The events of the last few months have been too much. The world has been too much. The Virus. George Floyd. Black Lives Matter. Rio Tinto. 434 Aboriginal deaths in custody. 55 Indian journalists arrested for doing their jobs. Our Prime Minister talking Tim Tam diplomacy with his British counterpart. An education minister waging war on education.
Last month, I was enraged, impassioned, energised to speak up. Now, like most people of colour, I’m just angry, fearful and exhausted. The attacks never stop. A brown girl in London eats ice cream in a park, posts a selfie and receives death threats. A white woman in America calls the cops on a black man who told her to put her dog on a leash. Another threatens to call the cops on a brown man painting a sign on the wall outside his own home. Famous Australian racist Alan Jones returns with his own show, because he has missed inciting violence and misogyny. On social media, people post the covers of books they ‘love’ featuring dead racist white males.
Things deteriorate into a meaningless blob of virtue signalling, obfuscation and gaswhiting.
I find it hard to step lightly. To speak softly. To grieve quietly. To write with grace. The world is insistent and closes around me. Reminders abound. I am different. I am too far from the land that birthed me and too close to the land that raised me. I miss the guiding spirits of my elders. I am in turbulent waters, drowning. All is white noise and it’s loud. But still I want to step forth. I want to explain. I want to dissent. I want to howl.
People of colour routinely speak of exhaustion. The toll it takes on our minds and our bodies to regularly dissent. Point out inaccuracies. Pretend the racism is not really targeted at us, per se. Go along with the veneer of white civility – we don’t mean you, love. Nod and smile because anger and hysteria are exactly what they accuse us of. We are the rioters. The looters – that very word co-opted into the English language to explain the savagery of the imperial mission in India, when mutineers were promptly labelled thugs and rapists.
History is constantly reinterpreted, reimagined, repurposed. Somehow it becomes our job, as people of colour, to resist, to explain, to provide factual evidence. And after we’ve done that, we are told to let bygones be bygones, to stop policing thoughts, to go back where we came from if we don’t like it here. And that final statement is like Trump himself – ridiculous, unanswerable, futile.
So how are we to recover? The easiest and most plausible option is that re-covering will be exactly that. A papering over to hide the cracks; a new set of couch covers for the old, grotty one. Politicians have already started making soothing noises – there, there now, yes, inequities exist, we must take responsibility, we must acknowledge our mistakes. We’ll make changes. Look, Indigenous folk will not go to jail for unpaid fines. University degrees will become cheaper if you study what we tell you. International students don’t need our money or our gratitude. Refugees are well looked after; they don’t need phones or freedom. We can’t deny our history; yes, some terrible things happened but we did not have slavery here. Wait. We did. There. We acknowledge it.
I find this post on the Facebook page of a woman I thought I knew. Worth quoting fully.
The origins of the Golliwog begin with the British soldiers who occupied Egypt near the end of the nineteenth century. Egyptian labourers working for the British bore the letters WOGS on their armbands, indicating they were Working On Government Service. These labourers were spoken of as ghuls – the Arabic word for desert ghosts, by the British troops. The children of the Egyptians played with black stuffed material dolls. These dolls in turn were given as gifts or purchased by the soldiers returning home to England. These dolls became known as Ghuliwogs, a name which would eventually become the Golliwog we know today.
At first, I just point out the inaccuracies – the Arabic word for ghost is shabh. That British/Egyptian colonial relationships in the nineteenth century did not allow for cosy exchanges of dolls. That WOG is a derogatory term used against people of colour. A golliwog is a racist construct. I say nothing about centuries of privileged oppression inherent in the statements of this woman and her witless friends as they proclaim they prefer this version of ‘history.’ The version that includes their dear old nannas making black dolls for them when they were little. I am certain that none of these women have ever had their children called golliwogs and sweet little monkeys. I remain calm and rational, conscious of the ‘angry-brown-woman-playing-the race-card’ stereotype they want me to perform. To no avail. I am accused of being ‘antagonistic,’ of muddying their pure, ‘non-racist’ memories, of ‘misunderstanding’ their motive for sharing a ‘historical document.’ I am scolded for attempting to silence them and told that ‘not all thoughts have to be historically researched in order to be utterable,’ that a historical document exists to show history, whether I ‘like it or not.’ As this exchange plays out on Facebook, I note that only one out of the 25 friends we have in common, says something in my defence. The silence from the rest is deafening. Perhaps they are busy performing worthier actions of solidarity.
