I attended Dialogue of the Titans with Prof Megan Davis & Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. Hosted by the University of New South Wales Pro Vice Chancellor Indigenous. “A dialogue between two extraordinary human rights defenders on holding a United Nations Human Rights Mandate.” An excellent event looking at the work of the United Nations as well as the practicalities (terrible travel conditions for all volunteers, which especially restrict members from developing nations). Also discussion of why Australia does not have a bill of rights (terrible). Plus why it’s a problem that Australia rejected the Uluru Statement, the outcome of consultation led by, and with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around Australia, which recommended a voice to parliament. Most nations with Indigenous populations have a version of this mechanism that ensures Indigenous people can comment on laws before they’re passed.
My Weekends With A Sociologist series is going to start coming to you more frequently and completely out of sequence. I will share with you my visual sociology adventures from different places, at different points in time, showing you what has captivated my sociological imagination most recently, through to what has lingered with me over time. The purpose of this series is to showcase what it is to see the world through a sociological lens. (For visually impaired readers, descriptions in the alt.) So let’s get started!
What better way to restart our journey, than with the enduring legacy of a strong Aboriginal woman, Barangaroo.
Beginning in the first week of January, Sydney annually hosts the Sydney Festival, with various sites around town housing performances, public art and sculptures, including many interactive installations. The best this year was the artwork, Four Thousand Fish, curated by Emily McDaniel, artist from the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri nation in Central New South Wales. The artwork blends sea song, visual story telling, sound, lighting, sculptures, landscape photography, music and of course, a beautiful nawi (bark canoe).
Held at the Cutaway in Barangaroo, every weekend this past January, the site was transformed into a public art sculpture that was set ablaze nightly at dusk. I attended an event hosted by the beloved street photographer, Legojacker (formerly from Melbourne, they had moved to Canberra in recent months).
Barangarro is named after the mighty Cammeraygal woman of the Eora nation, who defied colonialism in Gadigal, her homeland (also known as Sydney).
This year marks 230 years since the British invaded Australia, leading to the decimation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with inequities continuing to this day. It is also the 80 year anniversary of the Day of Mourning protests, organised by the Australian Aboriginal Progressive League.
Today’s post reflects on the protests on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation (Gadigal is the city now known as Sydney). I then provide a visual sociology of the culmination of the protest march, which ended at the Yabun Festival.
“40,000 years is a long time. 40,000 years still on my mind.” This iconic #StreetArt mural will be restored. It stands on Lawson Street, opposite the busy Redfern train station. Pained in 1983 by Carol Ruff, the project has been awarded $38,000 by the City of Sydney to re-beautify the art. Ruff will not be involved due to illness. An exciting community project!
No pride in genocide! InvasionDay 2018. A protest of Australia Day, a date commemorating the decimation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been protesting this date since 1938, then dubbed The Day of Mourning.
TW sexual assault: The Northern Territory Commission into youth prison Don Dale finds girls were sexually assaulted by male guards, as well as being sexually harassed (including after being released) and were given less access to basic amenities, recreation areas and education in commodation to male detainees.
There is a general injustice in the abuse of human rights of these young women, as well as institutionalised racism at play here. Don Dale faced national condemnation after footage was released of guards torturing a young Aboriginal man. Aboriginal people are overrepresented in Australian prisons, largely due to over policing with regards to petty fines and low level, non-violent offences.
“At times, male youth justice officers showed inappropriately sexualised behaviour towards girls and young women and otherwise behaved towards them in a way that did not meet society’s expectations.”
Anti-Blackness amongst non-Indigenous people of colour
Let’s talk about anti-Blackness amongst non-Indigenous people of colour (POC) in Australia. In July 2017, a young family was trying to get a taxi after they marched for NAIDOC Week, a week of events recognising the cultures, languages and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in Naarm (Melbourne). Five cab drivers refused to take them, making up the same excuse that they had just dropped someone off, or that they were waiting for another passenger, only to drive off alone. It is illegal to refuse a fare. The two drivers here are non-Indigenous POC.
