"We are not a trend", spoken by Naomi Campbell at the 2018 Black Girls Rock Awards.
As this piece was put together in Sydney, Australia, Femina & Co and its' creators would like to acknowledge and pay respects to the traditional owners of the lands in which this piece was written on, the Aboriginal people of Australia. We would like to pay our respects to the elders both past and present and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
This piece provides a variety of experiences, perspectives and counsel from different empowering people. The Black Lives Matter Movement is not a social media trend. Indigenous people, racial and cultural minorities and allies continue to fight for justice, solidarity, equality, equity and human rights. Even after you logout of Instagram and put your phone away, families and communities are expected to exist in silence in a dystopic, racist world.
Further, reads the accounts and advice from nine different empowering individuals. We offer our platform as a position of volume and empowerment.
I have a couple of vivid memories of experiencing racism in my life however there are two that stick out the most to me. The first was an experience when I was quite young in primary school; I would have been about 5 years old. A boy in year 6 (I was in year 1 at the time) cornered me in the playground and chased me until I was hiding behind a tree. He continuously told me to ‘go back to where I came from’. At the time I thought it was because I had just moved to Australia from England and I was new in the country. Looking back and understanding the situation more, I can now see why my parents were so horrified by what had happened. It was because of the colour of my skin. This was the first experience that made me realise I looked different to everyone else in my school.
The other experience that sticks out to me happens on a regular basis, almost every time I leave the house. The action of touching my hair.
People constantly approach me and often touch my hair without asking or ask as if they own that right to touch my hair.
Although it is very subtle it is a racial microaggression which really gets on my nerves. People think that because my hair is different, kinky and unique, they can feel it to satisfy their own needs. NOT OKAY. It is so often that strangers get offended when I don’t let them touch it.
It is important to bring awareness to the fact that racism is ever so prevalent in AUSTRALIA. During this movement I have noticed that people either believe that racism doesn’t exist here, or they just aren’t educated and don’t know of our history. Although the movement has re-immersed in the United States after the murder of George Floyd; it is happening in our own backyard. I strongly believe that during this movement people should firstly become aware of the injustices towards Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander people in Australia. I also believe it is crucial for everyone to re-evaluate their own behaviour which may subtly be racist. This includes asking people of colour ‘where they are from’, implying they can’t be from Australia, touching afro hair, assuming black girls can twerk. When you read them, it seems ridiculous but the amount of times it happens to me is even more ridiculous!!
Cameron Gaw (19), Ghanaian, South-African and English ethnicity.
Sometimes it is quite hard for me to identify who I actually am and I feel as though I am in between two different races. It’s been a bit of a journey for me, my dad as my biggest role model and my mum being an amazing a hard worker. I had to identify with who I felt like I belonged to which was a bit of a struggle as I got older. When I was young, I went to a school that was predominantly Pacific Islander and even though I am half Pacific Islander I still felt out of place. In saying that, I also went to a private school before that which was predominantly upper-class white people and I felt totally out of place. I was offered a scholarship to play sport at this private school and I declined it because of the racism I felt. The school I decided to go to, with mainly Pacific Islanders, gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do. I became a professional rugby player at the age of 16 and I stuck to my guns and persevered.
With my career, I took a lot of responsibility in bringing up Pacific Islander rugby league players and helping them through tough times and initiating them into the league. I was often the spokesperson for a lot of Pacific Islander players, as a number of them couldn’t speak English very well and felt intimidated by the Australian culture. I was also made a Chief in Samoa which is an amazing honour. For me to achieve that as a half Samoan was amazing. I also have a great affiliation with my white European family who accept me, love me for who I am, especially during the time my dad passed away. I feel that my colour doesn’t define me, it's who I feel I belong to. I’ve been able to morph into both sides of my heritage.
Now I run a successful gym. People come to train here not because of my colour but because of who I am as a person. I am able to influence people through my work. That’s something I am proud of achieving.
I have always believed in helping underprivileged people and people who don’t get the same opportunities as us. We live in a country where we are so blessed to have these opportunities, of course there will always be an element of racism as some people are not educated. However, I still feel blessed. There are countries that don’t have equity and so I believe it’s important that every time you talk to someone, see them as a human being not as a colour. Define them by their personality, interactions, communications rather than their colour. I learnt this in training; the more you get to know someone the more you love them. Just spend time with people. It doesn’t matter what colour, gender, sexuality they are. Everyone has positive attributes about them.
David Vaealiki (39), New Zealand and Samoan ethnicity.
When I graduated, I felt proud to be who I am because I had a red dress on which made me feel very Spanish, I had my Swedish hat which is a Swedish tradition to get when you graduate and because I had accomplished high school. I felt really good about being able grow up in Australia and finish high school here.
I felt extremely proud to be myself.
