Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reflections of an Outrage Merchant

I wrote a couple of annoyed/angry blogs this week, as is my wont, but I was thinking that they probably won't stand the test of time in a few weeks when everyone forgot what they were even about and, as is my usual style, I made next to no effort explaining the actual situation and instead focused on whatever I was thinking about in the moment using many unnecessarily long sentences like this one.

So, I thought it might be an idea to calmly and clearly discuss a few broader issues around the all too common phenomena of a celeb getting into trouble for saying something racist... I'm sure I'll wonder off from this point though sooner or later. 

Individual instances of Australian celebrities saying something that some people perceive to be racist is never made such a large issue by those who believe an event to be racist. We simply lack the media presence to do that.But it ticks all the right boxes for a slow news day story, a bit of the 'celebs behaving badly' mixed with 'PC nightmares' and 'outrage merchants' and 'I have a few black friends'... wholesome family infotainment.  

The times it is given so much attention is usually because it ties into a larger issue. In the case of Andrew Bolt, it tied into the Racial Discrimination Act and the IPAs long standing desire to get rid of the RDA... along with Land Rights, Native Title, and the Human Rights Commission, but I digress.

While it was wrapped up and sold to people as a free speech debate, that of course was nonsense. Just like the claims that Bolt is prohibited from discussing matters of race and racism are nonsense. He still does, and he must surely know, and the legislation reaffirms, that the issue of who is able to identify as Aboriginal and who is able to access any related government or NGO programs is a matter of public interest and is therefore fair game. You just can't maliciously misrepresent facts specifically for the purpose of racially vilifying people in the process.

You can even talk about reintroducing blood quotients, or make aspersions on the reasons some people might choose to identify as Aboriginal. What little free speech we do have in Australia more than allows  it. You just can't maliciously misrepresent facts in order to racially vilify people. And if you can't have a discussion or write a blog without misrepresenting facts and racially vilifying people then okay, you are for the most part prohibited from the conversation. Why on earth an individual so evidently racist and incompetent would even have a job in the first place is beyond me, but I guess such people will just have to settle for falsely martyring themselves and making grossly inaccurate innuendos about how they would comment on certain people or issues but are legally prohibited. Whatev.

The other instances though I find much more interesting because they don't involve celebrities who make their careers out of being racist or otherwise controversial. They are usually people who would be happy to never have to mention race or racism ever on air or on social media unless they knew 100% that it was safe to do so ie repeating what others have already safely said. TV presenters, actors, sports people, and the like; most know to avoid these topics where possible (a problem within and of itself), and usually fall foul of the line in off the cuff remarks, or in comments that they thought were being made in private.

These instances always make for a good story for the left and the right, so various white journalists on the left have a read of what a few of us write on Twitter or on our blogs and then they write their stories. Then a few on the right bemoan the outrage merchants and the PC nightmare that our lives have become and talk about how hard it is being a rich white person in Australia.... It's all very entertaining and even more pointless.

It whips everyone into a frenzy of who is on what side, who is or isn't racist, and that's pretty much it. It usually ends in a fauxpology containing hollow and unrepentant phrases like "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" or "I'm sorry if people misunderstood". Just as often the person just goes quiet for a few days and waits for the storm to pass, which it always does.  

It is very rare that anyone suffers any actual penalty except for embarrassment and an all too readily forgotten stigma. Even Bolt had no real penalty whatsoever. His articles are still available online, he was not financially penalised, served no jail time, lost zero jobs, he didn't even apologise for it, and he still gets to write racist nonsense on a regular basis for more money than he is worth.      

So, for something that usually has no real world consequence except for the frustrating microcosm of Australian racism that it reflects, we put a lot of effort in to talking about it, yet we never actually seem to get anywhere with the conversation. The discussion within the acceptable range of discussion is certainly heated and strongly contested, but it rarely ventures outside of its narrow scope.

We never seem to get to talking about why there are so few 'minority' voices in our media, and if we do get that point, we certainly never get to the point of actually doing anything about it. We may talk about the need for more traineeships and cadetships as though they haven't already been around for a very long time and we certainly never get to the bit where we ask ask about why the people who come through the various traineeship and cadetship programs rarely actually ever get a job on completion regardless of their obvious talents.

This comes to the heart of what this discussion is really all about. Sacrificing the occasional whoever to the Gods of 'Please don't make us talk about the system of racism that we actively benefit from'.