This is why people of colour can no longer talk to white people about race. This is why we cannot wait for white people to understand how racism operates. This is how the commitment to ‘passive-aggressive politeness’ plays out in the lives of women of colour. This is how all attempts to have conversations about racism, end. This is what white privilege looks like. And had I pursued this conversation, no doubt there would have been white tears. A First Nations woman says, ‘Respect is a fulltime job, twenty-four seven. The way to behave in the world so that nobody’s pride gets trampled, so that anger doesn’t get a chance to ripen into disaster.’
I am tired of smiling, explaining, reasoning, prevaricating. I am tired of performative allyship. Tired of the way white women look the other way when brown women get angry. I think my anger is already ripening into disaster.
That this is your reality… I wish it were otherwise, Rashida. Thank you for writing this post. x
Thank you for reading Amanda, and for your words.
I wish the level of respect wasn’t linked to skin colour and hope I have never been or will ever become a white woman who turns away. x
Thanks Lisa … this is cumulative rage …
I don’t know what to say, Rashida. I’m white. My life is white. I’m glad you’re a friend of mine, and I hope like Lisa that I have never been or will ever become the white woman who turns away. x
Thank you Marlish. I’m also very glad to have friends like you watching my back. x
I read this with tears and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, Rashida. All I can offer as a white woman is to share this post, and others you may write, in a spirit of friendship.
Thank you Maureen.
It’s better to accept the reality that white cannot become black in this world . I look at racist attitudes and behaviour as an index of an inferior soul . The enlightened soul knows how to look beyond colour as I see in some of the comments of your white friends here. Perhaps it’s difficult for a writer like you who is wading in the midst of all this ‘dirt’. However don’t allow your spirits to be burdened and swallowed up by bitterness . Show to the world through your brilliant writing that women of colour can also write, sometimes better and more meaningful literature than the ‘white woman writer .’ I am reminded of Rushdie’s arguments in Imaginary Homelands’ where he talks about the multiple perspective , the bi-focal vision with which an Asian immigrant writes in just about every subject . Aren’t we privileged in that respect . Turn your anger into beautiful literature . The world will read and think about it … perhaps after many years … but definitely it will .
Hello my friend. I find it helps to channel my rage into something I can write, hence this post. And yes, that double perspective is valuable, because we both know that there’s discrimination to be found everywhere not just between races.
The words I offer will sound trite, Rashida, but I hear you and I hear the toll it’s taking on you. No wonder you’re weary. On a personal level, I take on board everything you say, and you’ve made me more convinced than ever to be a good ally and friend and speak out against racism whenever I see it.
Thanks Louise. You are already that. Interesting that it comes on the back of a similar-but-different conversation we recently had. And how people really hate being called out.
I hear you too, Rashida. The way racism curls it’s roots into the collective psyche with it’s relentless outpourings of polarised thinking is nothing less than exhausting. And deeply dispiriting. Thinking of you.
Thanks Julie. Yes. It does get into the psyche. Thanks for the love. x
Rashida, I can feel your weariness in this post and I rage for you. Thank you for writing it.
Thank you for reading Haylee.
Rashida, I continue to read/listen respectfully, aware that this struggle takes energy away from what you love (including writing) and that breaks my heart.
