In her historic maiden speech, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Yanyuwa woman and Member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, addresses Indigenous resilience, support for migrants and refugees, and solidarity with LGBTQIA Australians.
“I urge parliamentarians in both houses to understand this: the Yanyuwa are a people whose struggle for recognition took nearly 40 years. So many elders died well before such recognition and, most importantly, before any respect took place. Such long, drawn out legal battles have wearied many families of first nation peoples, constantly trying to defend their sense of self and identity and country. Maybe that was the intention – to battle fatigue. But we’re still here, and we’re not going to go away.”
Rugby star Sam Thaiday (above) who is Torres Strait Islander, made a sexist and racist comment during The Footy Show, a very popular, long-running TV show that is dominated by White male athletes and comedians who are infamous for racism and sexism. Thaiday “joked” that he once had dated “dark women” as part of a “jungle fever phase” that he then grew out of (his wife is a White Australian woman, with whom he has children).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commentators, artists and researchers were swift to condemn Thaiday’s words. Their activism was effective: they called on action from Deadly Choices, an Indigenous-led health initiative in Queensland that promotes Thaiday as one of their key ambassadors. This led initially to a statement denouncing Thaiday’s damaging message, and today they announced that Thaiday was removed as their ambassador. Continue reading Racism and Sexism in the Media
Despite its special focus on diversity, the evolution of the March for Science shows that diversity has been an afterthought. Science and academia continually places scientists from underrepresented groups in the position of arguing for our rights. The issues for the global March for Science, as well as the national marches in Australia, are fundamental to issues of diversity in STEM around the world. The march is a microcosm of the battle to create a more inclusive culture in STEM that truly values and promotes diversity.
Over the weekend, thousands participated in the March for Science, both in Australia and globally. Influenced by the Women’s March, the March for Science has struggled with reflecting the highly diverse scientific community. In today’s post, sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos provides a brief history of the controversies, explains why diversity in science is important, and provides practical suggestions for moving forward on stronger footing.
I was interviewed by WIRED on the disunity caused by scientists who have tried to split the March for Science from social justice activism. The case study in this article is the appalling treatment of organisers in Memphis, USA. Scientists split from the Memphis March to form a separate rally in the same city. Both groups have scientists but the March has centrally been led by women of colour activists with more experience in social movements, and they incorporate a focus on inclusion of minority communities. This is symbolic in their decision to march to an historically Black university. Participation of minorities in science is not mutually exclusive to the goal of enhancing evidence-based science policies. I’ll point out what I said in my interview: scientists from underrepresented groups have always been part of, and learned from, social justice movements.
“Both groups feel that their work isn’t done—and with the perception that science is under attack in the US, they wish they could show a united front. But ‘that in itself is a false picture of science, because we are not united,’ says Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia who has studied the online reaction to the March for Science’s shifting messaging. Saturday’s marches, rallies, and other events around the world will surely pull some science supporters together. But they’re just as likely to highlight the clash over science’s priorities. Should the science community focus on fighting back against a hostile administration? Or on improving itself from within?”
I was interviewed by the The New York Times on issues of equity and diversity in the March for Science:
“‘It set off alarm bells,’ said Zuleyka Zevallos an applied sociologist from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. ‘How can we trust them to look after inclusion and accessibility if they are going to buckle under pressure?'”
The statements from the organisers in this article are easily disproved from public record. For example, the organisers resisted the idea that science is political, and they have created a series of sexist, racist and ablesit problems (discrimination against people with disabilities). They have completely ignored the needs and representation of LGBTQIA scientists. Most tellingly, several women have left the organising committee due to a toxic organisational culture.
As I’ve said from the beginning: the problems with the march reflect broader issues of discrimination in science and academia. This includes a lack of awareness about the structural barriers inhibiting the full participation and success of minorities and White women in research. The march is also plagued by ineffective leadership, policy and practice responses to diversity, which is another troubling hallmark of science. We must do better to ensure everyone can achieve their full potential in science.