I would like to bring more awareness to racism and the Black Lives Matter movement in high schools. Have more talks, more assemblies about this issue. Put in the school’s criteria that this should be a topic or subject that everyone should experience. For example; making Aboriginal studies compulsory in Australian schools.
Lovisa Ferguson (20), Colombian ethnicity, Swedish-Australian Cultural background.
It was the week after the Sydney protests. I am at a restaurant for my sister's 18th birthday lunch. We are at the bar and she is buying her first legal drink. Keep in mind I have worked at this restaurant for the past two years and it is located in the suburb that my sister and I have lived in our whole lives. A white woman in her late 20s approaches the bar and stands next to us. She strikes up a conversation with us, smiles and laughs are exchanged. She asks us “Where are you from?". I provide her with the name of our suburb. She then looks at us funny and says "No, but where are you really from?". Again I inform her that I am from this suburb and live just up the road. I put on a fake smile; I don't want to cause a scene at my sister's birthday celebration.
The woman now has a blank look on her face and says with frustration in her voice, “Okay, then what is your heritage?". I inform her my father is Nigerian and my mother is a Kiwi. I then turn to my sister to continue our conversation. The woman takes no cue from my move away from her and asks my sister, who has beautiful traditional braided hair, “Can I please play with your hair". I step in and inform her she can’t touch my sister's hair. The woman then raises her voice and starts to critique publicly, my sister and me. She proceeds to tell us that "I thought you would be proud of where you came from, I gave you a compliment and this is the thanks I get". Every bone in my body is telling me to correct this lady, but I can’t. I want to but can’t. I can’t afford to correct her and have my boss tell me off. I can’t afford to make a scene and upset my sister or spoil the mood on her birthday. My sister and I both just take it on the chin until our drinks are ready and we go back to our family at the table. Pretending the conversation didn’t happen.
Although these comments didn’t have a harmful intent, they still caused damage. What these comments mean to me is that even in my hometown, in my place of work, surrounded by family and friends, that in the eyes of others I do not belong. That this is not my home, that no matter what I do I am not equal, I am just a visitor. This woman, and unfortunately many others, are not aware or can’t comprehend the reality that Australia is the home to non-white people. And whilst she has probably not thought about our conversation again, I have. This conversation and many others like it, have left me questioning where I belong and second-guessing what people are thinking when they look at me.
I would like to bring awareness to implicit racism. I believe that implicit racism is the most prevalent but not often recognised form of racism in Australia. Most people are aware of explicit racism which is conscious actions of racism, typically with the intent of harm. Whereas implicit racism is an unconscious bias that an individual has but is not aware of. Although harm is not always the intent, simple comments and actions can have a very detrimental effect.
Asking someone "Where do you come from?" is an example of implicit racism.
The individual asking may think that they are showing interest in the other person, the question, however, implies that because of the colour of their skin they don’t belong or come from that area. So I would like to bring awareness to this, I am asking people to be aware of other people’s perspectives. And a reminder, if you ask someone a question and they respond with an answer, don’t keep questioning them trying to get the answer you are expecting. What you are asking may make them feel uncomfortable and insignificant. One of the hidden gems of the BLM movement is that these conversations are socially acceptable. The only way to move forward as a society is to be able to have open conversations with each other. Conversations where we all go into them open-minded, and can share our perspectives, and grow together. Some of these conversations may be uncomfortable, but they are necessary. Growth does not come from being comfortable. I encourage everyone to have these conversations but please remember when going into them remember to listen and learn, not just talk.
Eromon Uadiale, Australian and African ethnicity.
“You’re pretty for a black girl.” “You’re the prettiest black girl I know.” “You’re my favourite negro.” “I’m usually not into black girls, but you’re different.” These are all comments that I’ve dealt with my whole life. And in the past, I actually saw these comments as compliments. Because hey, that’s the best I’ll get right? Often, I would think to myself; why am I not just a pretty girl? Why am I not just their favourite person? Why is it that, the more I’m detached from being black, the more I ‘count’? But I tried to ignore all those thoughts. “Just take the compliment Uma, they don’t mean it like that”, is what would run through my mind. While all these thoughts were running through my mind, I would straighten my hair, wear 50+ sunscreen and blue contact lenses. I tried to act as white as possible, even though I’m already biracial. I accepted the fact that I would always feel ‘less’ than a white girl, and that I would always desire to be more like them.
Along with my black features that I despised, came racial profiling. That made me despise those features even more. I’m an educated smart girl, which often came as a surprise to white people when brought up. The whiter I looked the better I looked, and the whiter I acted the better I was received. I am truly happy that nowadays, that fucked up narrative is history for me. Unfortunately, in society that fucked-up narrative isn’t history at all, but in my mind it finally is. Because I realised that, the ‘ugliness’ does not come from my beautiful black hair, my beautiful brown eyes and my beautiful black culture. No. That ugliness comes from institutional racism. Real ugliness, that needs to be erased.