In late 2016, actress Ningali Lawford-Wolf was refused a taxi four times in one night; in 2015, elder and actor Jack Charles was refused a cab twice in one week; in 2013, a group of Aboriginal actors were repeatedly refused a taxi, including Natasha Wanganeen and Frances Djulibing. These are famous cases; the video below may involve a more ordinary family, but nevertheless form part of an ongoing pattern of discrimination, that people of colour are contributing towards.
Non-Indigenous POC must confront racism towards Indigenous people in our own communities and society at large. Non-Indigenous Australians are living on stolen land and so we owe a great debt to traditional custodians of Country.
The Uluru Statement report was delivered in 2017 and it partly focuses on truth-telling about the history of this nation. We must play our role in national healing, rather than reinforcing colonial hierarchies of racism.
Are you okay with a professional organisation that has only ever had two women keynote speakers in 20 years, justified as protecting women from hostility?
Well, a White academic, Dr Simone Bignall, is justifying the exclusion of Indigenous scholars with this logic. Credit to Dr Chelsea Bond who led a wonderful discussion on anti-Indigenous, anti-Black racism in academia.
A recent article on the Black Issues in Philosophy provides reflections by Afro-Jewish-American philosopher, Professor Lewis Gordon, who reflected on his keynote address to the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) conference. He addressed Black issues in “Australian Continental Philosophy.“ The conference was hosted in Australia in November 2017. Gordon quotes a critical blog post by Dr Bryan Mukandi, who is a Shona (from Zimbabwe) migrant-Australian. Mukandi criticised the ASCP conference for only ever hosting one person of colour keynote speaker in 20 years, Prof Gordon. (This was later corrected – the conference has had TWO people of colour keynotes. In 20 years).
Bignall then responds, systematically dismissing Mukandi’s critique of racial exclusion. Her argument is possibly one of the most apt illustrations of racism in academia. Bignall begins by shielding herself against charges of racism by saying she’s worked "alongside Indigenous academics and activists.” She then argues White Continental Philosophers can’t find work easily, and this makes their field difficult. She praises the White keynotes who have spoken at the ASCP conferences in the past.
Bignall presents a lengthy criticism of Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, one of Australia’s most important academics, and an Aboriginal woman who reframed postcolonialism and feminism through a lens of Aboriginal womanhood. Bignall writes that Prof Moreton-Robinson has never been invited to be a keynote because she is not a continental philosopher, and because, in Bignall’s words, Prof Moreton-Robinson, “considers ‘Western thought’ in its entirety as party to colonial enterprise of individualist White possession."
Bignall argues White academics are "diverse,” while maintaining the idea that White people shouldn’t have to deal with Aboriginal and other Black academics’ critiques of their field. She writes:
As part of a responsible approach to equity and diversity considerations, the ASCP holds that it is not uncomplicatedly appropriate or desirable for conference organizers to request the participation of Black or Indigenous speakers who engage peripherally with Continental thought but whose interests and specific expertise lies with alternative philosophical traditions. This would, of course, fail to meet the requirements of a keynote speaker at a meeting of expert Continental Philosophers. But, equally worrying, it also would put such speakers in the unenviable and unfair position of having to defend themselves against a large audience of such experts; or else require them to engage more fully with Continental European thought than they actually wish to or have use for.
To put it another way: it would go against equity and diversity to invite a renowned Indigenous feminist. And the ASCP would be an inhospitable place for “non-experts.”
Academic theories are porous. Many disciplines will invite keynotes from other fields. The idea that Indigenous academics and other Black theorists can’t be invited to a conference because they’re not a continental philosopher does not hold. Australian continental philosophy is not welcoming of Black theorists, and does not produce enough Black graduates, so there is a cycle of exclusion. It means that this sub-field is basically just White people talking to other White people about colonialism, in a way that maintains Whiteness.