We prefer to look at racism as something that damages everyone, something that only lives in the hearts and minds of evil doers and freedom haters, rather than something that is instilled in all Australians from all sources at every available opportunity. Something that political and corporate forces actively exploit and amplify as convenient. We pretend it is something that doesn't benefit the overwhelming majority of white Australians in both practical, psychological, and indirect ways... Something that justifies and reinforces the continuation of white power while not making too many white people feel bad about how they benefit from it, and preventing those who suffer from it from openly talking about it as the normal, everyday, in your face occurrence that it is.

This is the conversation that is of importance, yet we never seem to get to it. Myself included. We try to, and we hint at it, but it gets twisted and convoluted into us being angry, irrational, playing the race card, and of course, calling all white people racist just because they are white.

We begin to talk in code to those whom we know will share our frustrations and eventually shy away from the emotionally draining and potentially career destroying battleground for the safety of our own camps.

For the left white peeps who feel that they have done so many favours for minority groups, and have so many black friends, and are just in general so fair dinkum awesome, that the very idea of being called racist, no matter who it is by, is so laughable and offensive and to justify any amount of mockery and ridicule in reply.

And for people like myself, to see peeps who usually like to claim they are not only not racist but actively anti-racist, while ignoring the existence of white privilege and their own connection to it and then pompously dismiss and ridicule various people I respect and empathise with... well, suffice it to say that it pisses me off enough to write two rant blogs in a two day period. 1 & 2 and write numerous frustrated but not necessarily clear and direct tweets to boot.

And eventually I remember a favourite quote of mine from Bruce Pascoe,

And sometimes this, less directly relevant to my own experiences and identity but still, powerful quote from W.E.B Du Bois written in 1903,

And I focus less on the less on all of the above, and more and more on my own well being. I calm my thoughts and usually decide that it is best to walk away and fight another day... but not today.

Today I am focusing on what can I actually do about all of the above. What can WE do about it?

How do we get more voices out there when we know that the gatekeepers have no interest in seeing that ever happen?

What do we do with the knowledge that the majority of our so called allies are happy to use our hashtags but not willing to fight for our rights?

Do we fight to rally the necessary support to get one or two extra people through the doors knowing that unless they reach the very highest echelons that they will be unlikely to be able to throw a rope back over to help those who come after them? Knowing that if they try they risk being thrown over the wall with the rope and actually damage the already limited chances of those who come next?

Do we focus on social media? Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and just wait for old media to come to its inevitable and long overdue demise?

Do we try to educate white people in the hopes that it will help remove these barriers, or do we focus on teaching ourselves and each other in the hopes that we can create something new?

I'm not sure at the moment to be honest... probably bits of all of the above.

I'm not sure if I have the capacity, the energy, or the resources necessary for running another IndigenousX project out of my already empty pockets... probably I do though, I'm a stubborn bastard when I set my mind to something. 

But I do know this is a problem I want to apply myself to. I know there are others who want to do with me, or next to me, or better yet in front of me so I can follow in their footsteps.

That's gonna have to do for a start...

Hopefully next time I won't take the bait and play in to the hands of this machine that was created long before I got here, but instead will start going straight for the heart of the matter, and only for the heart of the matter. 

Only time will tell.


What else have the deciders decidered for us?

People seem to think all this drama over Sam Armytage is exclusively to do with Sam Armytage, and I guess for some people it probably is, but something far more annoying is what is pissing me off, and that is all the other things that the deciders have decidered for us by telling us to 'move along, no racism to see here, people'.

We could talk all day about what Sam said, or what the twins thought of it, or why it is or isn't 'racist'... Or for several weeks, as the case may be.

At least then we wouldn't have to talk about Sunrise, and most other similar programs, employing pretty much all white presenters and I daresay having mostly all white execs behind the scenes as well.

We don't need to think about Australian media's long standing and overwhelming whiteness or its connection to their gross incompetence when it comes to discussing matters of race and racism.

We don't need to ask all the struggling Indigenous, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern actors and presenters who struggle to get onto Australian screens exactly why they think that might be.

We don't need to ask wtf is the deal with the white peeps who when that previous question is raised feel compelled to scream "My white skin shouldn't preclude me from getting a job" as though that is even remotely a real thing in this country.

It also saves us from having to ask what is the white world's fascination with mixed race siblings who don't have the same skin colour? I know several. No need to go all the way to the UK to find them.

