intersectional is more than a three-letter country

As Australians, as non-white people who aren’t from the USA, as activists, we have got to talk about the USA dominance of the internet, and our social justice conversations.

Over at North Coast Musings, there’s a quick snapshot of some of the terrible things that @ebswearspink, @stringstory and @upulie had to deal with over the weekend, some of it from African American activists, including claims that Indigenous Australians only have a voice because of African American culture.





Many years ago, darling wonderful Chally wrote Dear USians on the Internet (yes, it’s on Feministe), about US centricity in social justice and how problematic is. Literally the first comment is a complaint about this letter!

Because we can’t ever have social justice that isn’t informed by the USA, I guess.

The thing is this:

Our Australian injustices cannot be righted through a paradigm that fits the USA.

The injustices that plague the USA do not necessarily translate outside of the USA.

We can exchange thoughts and techniques but we cannot

we cannot

match perfectly, or even imperfectly.

Liz has her own reasons for being my partner in yelling here on No Award, but this was my moment:

An act called the Jackson Jive performed on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. They performed in blackface, and it was bullshit. There was debate whether it was intentionally racist or just clueless, and one theory was from the name: that their name was ‘Jackson Jive’, it was postulated, was an intentional reference to shucking and jiving, an element of minstrelsy, and therefore intentionally racist. I was decried by a USAmerican person when I pointed out our history of blackface didn’t include quite so much minstrelsy, and the shucking and jiving thing isn’t as known here. Australia’s Blak history is different from any other country’s. Just like our experiences of colonialism, racism, and imperialism are different.

[Liz notes: Minstrelsy in Australia started out with US minstrel acts touring Australia, and then Australian performers began to mimic them.  I could make a remark about Iggy Azalea, but I haven’t had nearly enough tea.]

[Liz’s moment was the controversy about the KFC ad in which a lone Australian white guy finds himself surrounded by Indians at the cricket, and makes friends by sharing his KFC.  Racist in the sense of playing on fears of brown people?  Yes, although obviously there is also the fear of being surrounded by supporters of a rival team.  Playing into stereotypes about African Americans and fried chicken?  Uh, no.]

But apparently we can’t have racial experiences that are different from those experienced in the USA.

To make something about someone else’s racial history is to ignore our own very real issues, and means the discussions we have are limited and restricted. If I’m going to educate anybody, it’s going to be the people in communities here in Australia. We shouldn’t need to expend our energy fighting those who are supposed to be our community, our allies in oppression, whose experiences are similar but not the same.

Indigenous Australians may be light-skinned, and if they are it is often a product of the imperialism and genocide of our Australian history. But sure, let’s call an Indigenous Australian white, like that’s not loaded, like A.O. Neville, “Protector of Aborigines” from 1936 – 1940, didn’t endorse “biological absorption” of Aboriginal Australians, like we don’t have the Stolen Generation.

And we know light-skinned privilege exists, I live it (as a light-skinned Azn), but ugh, gross. Gross.  The entire concept of “white passing” is dangerous and hurtful in the context of Indigenous Australians.  That’s what the whole Eatock v Bolt case was about.

This is not to deny that often the language and work done by USAcentric and USA-based activists doesn’t assist us in our work and in our activism and in our fights. There are lots of great USA-based voices that help out.  But that doesn’t mean their concepts are universally applicable.

When our language is different from theirs and they yell at us for it, don’t lose hope.

And when our frame of reference is different from theirs and they call us wrong, and racist, and too white, yell back.

Come here to No Award, if you have to. I will always yell with you.

Maybe what we need is a primer for well-meaning USAmericans. It’ll be about Indigenous Australians being classed as fauna, The White Australia Policy, slavery in Queensland, and I’m tired just thinking about it. Bags not me.

Here read some things: Luke Pearson on ‘When It’s OK to be ‘Part Aboriginal‘; Defining Aboriginality in Australia; Anita Heiss’ book Am I Black Enough For You?  (If African-American – and other POC – people knew they were doing what Andrew Bolt has done to Indigenous Australians, would that disgust them? I hope so.)

And on the Invasion Day weekend! Ugh.

solidarity for white women and the (white) face of aUStralian feminism

Las week Mamamia chose to blog about Miley Cyrus twerking, but I know you’ll be surprised to know that they didn’t touch on the racial aspect at all. Or will you be surprised? Maybe you didn’t notice the racial aspect yourself. We’re Australian, right? How can we be expected to know the nuances of USAmerican Feminism’s racism if it’s silent about its racism?

This is a valid question! How CAN we, Australians of an intersectional nature, be expected to know about the nuances of racism in feminism? Uh, by learning it, my friends. By recognising our own and how it’s reflected in our media. By recognising that USAmerican feminism and social justice is an imperfect fit for Australia in so many ways, not least of all because of its racism and its USCentrism.

Betty Mamzelle has written an excellent article on the racial implications of Miley’s twerking, covering all sorts of aspects including expected knowledge, commodification of black bodies, representation and sexuality. Solidarity is for Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of her VMA Performance. It is very USA, obviously, and it is an illuminating read in many ways if you are unaware of how racial sexualism and its politics works. And the theories within it are applicable to Australian racial politics!

As Australians I don’t think we need to be experts in the racial politics of other countries; but as Australians heavily influenced by USA media and more importantly heavily influenced by USA social justice blogging and articles, I think it behooves us to understand exactly what it is that we’re consuming. It also behooves us to more critically examine why it is that we are consuming it. (there are three links in that sentence for your further reading)

Remember when the Jackson Jive thing happened on Hey Hey It’s Saturday? A totally racist thing of blackface, for sure, and then dismissed as a USA thing that we couldn’t have known. Aside from the massive prevalence of US narratives in Australia from the period in which blackface was a huge thing, blackface is an Australian thing, too, something Australian history chooses to forget as it picks and chooses and copies from White American Feminism. I recommend reading White Australia has a blackface history by Maxine Clarke at Overland for some backgrounding; it was an important piece to me in 2009 and is still an important piece to me now on this issue.

Look, there is a limit to the USAmerican-ness of our Australian Feminism. Did you know that Australian intersectional commentators (myself included) were also expected to know that Jackson Jive = a shuck and jive reference = intentional reference to shucking and jiving? We were. And how could we? There is only so much USCentrism we can suck down. And this is not new. The Amazing Chally has long been at the forefront (for me) of Australia is not the USA and we don’t need their White Lady Feminism

By the way if you missed #solidarityisforwhitewomen on twitter, well, I’m sorry, I meant to post about it but it just didn’t happen. At some point I’d like to talk about how this applies to Australia and the ways in which it doesn’t, but for now you can read (USA narratives) Why “solidarity” is bullshit at Bitch and Solidarity is for white women (but it doesn’t have to be) by Betty Mamzelle.

Some links: