Indigenous Sovereignty and Responses to COVID-19

People march during the Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney. One man holds up a sign. Another person holds up a large Aboriginal flag

In Episode 2 of Race in Society, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I are joined by Jill Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), who are leading COVID-19 pandemic responses in Victoria. She discusses how the pandemic amplifies existing health and social inequalities. Also on the panel is sociologist, Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, who is Professor of Indigenous Research at RMIT University, and author of countless critical race books, including, The White Possessive‘. She demonstrates how her theorisation of Aboriginal sovereignty disrupts how the pandemic is currently understood. Finally, we also speak with sociologist Dr Debbie Bargallie, Senior research fellow at Griffith University, and author of the excellent new release, ‘Unmasking the Racial Contract: Indigenous voices on racism in the Australian Public Service.’ She talks about how Aboriginal people are excluded from social policy, which has compounded poor decision-making on public health during the pandemic.

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Race in Society

Protesters wear masks at Hyde Park in Sydney. One man's t-shirt reads: Black Lives Matter Here Too

Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I are both sociologists and we’ve launched a new webseries called “Race in Society.” The first season is dedicated to “Race and COVID-19.” In this first episode, we cover the inspiration for the series and why we are focusing on the pandemic.

In the video below, Alana explains how our idea for Race in Society came about. We were noticing an increased interest in critical race studies among academics, students, and the broader public. Much of this discussion replicates ideas of race from North America, which is not necessarily applicable to Australia.

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Land Rights and the Legacy of Mabo Day

I write this as a reflection at the end of Mabo Day, marking the end of Reconciliation Week. This day commemorates the 3 June 1992 High Court ruling that recognises Native Title – land rights of the Meriam people of the Mer Islands of the Torres Strait, which opened land rights for First Nations across Australia.

On 20 May 1982, Eddie Mabo, Sam and David Passi, Celuia Mapo Salee, and James Rice lodged their land claim. The case took a decade to finalise and addressed multiple legal injustices, including the myth of terra nullius (that Australian land was unowned before colonisation), recognition of Native Title and cultural definitions of land rights, and establishing the Native Title Act.

Today’s post covers the ongoing impact and challenges flowing from the Mabo case, and the sociological issues it raises. In paricular, non-Indigenous people’s narrow awarenes about the cultural significance of land.

Eddie Mabo on the left; a black and white photograph of him in a suit. On the right is a quote from Mabo: "Oh yes, everybody knows it's Mabo land and my sister is looking after it. And as long as I want that land, it will be there for me when I go back."
Oh yes, everybody knows it’s Mabo land and my sister is looking after it. And as long as I want that land, it will be there for me when I go back.
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Police Violence in Australia

Oil painting style image of a group of protesters in front of New South Wales Court. Two of them stand on seats and wear the Aboriginal flag. The title reads, "Police violence in Australia"

It is still Reconciliation Week, and Australia is undergoing two major court cases where police have shot dead young Aboriginal people. Yet non-Indigenous people remain wilfully oblivious. We are collectively spending more energy in feeling morally superior to other countries, rather than acting towards national change. Specifically, Australian media lead with stories of “violent unrest,” “violent protests,” and “mayhem” in the USA, instead of focusing on police violence against Black victims and protesters, and providing insightful analysis on similarities to Aboriginal deaths in custody in the Australian context.

Australian social media and public commentary are preoccupied with either dismissing current events as unique to other societies (“only in America”), or posting aghast (rightfully) over police brutality overseas. We do this despite not engaging with long-running campaigns led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It’s not that we should disengage from world events; #BlackLivesMatter is an important movement that resonates globally and deserves attention. The issue is the disproportionate focus on the USA by Australians. This maintains our perception that police brutality is an American quirk and allows non-Indigenous Australians to ignore local racial justice movements led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This post will illustrate how non-Indigenous Australians other national racism, as if it is the abhorrent opposite of our national culture. This is easier than taking the steps we need to address police brutality and racial injustice right here and now.

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Reconciliation and the ongoing impact of colonialism

Oil painting style image showing protesters carrying the Aboriginal flag

I live on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. ‘Eora’ means ‘here’ or ‘from this place.’ Twenty-nine clans belong to the Eora Nation (of what is now known as Sydney), each with their distinct culture, languages, songlines and practices. Sovereignty was never ceded. This land always was, is, and forever will be, Aboriginal land.

Yesterday was National Sorry Day and today marks the beginning of Reconciliation Week. The meanings and actions of these national events are different for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and non-Indigenous people. Here are some reflections for those of us who are settlers, and what we can do to better listen and walk in solidarity with First Nations.

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Gender, Race and Ableism in ‘Joker’

Arthur is in full Joker make-up. His face is painted white with crass red lips overdrawn over half his face. He has large red eyebrows painted high on his forehead. His eyes are framed by two blue triangles. He smiles and raises his eyebrown as he exhales

Let’s talk about representations of gender, race and ableism in Joker and how to situate a critical reading in the local Australian context. I saw the film last night in Newtown, Sydney, where the mostly White audience erupted in rapturous clapping. We’ll explore this reaction.