No amateur eugenicists to see here, people, move along...

We also don't need to explore or understand why people so used to seeing so called 'casual', overt and/or malicious racism from our media defended by other journalists as either 'No racism to see here, people. Move along', 'You're just being silly/oversensitive' or 'But free speech' might be a little suspect on the amount of effort put into this debacle to show just how not racist Sam is.

No need to consider what Sam and Co actually think racism is when she makes comments like "It's just not in my nature". Where does our 'nature' come from? Is it in our genes, or is it also to do with the social privileges/inequalities we grow up with and take for granted as 'normal'? Does saying something others could rightly perceive racist automatically equate to being a cartoon villain? It doesn't matter, there is nothing to see here. Move along.

We don't need to examine the distinctions between intent and interpretation, or examine individual  instances outside of the imaginary vacuum.

We don't need to ask what is the difference between 'You are racist" "You are a racist' and 'What you just said/did was racist"?'. Or what is the difference between "I'm sorry I offended you", I'm sorry if I offended you" and "I'm sorry if you were offended".   

We certainly don't need to ask why so many journalists like to treat Indigenous people and causes like accessories they get to wear when they want to demonstrate how awesome they are or whenever they are in need of racism insurance, but still happily tell us to get back in our places and STFU when they feel we have stepped out of line or gotten too big for our boots.

We don't need to ask why so many white peeps are so quick to aggressively dismiss and ridicule not just the larger issues of racism, but also those who experience it daily.

We don't need to ask ourselves anything at all. Sam said she wasn't racist. A shit tonne of other white journalists think it is just fair dinkum silly that anyone would even suggest otherwise and happily adopt the right wing cat call of 'Outrage merchants" for anyone who dares to disagree. 

The message from all of this is painfully clear.

We just need to STFU and be grateful that so many lovely left leaning journos use our tweets and blogs to write their stories without any reference whatsoever to where 'their' ideas actually came from. Or when they do ask us to write for their rags or speak at their events they usually expect us to do it at our own expense. Only white people, aka professionals, deserve to get paid for that kind of work. We should be honoured that they are helping us to make their wages for them and justifying our ongoing exclusion from paid jobs in media circles.

Welcome to White Australian media... there's no racism to see here, people. The deciders have already decidered, and look out if you wanna suggest otherwise.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The deciders have decidered.

A month or so ago, Sam Armytage blah blah blah, google it if it you haven't seen it already.

Some people wrote articles saying it was or wasn't racist, and you can google them too. There's also a petition somewhere you can probably google if you want asking for Sam to apologise. (Spoiler alert: I really can't see that happening, and if it does it won't go well because she wouldn't understand why she was apologising, and that never bodes well for a 'sincere apology'.) (Update: Called it.)

One article in particular though, and the reason for this blog, was written under the very courageous heading of 'No racism to see here, people. Move along', by Susie O'Brien.

Such a definitive, authoritative decree must surely raise the question: Who snitched on us to the racism police? In fact, who the hell are the racism police?! I think we can safely rule out the actual police, given their track record, and I would have thought we could safely say the same of journalists. Given other articles this author has written, I think I wouldn't mind seeing her badge before I voluntarily vacate the area...

"No racism to see here, people..."

We know that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is King, but what if he was just pretending to have one eye? Surely a few people would be duped into following him, even if it was straight off a cliff.

I fear this is indeed what has happened in this article for just because you are unable to see something, that doesn't actually mean that it doesn't exist. This where we usually fall to those with more knowledge and experience than ourselves. Those with the necessary experience, understanding, and training.

For example, I can't see oxygen, but I have it on very good authority that it does indeed exist and I am, for the most part, pretty happy to go along with that.

There is a campaign which uses the slogan "It's hard to see racism when you're white". This slogan really pisses a lot of white people off because, well, it's hard to see racism when you're white.

This where phrases like 'real racism' come from, (this phrase is included in the article, actually why haven't you read the article yet? It is kinda relevant to this blog if you haven't worked that out already... take your time. I'll wait.

Okay, we good?)

Where was I? Oh, right... 'real racism'. Tangible, in your face, self declaring racism. The latter seems to be an essential criteria for identifying racism now, amongst white people anyway; self identification. Even the actual white supremacists who organised the Reclaim Australia rallies were largely able to avoid this label from the media merely be declaring themselves not to be racist...'No racism to see here, people, they said they're not racist. Move along.'

