State of the Nation
In ecology there are things called bio-indicators. They tell us about the state of a particular ecology. For example, the presence of sensitive macroinvertabrates in a water body suggests that it is healthy and clean. It is my belief that women are one such indicator for the state of the nation. We are some of the most vulnerable people in the country; more likely to experience sexual abuse, family violence, are less paid and utterly underappreciated. We are at the intersection of different oppressions; being black and woman. Even more so if you are a trans woman, queer, poor, criminalised or have a disability.
The violence used against our women by white men has often been sexual. Early colonial reports by white people themselves refer to our rape. We were devalued and dehumanised. Men who slept with black women were referred to as “gin jockeys.”
This violence at the hands of white men persists. Four Corners aired an episode that centred on Lynette Daley. Lynette was 33 when she was killed by two white men. She died from injuries sustained during her rape. She was not afforded justice while she was living and certainly not in her death. One thing that sticks out to me from her death was on the day she died a white women saw her at the shops with these two white men. One of the white men started sexually assaulting Lynette at the shops. This white woman didn’t think to call the police. I don’t blame this white woman for the death of Lynette, she was let down long before that but it reveals something sinister about how white Australia perceives black women. Drunk, complicit in our own abuse and not worth notifying authorities when we are being hurt. Gins.
So many black women I know have experienced sexual abuse of some kind. Our responses to this as a community are fascinating and heartbreaking. I know of convicted rapists who are walking around and the community acts as though nothing has happened. On top of experiencing the abuse itself we fear speaking out for fear of making our brothers and/or our culture look bad. Even if we do speak out about it, we are told to keep quiet. We mustn’t embarrass those men or their fathers. We wait until those men are dead before we remove their pictures from our living room walls or spit on their graves. Women are whispering all over the country about our abuse. When will we get to yell about it?
Last year I was at Bluesfest and D’Angelo was performing. He has a song called ‘Brown Sugar.’ The chorus goes, “I want some of your brown sugar.” It felt weird to be in a crowd of mostly white people with that song playing because in Australia black and brown is not sexy, or at least not the way we want it to be. Online and in-real-life we hear:
· You are pretty for an Aboriginal
· Do you have a black girls arse?
· I have a thing for black girls
· You’re one of the good ones
· What percentage Aboriginal are you? (there must be some white blood in us to explain their attraction to us)
The most heartbreaking time I heard “you are pretty for an Aboriginal” was from a blackfulla. I recognised, even at 17, that this was internalised white supremacy. The nation has been sold a thin white dream that even our own mob buy. The thin white dream is tanned, skinny but not too skinny with cute pink labias and pretty pink nipples. As black women we buy into the dream too. No one is in our corner telling us, “black is beautiful.”
Recently I was part of a conversation with black people that critiqued the ABC comedy ‘Black Comedy.’ In particular the critique was of tidda Nakkiah Lui. The criticism centred on the sex scene she did. The sex scene was a critique itself on how systemic power structures intersect with our sex lives, in this case the sex between a white man and a black woman. When I pushed on this the people giving the criticism just said she took it, “too far.” Interestingly enough the Tiddas from Townsville do not cop the same criticism. It is ok to talk about big holes and big budoos, as long as it is a man saying it.
Sexual appetite and agency for black women in our own communities is viewed from a conservative lens. We judge black women if we hear they’ve “slept around.” We judge black women if they sleep with people who aren’t men. We put the colonial straightjacket on ourselves.
But there are women out there taking it off.
Women like Nakkiah are taking it off. Black resistance has always had women at the helm. Whether Edith Brangy, Mum Shirl, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Aunty Jenny Munro, Amelia Telford or Meriki Onus, black women, despite the blows we take, persevere, fight and lead.
The state of the nation has always depended on black women. This is why we are the indicator. We are the metaphor. Just as black women resist, black people resist.