White Privilege?

This book was published in the UK in 2017. Its written by a London-based journalist about race relations in her country. It won quite a few awards for non-fiction work. The title is provocative and draws the reader in to explore eradicated black history, the link between class and race and what exactly “white privilege” is and why white people are often oblivious to it, or worse, become defensive or angry when it’s pointed out.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, the writer, asks how can it be defined and responds with, “It’s so difficult to describe an absence. And white privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost, an absence of ‘less likely to succeed because of my race’. It is an absence of funny looks directed at you because you’re believed to be in the wrong place, an absence of cultural expectations, an absence of violence enacted against your ancestors because of the colour of their skin, an absence of a lifetime of subtle marginalisation and ‘othering’-exclusion from the narrative of being human”.

Although British, the book describes attitudes and structures in the dominant white culture that exist in all Euro-centric countries. Its valuable reading to make us stop and pause and ponder our privilege and what it means and what each of us can do about it.

The writer sums the book up by saying, ” I know that, at first, talking about race is uncomfortable, because too many white people are angry in denial. And I understand that after white people begin to get it, it’s even more uncomfortable for them to think about how their whiteness has silently aided them in life. A lifetime learning to empathise with white peoples stories means that I get it. But I dont want white guilt. Neither do I want to see white people wasting precious time profusely apologising rather than actively doing things. No useful movements for change have ever sprung out of fervent guilt…We cannot escape the legacies of the past, but we can use them to model our future. The late Terry Pratchett once wrote ‘there’s no justice. Just us.’ I can’t think of any other phrase that best sums up the task ahead.”

I recommend the book to any reader interested in racism, how it feels, it’s history in the UK (and hence its roots can be found for the countries that England colonised?), what it looks like and without providing what she describes as a “magic formula”, what can be done toward dismantling it.

Well worth a read!

Photos: Public or Privately Owned?

My first day off after starting work in the clinic in the remote Indigenous community of Aurukun, in far north Queensland, was spent walking around the few paved roads photographing the obvious landmarks of church, store, airstrip and police station. I wanted to take photos of the things that shocked or surprised me, the skinny mangy dogs, the rundown houses, families sitting on the bare ground cooking food over open fires. The intimate things like the profile of a grandmother, a naked child playing with a scrawny puppy or the women whirling out their cast nets in a wide white circle to catch a small fish meal. But I didn’t dare point my camera at any of those things. I still wonder about that, are people’s lives that are lived in a public space open to portrayal on film? I was concerned to not be intrusive or to add to any negative images the dominant white culture already has of such communities. But, now that I’m more experienced with my camera, I wish I’d at least asked some of the local adults if I could photograph them going about their ordinary lives, if for no other reason than to retain my memory of them, and of course, to offer them copies for posterity.
The photo here is the one I took of the store, not nearly as interesting as a group of people or a simple portrait.

Cross-Cultural Misunderstanding

Those two security guards employed at the Aurukun clinic weren’t Tongan, they were both Samoan. Same thing you probably think, just as the Director of Nursing probably did if she stopped to think about it at all. It’s not the same thing, similar Pacific island culture that shares a few common words, but very different places, history and people.

Before I started to work with Indigenous people in out-of-the-way parts of Australia I thought of “Aborigines” as a whole group. I had no concept of different family and clan groups, different languages and customs. The way the phrase, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders”, rolls out of the noise of the media so smoothly lulls most of us into thinking all Indigenous people are the same. It’s a falsehood and one that serves no good purpose to any Australian. It stops us from understanding our own people and therefore our history and land.

When we consciously or unconsciously assume a group of people outside our own culture are the same, we narrow our understanding of the world, we limit our own possibilities to learn and to have our experience of life enriched. We are often too lazy to pay attention or to listen to someone different, or maybe too busy, or worse, too bigoted and stuck in our own or our parents attitudes towards certain cultures.

I’ve caught myself assuming, not wanting to hear and thinking I know better, but as I get older and encounter more people from other cultures and other clans of Indigenous people I want to close my mouth and open my mind and be amazed at the variety of languages, customs and attitudes flourishing  outside my experiences.

One of those Samoan security guards became my soul mate and opened up a world for me I barely knew existed, and helped me see close up cross-cultural communication at it’s best and worst.