We often see the strongest defense of people come from those who can readily empathise with the perceived 'victim'. And given the overwhelming whiteness of our media, this means a much higher proportion of our journalists find it easier to imagine themselves being accused of racism for reasons they can't understand and therefore assume don't exist than it is to imagine what it is like to  experience racism. 

And, just because I enjoy a challenge, I'm gonna take you up on your dare, Susie O'Brien.... "Go on, call me racist if you dare."

For you see, racism is not something so simple as to be able to label purely from the perspective of intent, nor is the person who receives this racism able to remove the label of racism from an event purely because they either didn't feel that it was racist, or because they felt a certain amount of social pressure to downplay whatever suspicions of racism they may have felt, as is not uncommon in these highly public instances. 

Racism is not merely overt acts, or individual intentions, but it is also relevant to consider the interpretations of those affected by the comment. If you do not intend to kick me when you walk around with your eyes closed, that doesn't mean I have to interpret it that way when you do. And even though I may concede that you did not directly intend to kick me, I can ask why you would be so irresponsible as to walk around with your eyes closed in the first place and even decide that you are equally as culpable as if you had intended the inevitable outcome. Can I not think of racism in the same way? If journalists are going to blindly stumble into matters of race and racism does their ignorance provide immunity from any offense or upset they cause? Should the people who get kicked every single day show a greater level of forgiveness and empathy to those who choose to walk around with their eyes closed than those who kick them on purpose? Should they 'move along' quietly and peacefully when another person with their eyes closed tells them there is nothing to see? Is the act of feigning authority on a topic and declaring a case closed not a perpetuation of the inherent problems which allow the problem to perpetuate itself? Is this not a culpable act?

You have patronised a large group of people who regularly experience overt and casual racism in their daily lives, from their employers, from their media, and from their governments, just to name a few. This racism is not always overt on the part of the individuals who enact it, and it is not always readily visible.

For instance, I think there are many considerations to be made about why such a common phenomena was even deemed newsworthy in the first place. Evidence of the fascination with eugenics that still plagues our society perhaps? Or simply a slow news day? Either way, why should a journalist, usually self proclaimed bastions of free speech seek to shut down discussion on issues of public interest? To act so blindly, to dismiss any other considerations than the grossly inadequate evidence presented in your article is to perpetuate the status quo of silencing discussion on race and racism that is not conducted exclusively by white journalists. To perpetuate racism is to be racist. You are racist... I dared.

What now?

You will not be fired, because that's not how racism, or being called racist, works, despite claims to the contrary. If you check your voice box and your keyboard you will see that my assertion has also not robbed you of your free speech, which is also commonly claimed. You will not find yourself in front of a judge. You will not find yourself shunned by your friends or colleagues. You will find it has little outwards impact whatsoever, which is good because I don't want it to. I don't want to lose your job. I want you to do your job. I want you to think, to challenge yourself and your readers, I want you to do your research.

The only impact it will have is the impact you choose to allow it to have. You can decide that I and everyone else who was gobsmacked by the audacity of your headline should be ignored and no one will ever force you to consider the matter in any detail. You can write a reply blog calling me whatever labels you can apply, some of them are probably even true. Racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, Islamaphobia, these are all so complex, interwoven, and often subconscious that I don't doubt that people wiser than me see elements of all of those in things that I have said or done. I like to think I would be humble enough to take these considerations on board and improve my own understanding, but I cannot guarantee it. Pride is a difficult beast to conquer, and humility can lead to pride much quicker than pride ever leads to humility.

So, if I'm willing to concede that as a fair skinned, blue eyed Australian who has benefited from white privilege that I have more likely have said things, and more importantly probably still believe things which could rightly be called racist, I don't feel I am going out on a limb to apply the same label to you. It is a statistically logical conclusion, especially given the confidence you evidently display when determining what is or not racist for the rest of us. That assertion is in itself an act of racism. As my friend and compatriot, Kelly Briggs aka The Koori Woman said to me earlier, the entire article is in itself one huge micro aggression, which you probably can't see and don't even realise was there, yet we both felt it. That means it should be up for discussion.

Besides, we can't move on... we live here. We deal with this stuff every day.       

The only question now is what are you going to do about it? Are you going to challenge yourself to try and open your eyes and consider how you are trivialising our lives and our experiences in such a patronising fashion? Or are you going to close them even tighter and yell even louder that you're not racist?  