I was interviewed for this article by BuzzFeed on March for Science:
“It took one tweet by one high-profile male scientist for the organisers to completely retreat from the diversity statement that they put out” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s important because it shows that there’s a wavering commitment to diversity that is swayed by the status quo in science.”
I welcome the news of the three new honorary co-chairs of the march: Bill Nye, Dr Lydia Villa-Komoroff, and Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, however there is a lot of work ahead to address diversity within the march. The news is also soured by the fact that Nye was going to be announced solo.
I was interviewed twice as a result. In my first interview I conveyed strong disappointment at the decision to make a White man the face of the march and noted that a woman of colour would have been a step forward. I also argued that the organisers needed to appoint transgender women and women with disabilities to address key gaps in leadership. Around this time, the STAT News article came out (for which I was also interviewed) and caused more controversy and so the organisers held off on announcing Nye. And so while these two accomplished women of colour scientists are wonderful leaders, they are, nevertheless, an afterthought. Their inclusion is also an outcome of strong negotiation by one of the women of colour on the committee and public lobbying by underrepresented scientists. Nye’s comments in this article are counter-productive:
“With respect to diversity — is that the key word here? There’s a diversity committee on the march, and they’re working this problem. I was born a dorky white guy who became an engineer. I’m playing the hand I was dealt. We can’t — this march can’t solve every problem all at once.”
The only reason Nye can make this argument – that diversity can wait and that it’s someone else’s problem – is because he’s a White man. His comments are ill informed and will only feed the detractors. Moreover, Lydia Villa-Komaroff and Mona Hanna-Attisha are practising scientists who have made a huge impact on pressing issues (insulin research and exposing lead poisoning in the Flint water crisis, respectively). It goes to the heart of problems in science that a White male personality gets top billing over more accomplished women of colour researchers.
Looking forward to better leadership moving forward, and for the march to make concrete progress on equity, inclusion and accessibility.
Intersectionality is a term describing how gender inequality is impacted by racism and other forms of exclusion, leading to real-world consequences, such as multiple forms of discrimination in the workplace. Intersectionality is a framework for critical thinking; that means we use this as a lens to understand how individual experiences of disadvantage are impacted by social policies, social institutions, and other structural forces.
White women, including those who belong to minority groups, often leave out the race dimension from their use of intersectionality, and do not turn that critical thinking on themselves. For intersectionality to achieve change, all of us must be willing to be self-reflexive about the interconnections and impact of gender, race and other identities. Continue reading Allyship and Intersectionality
On the 21 of January 2017, I joined up to 10,000 Sydney-siders at the Women’s March, and 2.5 million people globally. I initially had reservations about the March. As I recounted last week, the march started as an idea by a woman activist in Hawaii and it was soon taken over by White women from Pantsuit Nation, a group that has no commitment to anti-racism. Bob Bland, a White woman from Washington, wanted to rectify the direction of the event and soon invited three women of colour to shape the Washington March: Tamika Mallory; Linda Sarsour; and Carmen Perez. The Women’s March Washington had a special focus on intersectionality; addressing how gender inequality is impacted by racism and other forms of discrimination such as homophobia, transphobia, ableism (the discrimination of people with disabilities), and more. The Washington March was the model for the other local and international marches. As more White women became involved in discussions at the national and international levels, this mission was drowned out. Women of colour were made to feel excluded from planning groups whenever the issue of intersectionality was raised.
So when the Sydney March was announced I first felt trepidation. As the final line up of speakers was announced, it became clearer that the Sydney organisers were making the event more consciously supportive of intersectionality. The organisers regularly focused their social media posts on inclusion, thereby reaffirming their commitment to diversity and inclusion. There were some limitations as I’ll discuss later. For example, transgender women seemed to lack representation amongst speakers at the event and best practice for the inclusion of women with disabilities may have been improved.
For me, the big draw card was Aboriginal activist, Jenny Munro, who has dedicated her life to advancing the human rights of Aboriginal people. Her activism and life’s work has a strong focus on Aboriginal sovereignty, children and housing. She leads the Redfern Tent Embassy and is a living legend. She did not disappoint; but I’ll get to that!
