The following member contributions may include racist language and/or profanity which may be triggering, but are in the context of personal, lived experiences. AiF remains committed to ensuring a safe, inclusive environment for all.
There’s a lump in my throat and it’s been there for 40 years. I felt it in primary school when my classmates mocked the ‘weird’ food that filled my lunchbox and later told me that my brown skin stank like shit. I've felt it whenever I've been asked where I'm really from, and been reminded that my validity as an Australian was contingent on being white. I have felt it every time I’ve heard a sentence start with, “I’m not racist, but…” or been subjected to racist slurs, sometimes from the mouths of people I thought were friends. I felt it so, so deeply when I lost my first love to the clutches of his openly racist parents and when I was punched by a stranger for being a ‘black bitch’. And I felt it when I became so lost and alone in the colour of my skin that I tried to self harm.
That lump in my throat? That's all the stuff I’ve buried; all the tears I’ve swallowed; and all the wounds I've hidden away. It's there every day. But I’m one of the lucky ones. Because I don’t have to live in fear of my life. I don’t have loved ones who’ve died in custody. I don’t have to train my children how to survive a walk through their neighbourhood. But so, so many do. And it's time it stopped. It is time.
Listen. Make space. Learn. And do so much more.
2019 MentorLA recipient
Since 1991, 432 Indigenous people have died in police custody and not one person has been prosecuted.
In December 2015, David Dungay Jr was held down by prison guards because he defied an order to stop eating a biscuit. His last words? “I can’t breathe.”
Two weeks ago, mining company Rio Tinto dynamited a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal cave site. For context: the pyramids were built 4,500 years ago.
Every year, Australia Day is celebrated – the day Europeans landed in Australia on the basis of a lie of terra nullius.
Indigenous people make up 3% of the general population and 29% of the prison population.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Indigenous children aged between five and 17.
Indigenous Australians die 8 years younger than non-Indigenous Australians.
You say these facts and you can only conclude that Indigenous lives don’t matter in Australia. But that changes now. The world changes now.
Australians, you cannot support Black Lives Matter in the US if you don’t support Indigenous Lives in Australia.
Since 1991, 432 Indigenous people have died in police custody and not one person has been prosecuted. Learn their names.
Kodie Bedford, Djaru Nation.
2020 MentorLA Recipient
I find it hard to put into words what I’m seeing in the US. Aboriginal people in Australia have felt a very personal connection with the police brutality we are seeing. There have been over 432 Aboriginal deaths in custody since the Royal Commission in 1991 investigated 99 cases. Few recommendations have been implemented. David Dungay died in similar circumstances to George Floyd. It was a sad irony that the events of this week took place in Reconciliation Week. It’s left many of us reminded of how far we still have to go.
2018 Heath Ledger Scholarship Recipient
A lot of people are feeling discomfort with what’s happening out there on our streets. But what’s more uncomfortable is the 8 minutes and 46 seconds George Floyd experienced dying under the knee of an officer of the law. There was nothing peaceful about it. It’s saddening that buildings have been damaged and torn down, but don’t let the value of black lives be lost in the rubble underneath them.
This is the moment to get uncomfortable. To check our biases. To truly consider the implications of what we are saying or silently condoning. To have the tricky conversations with each other.
I won’t be comfortable until I have done all I can to prevent anything as savage, immoral and racially motivated from happening again. It will take all of us to alter a system that condones such acts, but the good news is we are already on our way
My body gives me away. Survival mode passed down from generations. It’s the stillness first. Eyes closed, steady the breath, nervous twitch. Calm in a tempest. We are not allowed the luxury of raw emotion. Until now. Now it’s too late for safe.
A long time ago the irony was not lost on me that I continually preached to the converted so I turned dangerously close to home. Unconscious bias is as lethal as blatant racism and perhaps harder emotionally to endure when you realise those you hold dearest may not be your allies.
Seeking these conversations on your doorstep leaves you vulnerable. Vulnerable to the person you laugh with, or who is in your bed, or knows your first memories. Close confidants that may or may not be there by the end of it.
Strangers don’t disappoint me, I don’t love them. The one thing I have found from these profound conversations of equality and compassion is that love really truly does, in all its corny glory, conquer all… but by Goddesses, ‘privilege’ knows how to fight and you do not want to cross it in a dark alley.
