Tuesday, 19 July 2016

If in reality all lives matter than the tooth fairy exists

I am going to tell you an absurd story. One I don’t like to remember. One I wish never happened to me. Something that I wish never would happen to anyone. It’s one of the reasons the #BlackLivesMatter movement has struck a chord with me as it has done with many other Aboriginal people.

When I was 19 I was dating a guy whose best mate didn’t like Aboriginal people. The mate was involved with kick boxing gym where he met people involved in a white supremacy group.  He regularly referred to me as the “black slut” or “black cunt” irrespective of whether I was in earshot or not. He would run down Aboriginal people in front of me without shame.

On my 20th birthday I was spending time with my boyfriend when he received a call from his mate asking to be picked up from his girlfriend’s place. Once he found out my boyfriend was with me he kicked off the abuse. I could hear what he was saying and it was the same stuff I had heard for months. I had had enough. What occurred next is something I am not proud of. I ended up engaging in an argument over the phone with my boyfriend’s mate and made a disparaging comment about his girlfriend.

My boyfriend told me later that I shouldn’t make trouble due to the type of people the girlfriends family were. When he picked his mate up later that day mates father in law was cleaning an illegal semi-automatic weapon.

At that time, I worked for a fashion retailer. A few days after the phone incident I was at work when man approached me and asked me if I was “Summer”. He told me that if I ever said anything about his daughter again he would kill me. I was shocked, numb and confused. After my shift I rang my boyfriend and parents. No one knew what to do.

This was not my first experience of racism but has certainly been one of the most significant and prolonged experiences. I had been called “Abo”, had people run down Aboriginal people for being lazy, drunks when they found out I am Aboriginal, all the typical stereotypical nonsense but nothing like this. 

This threat of violence started because I am Aboriginal.  

Racism may not always lead to violence but racial violence is always preceded by racism. This is true for both the public and police. While we have societies which condones or refuses to call out racism we are going to have discrimination and racially motivated violence. We are going to have inequality and once inequality exists it is likely to assist in maintaining inequality. 

The #AllLivesMatter movement doesn't understand the very nature of the inequality #BlackLivesMatter seeks to address. While I agree all lives matter, we need to focus on the inequality between black and white if we are ever to have a reality where all lives matter. The only way to do that is to focus on the issue of inequality. Focusing on all lives shifts the focus away from the inequality. We need #BlackLivesMatter to call out the racism. #BlackLivesMatter allows the pervasive nature of racism to be acknowledged and the affect it has. I want a world where I am not accustomed to racism. I want a world where all lives really do matter.

Monday, 4 July 2016

NAIDOC and the Australian contradiction; assimilation.

NAIDOC week is something that I have mixed feelings about. When I was growing up, NAIDOC was something very few people had heard of. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures were not celebrated by Australians. Now it seems that every council, school and community group proudly do something for NAIDOC week. During NAIDOC week, I like seeing our flag above councils. It makes me proud to see Elders across the Australia doing Welcome to Country. It is fanatics to see our kids during this week proudly say “I am Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander”.  But what about the other 51 weeks of the year?

We have what seems to be a contradiction in Australia. Many Australians like to be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures during NAIDOC week but behave differently the remaining 51 weeks of the year.

All too often during the other rest of the year, I hear about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures are to blame for our disadvantage. Mainstream media allude to it all the time. Politicians tell our people that our kids must go to school rather than engage in Cultural business. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures are seen as less than that of Australian Culture. What is expected of us is that we will get an education, get a job, pay taxes, own a home, be just like all other Australians and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture during NAIDOC week.

Now here is the contradiction of NAOIDC week and assimilation. What is often said is, if you aren’t engaging in a visible ceremony, are educated, speak English, are in the middle or upper socio-economic brackets and drink lattes than you aren’t “really” Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Yes, it is said. I know because I have experienced these types of comments all my life.  So once we exercise our rights to all Australian society has to offer, we are no longer consider by many to be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Assimilation by stealth masked by NAOIDC celebrations.

