viral.

UPDATED 30 April 2015

10. Three months after first dipping a toe into feminism, I've read a lot more, had some good yarns - though mostly out of public view - and was swept up in the fascination for Roxanne Gay.  Roxanne caused a sensation when she made a number of Australian appearances last month and she talked in a language I could understand.  Plain English.

But what appealed to me the most was though diversity and black women was mentioned, and careful questions about her observations of Australian race relations, the conversations were about feminism and not confined to an interrogation of her blackness.

I want what she's having.

So....*drum roll* I was thrilled to get the chance to curate the 84th Edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival for May 2015.

The carnival is a monthly collection of blog posts of feminist interest from around New Zealand and Australia. It has been running since June 2008, with Downunderfembloggers taking turns to host. Topics presently include Politics, Violence, Race/Racism, Science, Media, LGBTQIAU, Family/Women’s Work, Sex/Relationships, Language/Literature, Disability, Class/Poverty, Repro Justice, Intersections, Life, The Body, General Feminism/Social Justice, Reviews, Creativity/Geekery and whatever you fancy. 

Submissions must be of posts of feminist interest 
by writers from Australia and New Zealand
that were published in April.

Additional notes on style: I use 'black, Black, blackfella, Indigenous, Aboriginal' and combinations of all these words - these words are my choice how I identify myself as an Aboriginal Australian. That is the long and the short of it.

My next appearance:
5-6 May 2015

On my return

Warning: this personal blog may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased. Please be aware posts may also contain links to sites that may use images of Aboriginal and Islander people now deceased.

I’ve decided to add a caution to my website. You’ve probably seen similar words appear many times before on screen with a voice over just in case you missed the notice, making you aware that the material to follow may cause distress. It is also courteous and culturally appropriate which is the least a person could expect from another person when talking about people who have died. 

I've been asked what the limit is to the period of being sensitive to the feelings of other people. Should there be a limit? Is it a sliding scale, of how much and for how long does a person care?  Where I come from, the easiest explanation is though they may have passed two hundred years ago or two weeks ago, the message and consideration shown is the same. What harm is there to you, after all? 
You are not being asked to shave your head or abstain from eating gluten.

The period around the funeral is a separate issue. Then there may need to be a conversation about leave entitlements - and bearing in mind that more often than not a fair amount of travel may be required - and some serious thought regarding how their family obligations are reconciled with the ones they have to their colleagues and workplace.  

How you conduct yourself was one half of the social compact of what many of us still refer to as Sorry Business. The other half was how people treated you.

It used to matter a great deal how blackfellas treated each other. These days about the only place you can rely on to not be further traumatised during a period of grief and loss is when you are with your family. Sadder still is it's one of the few places left where you can expect to be treated with respect and decency, full stop.
There is very little that I can control about my digital world beyond the content I produce.  The breaches of the most basic rituals around Sorry Business makes social media a culturally unsafe space. In fact it’s down right dangerous.

Where I come from, much of the ritual around Sorry Business continues to be a mystery. That is not so odd when you consider someone has died, so it is hardly the time for a public spectacle.

You keep yourself safe and respect the people around you.
At any given time what you say can be triggers for other people – it doesn’t take much reasoning to conclude that with statistics like ours, the Aboriginal community is in a permanent state of mourning -- so when you invoke mention of a death in the community, someone, somewhere is going to be affected a little and others may be affected a lot.  If there was any time at all when you were going to drag together a mature and responsible demeanour, a recent death and the funeral is that time.

Where I come from during funerals – the time before and the time that follows - there is no trouble. There is no fighting, there are no raised voices, and there should not be harsh words or unkind thoughts to be shared.  You are in mourning. That will take all your strength to do it right so you will come out the other end in sadness and not be chased out by a grief  that you will struggle to shake.

The most important person is the one who has died. You live your life for a large funeral. If you cannot face the day you volunteer to mind the little kids who cannot go. There is always a child or a baby who needs tending to for the hours it takes before people return home to change for the wake.

Discussing cultural traditions is increasingly a touchy subject when you are not among family and those who are as close as, and especially fraught if you are being squeezed by questions that demand your attention. The main query on even the lips of the merely curious is,  ‘how long will it take?’ My answer, these days when the only person stopping me from practicing my cultural beliefs is me, is to reply oh they have died. They’re not coming back. As for me, it takes as long as it takes.


I wore black silk, raw and stiff, with a long string of black satin ribbon beads. The mother of the boy met me on the lawn out front, in crushed black velvet, with her hair long and loose, the grey strands lifting in the quickening breeze. My aunt in a black dress with tiny white dots, strapless and ankle length, with a full skirt clinched into a bodice, introduced me to her newest grand daughters and I hugged them one by one. The younger girls with their hair combed close and twisted up into place, were not yet of an age to wear their shiny dark locks down and free. The sisters were pressed together in the first two rows, in diaphanous black, chiffon layers over bare legs and tightly folded arms.  Row after row filled with simple full length evening gowns and the soundless footsteps of flat heeled shoes. The men, all of them young and old, wore long sleeved white shirts and black pants and walked silently in boots and leather soled dress shoes.  There were so many of us we filled the cavernous space with it’s stained glass windows and plain wooden benches, all the way back to standing at the rear wall and deep at the doors. When we emptied out on to the lawns, heads down and fixed, the sounds of whispering and soft voices went up from the gathering that spread from the doors all the way to the fence and out onto the road. When we come to bury one of our own, our women are the most beautiful, our men the most handsome.  And when the wind picked up, we in our finery of black and white and long dark hair that whipped and coiled and billowed around us, we left that place for a moment and slipped away. Just for a moment. And then the rains came as they had been expected and people knew what they had heard about us was true.


Previous post 'Sorry Business' in brief is here