Whereas we write and speak as members of a small minority of marginal voices, our journalistic and academic critics belong to a wealthy system of interlocking informational and academic resources with newspapers, television networks, journals of opinion, and institutes at its disposal. Most of them have now taken up a strident chorus of rightward-tending damnation, in which they separate what is non-white, non-Western, and non-Judeo-Christian from the acceptable and designated Western ethos, then herd it all together under various demeaning rubrics such as terrorist, marginal, second-rate, or unimportant. To attack what is contained in these categories is to defend the Western spirit.
Since Edward Said wrote these words in 1993, I can’t say much has changed. Recent events in Australia, as well as globally, in the past few weeks, have sent me scurrying to my boxes of books and tearing them open with the distress of one who usually retreats to literature when confronted, challenged, heartbroken.
Last week, the ABC program, Q&A made headlines as viewers were subjected to the spectre of Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie shouting the oft repeated refrains – ban the burka; deport Muslims; halt immigration. Lambie’s website explains that she puts Tasmania first, advocates the banning of the burka and thinks that Sharia law is an anti democratic cancer. When fellow panellist and Muslim writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied attempted to explain Sharia to the Senator, voices were raised, fingers were pointed and insults were hurled. The so-called moderator of the program interrupted Abdul-Magied when she raised her voice and she backed down. Later, those journals of opinion erupted in a frenzy against Abdel-Magied; the mildest, accusing her of being an apologist for Islam, going on tax payers funded holidays to extremist societies, and the vilest, calling her names that brought to mind the campaign against former Prime Minster Julia Gillard. Abdel-Magied’s sin, in part, appears to have been that she raised her voice in an attempt to be heard. Senator Lambie’s finger pointing and yelling appeared to gain her more support (Go Jacquie) in those bastions of public opinion whereas Abdel-Magied’s defence of her way of life inspired vitriol and a recommendation she be deported. Brown girls must not shout.
Not long ago a similar incident involving Jamila Rizvi and Steve Price on The Project also divided viewers. Rizvi, another brown girl, asked Steve Price to keep quiet because she was talking and refused to let him interrupt her. Well. A Change.org petition demanded an instant apology from Rizvi on behalf of the scowling, misogynistic Price who pronounced himself ‘humbled’ by the support. He also appeared to think that Rizvi’s shouting was unacceptable, but did not see any contradiction in attempting to interrupt her or speak over her to get his point across. A point worth noting here is that The Project’s co-host is Waleed Aly, also a Muslim, whose behaviour is scrutinised closely and whose every utterance is pounced upon. But Ali, because of his gender, star power and intelligence, is allowed to get away with occasional ‘misdemeanours’ as perceived by his white audience. Brown girls, however, cannot. We need to keep our heads down and our voices low. We must be nice. The sub-text appears to be – we understand that your origins, race and religion condemn you and make you inadequate but we are willing to help you if you’re nice. If you’re not nice, we’ll get upset and point out all the things that are wrong with having people like you in our country.
This is the message I hear when I emerge from my self-imposed burial in the books I turn to when I’m upset. As a brown Australian it’s hard to stay apolitical when the country slides publicly into bigotry, as this report indicates. It’s hard to stay positive when the people in my city greet Pauline Hanson enthusiastically. It’s hard to stay buoyant when men in suits order the destruction of Aboriginal and environmental sacred sites and ignore their humanitarian obligations.
But brown girls mustn’t shout. That’s important. And here’s the thing. Brown girls know they mustn’t shout. We were raised to keep our voices and eyes lowered. We were raised by patriarchs in societies emasculated by colonialism. When we left our brown shores for these white sands we already knew how to behave. Despite centuries of conditioning, we raise our voices. Think of the cost. The shame of our mothers. Why do we do it?
In the words of the magnificent Sarah Kay;
You keep your scissors in the knife drawer
I keep mine with the string and tape.
We both know how to hide our sharpest parts,
I just don’t always recognise my own weaponry.
Astute. Insightful. Eloquent. Thank you for raising your voice with such heart, Rashida.