Listening to rap, posting a square or having some black friends isn’t enough. Get up, stand up and speak up. So that that ‘ugly’ little girl, that I’ve also felt like in the past, will feel like a strong, smart and beautiful BLACK woman in the future.
I’ve been standing up against racism for years now. I would share tons of social media posts, give presentations and even dedicate all my school papers to addressing racism (often in an all-white environment). Throughout the years I’ve received a lot of negativity, downplay and low grades in return for my activism. But the reason I can actually feel proud these days, is because it is now that my message is finally heard. I’m proud of the fact that, when I got downplayed and silenced, I still decided to stick to that message. Even when the people around me barely did the same. I’m proud that it was not for nothing, and that more and more people are now joining the anti-racism force. I’m proud of teenage-me that didn’t give up that fight. I’m proud of everyone that also kept fighting. And now, when I start to feel hopeless again, I look at all the powerful black women around me. I look at the things we’ve achieved, and I look back at little activist teenage-me. That’s what makes me feel proud, and that’s what makes me realise that black lives will always be worth fighting for. Then, now, and in the future.
To those whom are unaffected by racism and/or unaware of the civil rights history and the Black Lives Matter Movement, I would like to say: do your research and use your privilege. I myself am biracial and I realise that even I am in many ways privileged. I am often used as that one token ‘black-girl’ or seen as smarter/less ‘extreme’/whiter or more ‘acceptable’ than darker-skinned women. I am aware of that privilege and seize those opportunities to use my voice and advocate for black people as a whole, even if I don’t suffer from the same amount of racism they do. What matters is that you USE YOUR VOICE. And if your skin colour is less dark, it doesn’t mean that you can be less vocal. On the contrary; it means that you have to be extra vocal, because you might have the privilege to be heard.
The Black Lives Matter Movement is bigger than it’s ever been, but if you look at the current situations; we still have a long way to go. Let’s unite and finally make that change.
What I want ignorant people to realize is that it shouldn’t be white against black; it should be people against racism.
Uma van Hinte, Surinamese and Dutch ethnicity.
There have been countless times where I have been proud of my ethnicity and nationality. The most pride I feel when people are aware that people from Casablanca are known for their kindness, generosity and hospitality. Because that is something that I identify with, that is I who I am and the way I see myself. So when people associate myself with those characteristics, I feel proud.
I have had to deal with racism countless times, and I have been unfairly judged by Caucasian (white) people but also by people within the Muslim community. There really isn’t any nationality or race that hasn't been brought up with some racist beliefs. For me it deprived me from sports teams, education and jobs. The worst thing was that it made me feel worthless.
The Police Academy
The next time in which racism shaped my life was when I wanted to apply for the police academy, I was only 16. It might be good to add they had an extreme shortage of police officers and that I fitted all the requirements, succeeded all the test but still wasn't invited to join the academy.
Still I blamed myself, it must have been the way I spoke, behaved or wrote. It must have had to do with my performance. But I couldn't figure out what I had to do to improve since as I said, I succeeded every test.
The Royal Military Police
At the age of 18 I wanted to join the Royal Military Police. I got let in the ‘prior education program’ in which I succeeded every test (written, behavioural and physical).
After a year or so we were ready to apply to the Military Police.
I succeeded in everything but was told that they'll keep an eye on me and that they'll maybe ask me to join later. Whereas my (white) classmates, who didn't succeed the tests, got to join the Military.
Sometimes I think it was in some way good for me. It made me think and it taught me life lessons. However, that's just me trying to justify what happened. I definitely learned a lot. However, no it wasn't worth it. No knowledge or experience makes up for the unjust behaviour I endured during my lifetime. That's the reason I'm sitting here today, telling what I have never spoken out loud before. To tell children and adults that experiencing unfair judgement isn’t their fault. That no matter what the world wants you to believe you are good enough. Your value doesn't diminish if others can't see it.
I also want to tell people in privilege that no matter what you've thought or done in the past, it’s never too late to start and search for the value, talent and kindness that lays beneath our skin. Because even though you don't realize it, you can make a difference.
Abdel El Bouni (35), Moroccan ethnicity.
The racism is have experienced:
Direct comments such as "Is your mum an Abo?", "Were you adopted", "How did your dad meet *her*?" (negative italics). 'What part (or fraction) Aboriginal are you?'. As if it's something that can be measured and quantified - rather than a deep and profound knowing that is felt from within. The awkwardness when your social circle doesn't say anything to support you. Silence favours the oppressor. The lack of empathy and understanding by our leaders in government, e.g.: Scott Morrison (Australian Prime Minister) saying we don't have racism/slavery here in Australia.
I feel proud of my ethnicity and heritage when I am around people who I feel culturally safe with (e.g. family and supportive friends) and workplaces that encourage cultural awareness by policies and training.