Heath Ledger Scholarship Ambassador
My name is Eka Darville, I was born in Cairns North Queensland of a Jamaica father and Canadian-Jamaican Mother. I’m African, but I will never know where my people are from, because my ancestors were stolen. To anyone reading this who’s indigenous to Australia, you know this story too well.
When I was a young kid growing up in all white Australia, I hated the colour of my skin, the shape of my nose, the texture of my hair. But my family loved black culture and celebrated the beauty and majesty of Africa.
So where did I learn to hate myself? The answer is everywhere.
The messaging that blackness is inherently inferior is a cacophonous bombardment that can be nothing short of crippling. The resolve to not let that messaging be transformed into subconscious belief is Herculean. That is why we celebrate #blacksuccess with such unbridled zeal. We feel what it took to get there, it is proof that the little voice telling us ‘we aren’t enough’, the little voice that was put there by our culture, is WRONG.
White Australia, please don’t read this and fall into feeling guilt or shame, then offload those uncomfortable feelings by offering your pity, sympathy or even an apology. Sit in the Uncomfortability. I’m not sharing this for you. I share it for all the black people reading this nodding their heads. I see you.
So how do we heal?
White Australia now it’s your turn - it starts with you. It starts with consciously unpacking your own implicit bias and privilege. The black community will heal, but it’s really hard to heal a wound when someone keeps hitting it.
Visualise being an astronaut looking down at our beautiful little planet. This is all we got. We are all here in our diverse beauty and like any ecosystem, our diversity is our strength.
Divided we ALL perish. United we Thrive.
"Please Brother Valentine, stop!" I pleaded as he flogged me, the only African, in front of my class of shocked 12-year-olds, a modern-day slave. The 'crime', you ask? Jabbing my compass into the old wooden desk, just like my white classmate next to me did. I never recovered.
"Get home before we find something to pin on you", the officer said to me, then a 14 yr old kid of colour in Auckland, walking with white friends at a shopping mall.
"You must've been doing something", my white mother said when relaying it.
"You're not dark enough to play a negro(!!!) and anyway, you wouldn't want to be one, would you?" my first and quickly fired agent in NZ said.
"Oh mate, we thought you were an Abo- so where are you from?", the Sydney cop said while stopping me, designer bags in tow.
"You're not like the others" is a weekly occurrence here in LA.
"OK, smile, be eloquent, warm eyes, they're judging you at all times, dress sharply, annunciate, diction, be that role model," I think before EVERY encounter...
...If I was white, I could just be me.
2017 Heath Ledger Scholarship Finalist
The only wallflower in the room
“If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy.”
-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - “Americanah”
From a tender age in Australia, I intuitively perfected the art-form of being a vibrant wallflower. Colourful enough in personality to be liked and not be othered. To consistently be excellent at everything, be grateful for opportunities and not complain in order to be invited back. Then I moved to Los Angeles. I witnessed in awe black and brown people, who embraced their blackness, voice and bodies loudly and proudly. People who knew exactly who they were. All the attributes I had trained myself to suppress in-order to not stand out. The irony! As a creative, I felt robbed, all those missed years. Here, in America, I finally had permission to breathe and spread my own wings. I felt connected to a group of people who looked like me and were chasing the same crazy dream. The few spots on offer. But, soon, I realized that they too faced limitations. Even though I was no longer the only one in the room, I still had some moments of being a wallflower.
GEMMA BIRD MATHESON
2018 Heath Ledger Scholarship Finalist
5 Things You Can Do With Your White Guilt:
1. Talk to your white friends about how YOU, yes YOU - not the racist on TV - YOU, are contributing to anti-blackness and white supremacy. Do you hire people of colour? Do you cross the road when a black person is walking towards you? Is your first response to prove or declare that you're not racist, instead of interrogating your own actions? Why do you feel this way? How have you internalised the racist media we're all fed?
2. Educate yourself, without needing praise from your black friends. We've been having this conversation for years, globally, and don't need to hear your revelations. We know. Black folx are tired of explaining how white supremacy is ingrained in our society. Black folx are tired of living this reality. Here in Australia, we're ALL educated with a colonial Australia narrative that centres whiteness and white supremacy. Are you educated about Australia's Black History? As a black person in Australia who isn't Indigenous, I've been ignorant and have also benefited from the system that's oppressed First Nations people, have you considered how it's benefited you?