The day led to many useful discussions on diversity and how to disrupt patriarchy. I shared highlights of my day on Twitter and I bring these to you in this post as well as additional photos and video I wasn’t able to share on the day. The quotes are not strictly verbatim – treat them more as field notes to flesh out my visual sociology. I will also address the ongoing global conversations about the Women’s Marches and in particular, the critiques about the exclusion of women of colour, transgender women, sex workers and women with disabilities from various overseas events, with a focus on the USA. I’ll draw some qualified lessons on intersectionality from the USA to Australia and I wrap up with a discussion of why intersectionality is important.
This one minute video includes some of the footage I shot at the Sydney Women’s March and draws out the key lessons on intersectionality.
Djiringanj Dancers, a group of women cultural performers, singing about the “West Wind” at the Corroboree grounds, during the Yabun Festival.
The Yabun Festival is a celebration for Survival Day. The 26 of January is a national holiday that marks the day British ships arrived in Australia and began the genocide of Indigenous Australians. Survival Day is a day led by Indigenous Australians who affirm the resilience, creativity and excellence of First Australians. This year, the Invasion Day Protests, which aim to change the date and meaning of Australia Day, ended by protesters joining Yabun at the end of the march to enjoy music, stalls, cultural performances, speeches and more.
In 2014, Karlesha Thurman, a young Black mother in California, faced vicious trolling after she shared a photo of herself breastfeeding to a Black mother’s group on Facebook. Conversely, Jacci Sharkey, a young White Australian mother, was commended after posting a photo of herself breastfeeding to the University of the Sunshine Coast Facebook page. Both are of similar age, both are students and similarly smiling with pride in their graduation cap and gown, while carrying out a natural act of feeding their child. Neither mother deserves to be exposed to abuse. But racism ensures that the same act of motherly care led to the hypersexualisation of a Black mother.
‘And so the hypersexualistion of the Black woman was born.
‘Colonial Australia was no better. Because Indigenous sexual relations differed to that of Whites, Indigenous women were all considered prostitutes and fair game for White men with a fetish for “black velvet.” In a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy, many Aboriginal women were forced into prostitution to survive. Even those in “respectable” employment such as domestic servants were expected to sexually satisfy their bosses and co-workers as part of the job requirements…
‘But the fact remains, when two photos were stacked side by side, only one of the women was able transcend the sexualisation of the act of breastfeeding. Only one woman was called “adorable” by the media and portrayed with girlish innocence, and it wasn’t the Black one. It never is.” – Ruby Hamad on Daily Life.
The sexualisation of Black women’s bodies is enshrined in law, with the Australian government making Aboriginal women and children ‘wards of the state.‘ Insitutions aim to disempower Black/ Indigenous women in a multitude of ways. This includes how Hollywood perpetuates images and narratives of Indigneous women and other racial minorities.
In Hollywood films, the Indigenous or minority ‘manic pixie dream girl,’ is either a disposable sex object or a colonialist conquest. In fact, women of colour who play opposite a white man are almost uniformly constructed as exotically sexual, usually because they are feisty, head-strong “free spirits” who won’t be tamed by any man… except by our white hero. The magical pixie provides sex and a beguiling love of nature, but she needs to be taught English first and foremost and then she needs to be imbued with civilisation. The epitome of this trope is found in Westerns. Such Hollywood films usually portray Mexican or Native American women as independent souls who haven’t wanted to partner with a man from their own communities. Yet after some sexy, passionate resistance, they succumb to the rogue charm of the white protagonist who waltzes into town.
You can also see “Asian” variations, of a beautiful, mostly silent but strong-willed Lotus Flower Woman who eventually takes care of the wounded American man and submits to him.
Becoming aware of and deconstructing such discourses in film and popular culture is a useful step in overcoming our collective tacit acceptance of romanticised colonial fantasies.