Spoilers ahead. (N.B.: Read this as a gif-free version in PDF)

Arthur is shirtless, with his back to the audience. He is watching Thomas Wayne, a White man in a suit, speaking on television‘Joker’ presents a racialised and gendered view of class. Thomas Wayne (Gotham’s White male, super rich aspiring Mayor, played by Brett Cullen) is the antagonist. Wayne refers to protesters with contempt (jokers) and he punches Arthur (before his reincarnation as The Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix) while he’s emotionally vulnerable. Whiteness prevails in this exchange, because the conflict between the two men is not really about class, as the film attempts to position. Their tension is about masculine power.

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Whitewashing Race Studies

In the lower half is a white background, with the spines of two white books on the right handside. At the top is the title: whitewashing race studies

How does a White male student with no expertise in critical race studies, with little sociological training, publish a peer reviewed article in one of the most prestigious journals in our field? How is this possible when the paper misrepresents the Black Lives Matter movement and intersectionality theory? How does this paper make it through peer review to publication in less than six months? ‘Black Lives Matter at Five: Limits and Possibilities,’ by Adam Szetela, was submitted to Ethnic and Racial Studies on 24 January 2019, accepted for publication on 21 June 2019 and published online on 18 July. The expediency of the peer review process, given the content of the article, warrants strong evaluation.

I express my gratitude to Dr Shantel Gabrieal Buggs, who brought this to public attention, and who led a robust discussion on Twitter with sociologists and scholars from other fields. I’m using this and other examples as a case study of whiteness in academic publishing.

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Understanding Racism in Social Context

Race is a social construction. This means that biological or phenotypic traits are classified in ways that reinforce inequalities benefiting majority groups. Hence “race” is understood differently across nations, depending on history and culture. White people have a tendency to see racism in subjective and relativist views: White Canadians think that racism is less of an issue in their country than in the USA; White people in Aotearoa New Zealand think racism in Australia is far worse than in their own backyard; and Australians think racism in Australia has “gotten better,” and that we are better off than the USA. These comparisons are one way in which White supremacy is maintained locally. Individual observations about so-called “worse” racism in other countries only serves to maintain racial injustice. Let’s now see how this plays out in everyday discussions of racism.

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Enacting Whiteness When Tagging People of Colour

I’ve written about why White people should reflect on the deeper motivations whenever they feel a need to tag Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other people of colour, in their own conversations on race and racism. White people should understand that tagging people of colour into racist exchanges introduces further discrimination and abuse into that person’s life. I show this through an example of online abuse I received after one of my White followers tagged me twice into conversations involving someone who had previously harassed me.

Whiteness

White people often tag people of colour into their social media conversations on racism without recognising the impact. Sometimes this is because White people become easily overwhelmed when engaging in personal conversations of racism. This is an outcome of Whiteness. White people do not often think critically about race and so they are not readily aware of the benefits and protections they receive from their race. As such, everyday racism is often invisible to them. This includes not noticing racism unless it is overt in an extreme form which they recognise and feel disconcerted by. When they decide to step into racial conversations, White people are unfamiliar with how quickly race discussions escalate. As they face race discussions head on, they may panic and tag people of colour, ironically, to get support and reinforcement from people of colour.

This might take the form of a benign invitation to a person of colour as racial observer (“I wonder what @PersonOfColour thinks about this?”) or as racism expert (“How dare you say something so racist. You should read @PersonOfColour’s posts”). Continue reading Enacting Whiteness When Tagging People of Colour

Charming Central Coast: Aboriginal Organisations and Sights on Darkinjung Land

Sommersby Falls with the blog post title overlaid: Charming Central Coast - Aboriginal Organisations and Sights on Darkinjung Land

I’ve previously mentioned that I’d been away on secondment for six weeks at the end of last year. I was part of a national program that matches professionals from policy and corporate sectors with Aboriginal-controlled community organisations. I worked with Barang Regional Alliance (Barang) on the Central Coast, on their Empower Youth Summit, which was held last weekend, on 23-24 February 2019. Barang looks after the interests of 12,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on Darkinjung land. It was a pleasure to work on this meaningful project and to learn more about Barang and its partners, whom I touch on below. You can see the Barang team and my fellow secondees below.

Next time, I’ll talk a little on my project, and some photos from the weekend, attended by 120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.  Today, I’m going to focus more on my broader experience on the Central Coast, especially the Aboriginal-Controlled organisations with whom we collaborated, as well as the cultural walks and sights. I’ll share with you a visual sociology of our visit to Finchley Campground, the beautiful rock art at Baiame Cave and Bulgandry, the Koori Art Exhibition, various national parks and festivals, plus much more!

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