This is because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture by many Australians is consider static. That is that is to say that it is only real Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Culture if it is exactly the same as it was before invasion. These are the very same people who celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures during NAODIC week but for the rest of the year are pushing for assimilation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people would agree with other Australians that we have we fundamental right to education, work and other aspects of Australian society. What we do not agree with is that those rights trump our right to our Culture. That we have to trade one in to receive the other.

To me what this contradiction shows is the lack of understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures and the ability of many of us to walk in two worlds. It also shows a lack of understanding that over time all Cultures evolve. Australian society today is not the same as it was when Australia was just a colony.

How do we as a nation reconcile these conflicting attitudes?

I don’t want to discourage people for engaging in NAIDOC events, I just want people to maintain a respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Cultures all year every year.

I want NAOIDC to be a time where we challenge the notion that we can not be both Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and enjoy the benefits of Australian society.

We are a collective of living breathing dynamic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures worthy of respect all year round.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Celebrating a woman who has earned respect on International Women's Day

There are people who demand respect because they feel they deserve it and there are people who just deserve it. I have been fortunate to have many women in my life who deserve respect but few demand it. On International Women’s Day  I would like to celebrate one woman who has never demanded respect but has certainly earned; it my mother.

I know, you are thinking all mothers are amazing and deserve respect, and they do, but mine is someone who gives so much of herself that I wanted to take the time to recognise her.

My mother is Rhonda Finlay, a proud Yorta Yorta woman. My mother has always raised me knowing that I am Aboriginal and that it is something to be proud of. Something which I am sure at times was difficult given the level of racism she has faced in her life. If I am a proud Aboriginal woman capable of standing up for our Peoples, its because my mother showed me how to be.

She is a generous with her time, love and money. And those who know her know this about her. Here are just SOME of the things she does or has done. She is on the Board of Worimi Aboriginal Land Council. She works full time at Toronto High, at the age of 61 I might add as an Aboriginal Education Officer, she teaches disadvantaged kids to drive and is one of the annual Yakka Day organisers. She has even managed a Koori woman’s league team for the Koori Knockout, even though she doesn’t consider it “real football”. She has sat with terminal patients who have few family or friends as part of a palliative care program, voluntarily putting her numerous experiences of death to use for the benefit of others.

She extremely dedicated to helping the kids at the school and those who have left. They have her phone number and she always picks up their calls and text messages. She loves them and at times brings out the tough love I am so familiar with. And they respect her enough to listen. She lets them mess up her hair, but only after lunch. She has introduced some of them to new foods such as olives, with varying success. If they don’t turn up to school she goes knocking on their door. If they cant get to a job interview she drives them. If I am caring and hardworking, it is because she led by example.

She has always given more of her self than any other person I know. When I was younger she worked as a cleaner to supplement my dads income so we could go to a private school. Now while I am recognising my mother, this does not mean I don’t also have an amazing father, I do, but it is International Women’s Day. She has done so much for us kids, more than I will ever know.  She insisted on teaching us kids to be like that too. When I was really young she made me give away half my toys to charity; literally half and I never had many to start with. She arranged for the entire family to feed the homeless one year for Christmas. Another Christmas our gift was sponsoring a world vision child. If I am generous it is because my mother showed me how to be.

My mother does all this and more in spite of the challenges she has faced in her life. She has dealt with numerous personal and family issues. Issues which may have guttered someone who doesn’t have the inner strength my mother has. Now don’t get me wrong, she isn’t perfect and like all mothers drives me up the wall at times. We struggled to understand each probably until my mid 20s. The point is not about being perfect all the time, but what you do the rest of the time. If I am strong, it because my mother showed me how to be strong even when life is challenging.

Throughout her life Rhonda Finlay has shown me, and many others, what it means to be hard working, caring, generous and proud. I am very lucky to have had a strong Aboriginal mother and I am better for having her in my life.

On International Women’s Day, please take the time to recognise not just those women who are publically contributing to the betterment of society but also to those who fly under the radar.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Vaginas. Julie Bishop. Hairy armpits. Feminism.