The world waits with bated breath.



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Some Good News

ICYMI IndigenousX just cracked 20,000 followers on the Twitters which is pretty cool.

(Still gotta a decent way to catchup on the IndigenousX Facebook page though, but it's getting there.)

And something else that happened recently is that I found IndigenousX was successful in our very first ever grant with the Australian Council for the Arts, or with anyone for that matter.

It is to create an IndigenousX Anthology of 21 Indigenous writers, each writing a 2000 word article on pretty much whatever they want. Seeings as that is how the twitter account works it seemed sensible to do the anthology in the same spirit.

And with a list of peeps as impressive as this one is, I figure it was still a reasonably safe play.

I will keep you updated as it all starts coming together. I am already getting people's ideas and notes and they are all looking pretty amazing I must say. We are hoping it will be available as a free download later in the year, and maybe even a very limited print run for the super keen peeps among you.

I hope it does really well and can become an annual addition to the IndigenousX canon, but I I reckon I might focus on this one for now and let the future sort itself out from there...  

But these are two pretty big milestones for IndigenousX, so thank you to everyone who has helped make them happen.

Looking forward to telling you what the next one is fairly soon too ;)


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why I only preach to the converted.

"Aren't you just preaching to the converted on social media?"


Exclusively so.

And here's why.

We talk about this idea of 'preaching to the converted' as though it is just people who already know the same stuff and already believe the same things just sitting around congratulating each other on being cleverer than the heathenistic 'unconverted'.

It does look like that now and then, especially so if you're looking at  the behaviours of groups you aren't a member of, but I think it is also much more than that.

Amongst the fellow 'converts' who I follow and who follow me on Twitter, we don't really believe all the same things, and we certainly don't know all the same stuff.

What we are all 'converts' to though, is the idea that much of what we hear from govt and media isn't even close to true, and that racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and Islamaphobia, amongst other things, are huge issues.

That still leaves quite a lot of wiggle room, but it gives us a starting point.

It gives us some shared understandings, some shared aspirations, some shared expectations, some basic social guidelines for our dialogues to exist within. As is the same with any community, no matter how loosely formed it may be.

While twitter is a place where you can say pretty much anything about whatever or whoever you want, that does not mean it is also a place where people need to respond to you, or are obligated in any way to explain anything to you. Much like in real life, we get to choose who we interact with outside of our places of employment. We get to choose who we give our energy to, when, and for what purpose.

I'm not interested in convincing people that racism exists. That should be a given, and needs to be a given for me to choose to freely spend my time and energy engaging in conversation with people.

I'm not interested in proving that eating halal won't turn you into a werewolf, or that Aboriginal people aren't really a type of sentient cactus, or whatever ludicrously impossible thing it is that we are told to be scared of on any given day.

Someone needs to explain these things to people though, and kudos to those who do. I have worked in education with all ages of learners and I have been forced, as a professional requirement, to patiently explain these topics in painstaking detail to children and adults alike. On Twitter though, I am under no such obligation. I can choose how I spend my time, and with whom.

But for the most part I'd rather talk to the people who get the gist but who, like me, are lacking all of the details and are trying to work out what is really going on, and what we can acually do about it. That feels like a better use of my time, and a more rewarding experience, than what all too often reveals itself to be little more than what is referred to as 'feeding the trolls'.

Sometimes I do engage with trolls online, but it almost always for the benefit of those people who are reading along at home or simply because I am in a bad mood and feel like arguing with someone. It takes a lot of energy though... because that is exactly what trolls feed on.

While hanging out, sharing info, and generally trying to work out stuff, and find things that we can do that have value in our own lives and in each others, we have created and grown @IndigenousX to almost 20,000 followers, we have had a variety of influences on media reporting (not the least of which has been getting IndX hosts profiled each week in the Guardian), and we have raised over $150,000 dollars for others via StartSomeGood.

Not world shattering stuff, but not bad form either.

We've probably helped 'convert' a few peeps too, but I doubt it would be that many... And if we have, I would consider it a by product more than anything else.

It might be worth coming up with a less loaded and more accurate term than 'preaching to the converted' though... something that sits at the crossroads of 'hanging out with random kindred peeps', 'sharing a laugh and a few stories', and 'trying to find stuff worth talking about, and stuff worth doing' maybe?