In this day and age as more and more people are becoming concerned about the environment, I am proud to be part of a people who value leaving the natural environment alone. I am also very pleased to see how open-minded and compassionate so many of the younger generation are these days.
What I would like to bring awareness too:
For healing to occur, there needs to be acknowledgement - not denial - of past wrongdoings.
Colonisation and its impacts still aren't seen as a tragedy that should never be repeated. The Holocaust and the World Wars happened a long time ago, but would you say to a Holocaust survivor, or their descendants, "that never happened. Get over it”? Would you say to a returned digger "the wars happened a long time ago - why are you still going on about it? Why aren't you happy with ANZAC Day - why do we need a minute's silence in November as well?".
We need to place more value on how traditional custodians protect sacred land areas (e.g. Kakadu National Park is still mostly unspoiled - and how amazing (and sad) that is because it's so rare). Instead of only valuing things that people have built (e.g. Sydney Opera House), we need more respect for natural land and what it means to our Indigenous population and all of our upcoming generations - Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Narelle, Mein:tnk woman from South East South Australia and from the Wotjobaluk nation in VIC. Indigenous people of Australia, First Australian.
I've never experienced first-hand racism directed at me personally, however I have felt uncomfortable when people use terms such as "Abo" or "coon" and they don't think there is anyone around who they might be offending. It's awkward to know that if I didn't have blonde hair and blue eyes that people would treat me differently, and people do treat members of my extended family differently, which makes me feel guilty for getting treated more "normally" because I'm so white. People have asked me questions like "Was your grandma black?", or "How Aboriginal was your grandma?" and "But you're so white", it's definitely uncomfortable answering these sorts of questions, especially when it feels like you are "proving" your heritage or "how Aboriginal" you are. If someone's grandparents are from England, we don't make a point of asking "how English" they are.
I feel proud of my ethnicity when talking about Aboriginal history, such as how my ancestors lived for thousands of years in peace with the land, how they shared their knowledge and passed it down over thousands of generations before colonisation.
I feel proud to know that I come from a people who respect the land we live on and the animals that inhabit it.
Also seeing the BLM movement recently has been really encouraging to get more involved in trying to spread the good message.
My grandma, Violet, spent many years working in the Aboriginal Justice Advocacy Committee, following up implementation of the royal commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody (RCIADIC). She fought for justice and social justice, access to education, employment and housing, and services.
What i would like to help others learn is to Bring awareness to casual racism, especially when it comes to things like celebrating Australia Day. It's frustrating when people think it doesn't matter anymore because everything bad happened "a long time ago", yet I know that my own grandmother fought for the right to vote and also witnessed her cousins be taken as part of the stolen generation.
It's difficult growing up in an area that is not culturally diverse (Northern Beaches, Sydney), where our schools don't encourage education about Indigenous History or current Indigenous affairs. We need to bring more awareness to the fact that the fight is not over, that Indigenous people and communities are still suffering every day and that our own Government supports the destruction of sacred cultural sites because the "economic benefit" outweighs the cultural benefit. It's all grossly unfair and painstakingly hidden in the media.
I think opening up more conversations about it is so important, because many people have the attitude "out of sight, out of mind" and think that just because they don't see it, that it's not happening. Complacency is definitely not acceptable anymore, so I really support the BLM movement in bringing more of these issues to light.
Mel Allison (24), daughter of Narelle. Mein:tnk woman from South-East South Australia and from the Wotjobaluk nation in VIC. Indigenous people of Australia, First Australian.
I must say that there are only few cases where I have experienced overt forms of racism. People verbally or physically picking on me because of my skin color/origin. I see racism as a much broader thing and can be seen in many forms such as stereotyping and microaggressions.
People who have a certain image about me get confused if I don't comply with it.
Think of living in a deprived neighbourhood, speaking poor Dutch, having a low level of education, receiving income through under the table payments and working on/for your future.
This immediately brings me to think that I really can't have enough conversations and know enough to try teach people how crazy it is to have an image of someone based on their skin color alone. "How do you speak so well in Dutch?" or "Wow, I didn't expect you to be in college." or "Oh so you know who your father is." . These would be bizarre things to say to the average Dutch person. This also applies to someone who does not necessarily seem like they were born and raised here.
Joy Caupain (22), Surinamese heritage.
Please continue to use your voice.
Below are links to websites, organisations and petitions in cooperation with the Black Lives Matter Movement/ Indigenous Lives Matter Movement where you can find a way to help.
Thank you to all those that participated in the creation of this piece. Femina & Co values you. We pay our respects and acknowledge your wisdom.
Cameron Gaw, @camerongaw_
Lovisa Ferguson, @lovisafergusonn
Eromon Uadiale, @_eromon_
Uma van Hinte, @umavh
Abdel El Bouni, @bouni_fit
Mel Allison: @melfallison