Julie Bishop said she doesn’t find the word feminism useful today. That a woman in her position cannot comment on “the glass ceiling” and she does not label herself a feminist.
What is feminism? Am I a feminist? And is there a need for it? These were the questions I found myself asking after hearing Julie Bishop speak at the National Press Club in October last year.[1] Until Julie Bishop said she didn’t call herself a feminist, I never had either. The reaction her statements received from my friends and the media gave me pause to consider my own attitudes towards feminism.
What is feminism? The first images that come to my mind are women with hairy armpits, who don’t shave their legs, certainly don’t groom down below, and often don’t wear a bra or make up. This is clearly not me. I hate hair anywhere on my body, wear a bra so my boobs don’t sag (who really wants saggy boobs), and wear a little makeup. And I do this for myself.
While I have experienced sexist comments, domestic violence, and dislike the way women are sexualised from a young age, I have never considered that having a vagina might hold me back from getting where I want to go in life. I routinely wear bright coloured lipstick, pretty dresses, sunbake topless, am soon to be a PhD candidate, just bought a small unit, and work in Aboriginal policy for a national organisation. I can be a feminine and be successful.
I realised that after contemplating whether or not I was a feminist I actually knew very little about feminism. Surely it is more than hairy armpits! It turns out after a bit of research that it is. There are numerous schools of thought, and definitions however the long and short of it is women should have equal rights and opportunities but often are disadvantaged due to their gender[2]. I know this. You know this. It’s a captain obvious statement.
That leads to the second question, is there evidence to support the need for feminism?
I was on the bus today talking to a 77 year old retired gentleman who was currently reading Virginia Wolfe. He commented that things are better today for women then they were in the 30’s when Wolfe was writing but there still is room for improvement. When I got to work I was faced with more gender inequity on Aljazeera online. The headline “Six women murdered each day as femicide in Mexico nears a pandemic”[3] speaks for itself. Further research uncovered that in Australia the national gender pay gap as of May 2014 was 18.2%, an increase in the gap by 3.2% since 2004[4]. Not only is there a pay gap, there is a gap in position seniority as well. Among the 2012 top 200 companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, only 1.3% of CEOS were women, and only 8.1% of Board Directors and 8.4% Executive Managers were women[5].  Julie Bishop, in her speech at the National Press Club recognised this when she stated there was still discrimination in the workplace.
Author Margaret Atwood is quoted as saying “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
Malala Yousafzai.
Gang rapes of women in India.
Boko Haram kidnapping school girls in Nigeria.
Need I say more?
So the short answer is YES, there is a need for feminism. Women clearly haven’t don’t have equality.
What I realised by thinking about Julie Bishops comments is that many women including me, have and continue to benefited from, the feminist movement whether it is labelled as feminism or not. That the women who are capable of achieving, despite their sex are the very women who need to embrace feminism to continue to promote equality for those less able.
This has made me ask more questions. Why then has the word feminism and the concepts that go along with it become a dirty word? Is the denial that we need feminism contributing to the discrimination against women? Is the denial that discrimination exists a way of perpetrating discrimination against women?

So am I a feminist? Yes. Why? I have realised that being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to forgo the advantages of wearing a bra. It means I can do whatever it is I want to do for myself. That’s my right as a person.
Am I a feminist because I have a vagina? No. It’s because once you take off the rose coloured glasses, discrimination against women clearly exists, and denying it doesn’t make it any less real.

[1] National Press Club, 2014, Women in the Media Launch, viewed 6 January 2015 http://www.canberraiq.com.au/downloads/2014-11-2-1.pdf.
[2] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003, Topics in Feminism, viewed 6 January 2015 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-topics/.
[3] Judith Matloff, 2015, Six women murdered each day as femicide in Mexico nears a pandemic, Aljazeera America Online, last viewed 6 January 2015.
[4] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2014, Gender pay gap statistics, viewed January 6 2015 https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/Gender_Pay_Gap_Factsheet.pdf.
[5] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Gender Indicators Australia, July 2012 (cat. no. 4125.0) viewed January 6 2015 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4125.0main+features6110Jul%202012.