Thanks Angela. Really appreciate your comment. x
History is not an abstract it is simply a construct written at a specific time with a specific purpose in mind. ‘History is written by the victors’. As a white woman I know I am born in privileged position in this society. Yet, as a newly arrived migrant I experienced casual racism as ‘go back home you pom!’ Even that hurt ,as it was meant to, so I can only imagine the hurts that you have suffered through countless times and days. We could claim they are ignorant- but we know its more than that- when the powers that be fawn over the likes of hatemongers it is semi officially sanctioned. We can each do our bit to change the culture , but while those in charge are so wilfully ignorant and blind our actions cant affect the change we need. I am so sorry you had such a hurtful experience and I am glad that you chose to call it out. We can all do better
Thank you Sonia. Yes. You’re right. Most of this is deliberate and designed to hurt. I think people do it because they get away with it.
Oh, Rashida, I’m so sad to read this. So sorry you are experiencing this. So sorry people you thought of as friends or allies have betrayed you in this way. It must indeed be exhausting. I still have a lot to learn about allyship but please know I absolutely support you in this. Sending hugs.
Thank you Annabel.And thank you for your support. Much love.
Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.
Words are inadequate. Mine not yours. Your words are articulate and powerful, and show that despite thinking my heart is in the right place, I still have much to learn and understand about the experiences of people of colour, and about being an ally in action rather than just in thought. I am sorry. I am listening. I need to do better.
Thank you Melinda
So passionate and thoughtful Rashida. I’ll think about your words for a long time to come. Thank you for writing through your exhaustion.
Thank you Brooke
I haven’t stopped thinking about your blog post since I read it a few days ago. I’m sorry. I can imagine that was incredibly exhausting to write but thank you for writing and sharing it.
Thank you Poppy
Where to start. The only place to start is with outrage. I don’t think you can pussyfoot around the issue of racism, neither should we. I’m a privileged person and I’m exhausted by the constant demonstrations of explicit and implied racism that I see in my professional and personal life. Your mind must be totally burdened right now, so keep letting it out if that helps you, because it helps me, everyone. I sometimes feel hopeful, because small gains are better than none, but then I worry these are actually hypocritical placations. So, back to outrage we must go. I’ve spent this morning reading about your experiences Rashida, and I am sorry. I hope you are doing ok. I’m with you, and all who have ever been made to feel they are different. We all know that we are the same; humans sharing planet earth with feelings, emotions, stories, the capacity to give and receive love and the need for and right to acceptance, in common. We all get taught this from childhood, right? If not, why the hell not. Not sure why there us so much shock when people who have been treated as “the other” for generations, rebel against that feeling of rejection. No justice No peace.
Thank you Michelle. There’s restorative power in your words and I need that right now. Thank you x
My beautiful brown friend. It is time for all to be said. xx
Dear Rashida, that is very powerful writing that made me shudder and awaken me to acknowledge the daily effects of the whiteness and privilege I carry around with me – like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank cheques – to paraphrase Peggy McIntosh. You certainly bring home the insidious and enduring nature of racism. I will do my best to be an ally and friend who identifies and calls out this racism that as you say goes largely unremarked upon. I so admire you and thank you for speaking these uncomfortable truths.
Thanks Sally. I love the metaphor you use.
Your words are powerful. May you go from strength to strength. I will show your essay to my own relatives of colour. One day I’d like to talk to you and find out if there is any way I can ease their journey. We’re marginal, but not marginal to ourselves.
Thank you Rashida.
Happy to speak with you any day my friend. Thank you for reading.
Thank you, Rashida, for speaking from the heart and with the gift of your piercing intellect. Your beautiful, angry words have helped me to understand the corrosive effects of racism. Please don’t give up the fight, knowing that there are people who will always support you, as much as we are able, in thought, word and deed.
Thanks Susan. From the heart. x
Dear Rashida, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I will point people towards your powerful texts. I am in awe of you, and how your words are propelled to provoke listening, deeper thinking, feeling, and making change together. With love and deep respect, Nienx
Thank you Nien. That is so lovely to hear. I appreciate it truly.