Thanks Brenda. Much appreciated.
Excellent words x
Brilliant Rashida. I watched the episode on Q&A and thought Yassmin Abdel- Magied was so eloquent. You are so amazing to put all this into words. Keep it up
Raise your voice, Rashida. Raise your voice. The double standard and hypocrisy is maddening. It needs to be challenged at every level. I would love to see your eloquent and articulate analyses be given the broadest distribution.
Thanks Liana xx
I will be sharing these wise words. Very, very astute. Horrifying that Said – and you – are still right.
Yes, I thought that … having encountered Said during my undergrad uni days, more than 20 years ago. Thank you dear Kylie.
‘Interlocking,informational,and academic,’ So very well put, such standard appears to be missing from public/broadcast speak in the rush (not passion) to have it said across so many levels.
Yes, Edward Said had his critics but what makes these words so potent is how relevant they appear to be in the events of the last few weeks. Thanks Susan.
It’s not just brown women who aren’t allowed to raise their voices—it’s all women. We’re labelled ‘hysterical’, and we quickly learn our obedient place.
I’m with you—yell if you must. There’s nothing at all wrong with raising your voice and showing your anger once in a while.
Yassmin is an eloquent, intelligent, passionate young Australian, and what she had to say was very much needed information. It’s terribly sad, and frightening, that it fell on so many uninformed, ignorant, and deliberately deaf, ears.
Isn’t it? Thanks Louise. I’m slow to anger, generally, but some things won’t leave me alone until I’ve ‘vented.’
I wish we’d get rid of the notion that anger is bad. Anger is normal and necessary. It’s physiological, and it’s there for an evolutionary reason—to protect us.Without it, we’d let everyone take advantage of us, but instead, we stand our ground when we feel our rights or our person or our belongings have been infringed.
There was nothing at all inappropriate in Yassmin’s response—her religion and her culture were being attacked by someone with ignorant and uninformed beliefs. And, like I say, she was trying to educate the Senator (who should already know) and the audience. All she did was show Jacquie Lambie up as an uninformed fool.
I have no time for Jacquie Lambie’s opinions, but I know she’s faced her own battles, and she’s had to fight. There are reasons we all have our beliefs, and Jacquie has hers. The thing is, her fears of Muslims are unfounded, and if she could have listened to Yassmin she might have learnt that.
I don’t think anger’s bad either. I find unbalanced and unjust acts such as the Q&A episode incite an angry response within me. When a young woman (younger than my daughter) is retrospectively called vile things because an ignorant politician (regardless of her heroic personal battles) chooses her position and privilege to demonise beliefs she cares not to know anything about, well, I write! Thank you for your passionate defence, Louise xx
I’m horrified, Rashida, that Pauline Hanson is ‘welcome’ in our city. There is so much to be horrified at these days… Thank you for writing this; it needs to be said, and you have done it powerfully and eloquently. x
Yes, there is a kind of slow building horror at what people are capable of saying, Amanda. I was trying not to notice but Pauline is rather popular these days, even here. Thank you for your support xx
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Have to agree with Louise – these words apply to all women.
Thank you Sue
This is a strong statement of the right to speak out, and to be heard, and of course, the more we do so, the more those who fear difference and openness will try to put us down. Brown girl, I”m with you!
Thank you Christina. Your support is deeply appreciated. And I’m very glad you’re with me!
Rashida You spell it out so clearly that one wonders why the rest of the world can’t see it for themselves. Or maybe they don’t want to acknowledge to see it for it is. Thanks once again for the article. L Nafisa
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Thanks Nafisa. Appreciate your support.
I can only support everything that everyone has said here. Kudos to you all for doing so. There is much harshness and madness to overcome.
Thank you Glen.
I understand how you feel, Rashida. It’s terrible when people aren’t allowed to speak out. I just hope that we don’t go down the same path as Germany did in the build up to the second World War where minority groups were vilified and murdered just for being different.
Thanks Louise. As you say, important to speak out.
Reblogged this on worldmindsandfiction.