3. Donate. Put your money where your mouth is. Interrogate whether or not you're performing empathy for social media/your friends, or actually DOING something about it. A black square on Instagram does not an ally make. In Australia, you can donate to the families of First Nations folx who have suffered at the hands of Australian police.
4. Get on the streets. This isn't viable for everyone, I know. But if you can, mobilise.
5. ACCEPT YOUR DISCOMFORT. Yes, black people might not want to talk to you about what's happening. Yes, you might say the wrong thing. Please don't disengage because you might get it wrong. You WILL get it wrong. You WILL be called out. But we need you now more than ever.
At this point, I’m still very much processing what’s been happening these past weeks. There are many things I haven’t felt before. It’s as if the faces of these emotions are both familiar and alien at the same time. Like a distant relative at a family function.
To be here and experiencing it all first-hand feels like a privilege. The city’s heart is beating at a different pace, the atmosphere is electric. Police sirens sing and helicopters roar, a soundtrack of suspense that follows you deep into the night.
I’ve been to many protests in my life, all of them in Australia. Being here, this is the first time I’ve gone into one with fear in my heart. The marches I’ve attended in Long Beach, Hollywood, and Downtown, whilst all being peaceful demonstrations, have made me uneasy. The backdrop of the national guard and the highly militarised police are a staunch reminder that we are only a second away from escalation.
I know that these last weeks will stick with me. I know that I will long be forming a vocabulary for everything I’ve been feeling during this time. The silver lining is perhaps how global this conversation has become ~this time around~.
I watch on with the millions of other eyes.
2018 Heath Ledger Scholarship Finalist
For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged when I landed (at 24yo) in LA. I saw people who looked like me the TSA, airline/airport staff, Ubers, hotel staff, in the street, on billboards and in media...
That is not my experience in Australia. I see very few people who look like me on the street in Australia; even fewer in positions of power, government, business media or otherwise. It’s heartbreaking that in my adoptive home (USA), while I am more welcome/recognised professionally than in Australia, my life is worthless or, at least, worth less.
Recently, the life of a man like me was valued at $20. I don’t understand a country that can gently apprehend mass shooters but continually kills black men (like me) over $20 (Floyd), skittles (Trayvon), cigarette sales (Garner) or jogging (Arbery). Even more jarring, is the activism I’m witnessing back in Australia for the violent crimes in the USA, when Australia, too, is built upon genocide and black slavery.
2020 MentorLA Recipient
It is sad that this day in age we are still fighting for the same treatment as everyone else. Deaths in custody, high incarceration rates and the over-policing of Aboriginal people must stop. Our existence is perceived as resistance, when that mindset changes we may very well see the world move in the right direction, alas, we continue to be considered as Flora and Fauna and not members of society who make an equal contribution to the better of a nation. We have a voice and it’s now being heard, we’re asking for change and equality, not world domination, the British Empire nailed that. The arts are also suffering, it’s now through a global pandemic and racial crisis that we need artists to inspire, inform, entertain and unite one race, the human one.
2016 Heath Ledger Scholarship Finalist
In 1974, in Laverton, Western Australia, outside the Police Station, four Policemen held my father down on the ground while one cop booted him in the face and body. In front of The Police District Superintendent and six other cops. They then dragged my father all the way down the back to the outside cells, like a cage. The cage was full of Aboriginal (Wongi) men and women. The men and women were lined up against the wall, on the ground, and the cops were burning them with lit cigarettes. My father was released without charge at 11pm that night. He walked up to the Laverton Hospital where my mother worked as a nurse. His T-shirt had no back from the dragging at the police station. Earlier that day my father, a bus driver, had made a few trips taking Aboriginal people out to the bush to hide from the Police. The Police had already taken a few paddy wagon loads to Kalgoorlie earlier that morning. My mother had to walk through 30 cops lined up outside the hospital to go to work the next day. The Police emptied all the Wongi peoples’ food on the ground slashing the flour & sugar bags. The cop who kicked my father in the face became WA superintendent and was awarded the Australian police medal in the 90’s...