On struggling with how to approach a multiply-racist incident…

I recently witnessed a multi-confronting racist incident. Whereas in the past I have felt compelled to act, this time — in the moment — I was at a loss for words. The nature of the incident, what it conveyed, was quite specific. Quite stark.

I was out with two people. It was close to midnight. We were walking along the Main Street in the coastal village of Thirroul (a northern suburb of Wollongong, NSW, Australia). A car passed us and one of the young (white) men inside stuck their head out of the window and yelled ‘go back to Nowra.’

Nowra is a city to the south of Wollongong. There are some significant socio-economic issues and challenges there. The city also has a visible Aboriginal population. I use visible here, as there is an ongoing history of invisibilising Aboriginal populations: out of sight = out of mind. In simple terms, in Nowra the social implications of widespread structural problems faced by Aboriginal Peoples in Australia are within sight. They are not as easy t0 ignore.

Broadly (not limited ot Nowra), many people in the (white) community inflate structural issues with personal failings. Rather than confronting systemic issues, there is a relational construction (Othering) in which the broader (white) community act to position themselves as not like them (i.e. not like Aboriginal people). This is far from uncommon, rather being quite normative. In short, poverty faced by members of the Aboriginal community is labelled as a result of their own actions, behaviours and (framed-as-an) inability to be a contributing member of society. They are essentialised.

In yelling ‘go back to Nowra’, this young (white) man was identifying the two women as Aboriginal. Putting aside the gender implications of men yelling at women (multiple issues), in affording the label of Aboriginal to these two women is further illustrative of multiple layers of racism. These women are not Aboriginal. The young man conflated and reduced having black-brown skin to being Aboriginal. These women were positioned as multiply inferior. Their skin colour meant they were. Worse (in his mind) they were Aboriginal. Aboriginal and from Nowra — where apparently all Aboriginal people belong. Their place was not in a well-to-do suburb, a predominately white suburb.

I still do not have a simple, one line, retort to such a comment. I am still (as a white person, with years of unquestioned and unearned privilege continually being unpacked and digested) coming to terms with the broader and nuanced inferences and implications of such a string of words.

What I do know is that I am multiply responsible for challenging such actions. As a man, it is my role to confront other men on their sexist behaviour. As a white man, it is my responsibility to confront other white men on their racist actions.

To not do so is to be complicit…

‘the happiest angry band in the world’ & everyday patriarchy

I attended a local, annual gig which raises funds for suicide prevention recently. I had not been to the show for a few years due to living elsewhere, being too ‘busy’, and my time being taken up with other projects.

Where I live has a long history of progressive politics rooted in a worker struggles, a longstanding immigrant community and campaigns for justice. The music scene here reflects, embraces, and in many has ways provided leadership for decades. This was again clear in the festival, the bands, the discussions and the audience.

Woman continue to play a key role in organising and running the event, with very clear and explicit support from men. There bands who played included a mix of genders, including the normative male only bands, and some long established and well-respected women only groups. Alongside the focus of festival, it was one of the latter that I most wanted to see—having not been to one of their shows for several years. The title of this post is a reference to them, and provides some subtext to what spurred me to pen some words.

The gig ran from mid afternoon through to late evening. I arrived mid ay through, with four bands still to play. First up was a group of men mostly playing Ramones covers. Most of them were wearing wigs, and their performance in many ways embodied the music ever scene: one that does not take itself too seriously, and at the same time comes together on key issues in the community like depression and suicide prevention.

The next bad to play was the one I most wanted to see, and all women three-piece — and I was more attentive They might well be the happiest angry band in the world. Their lyrics and style embody riot girl, and those I know personally live that ethos their everyday: radical and progressive politics and attitudes towards each other and the community. They have a good fun playing their shows, which we might consider essential given how long they have been together.

What specifically spurred me to write is the audience. As they played, the floor was a mix of men and women, all respectful of each other’s space. Right in front of the stage, women were dominant and their space was not intruded on in anyway. There was a clear embodiment here of progressive ideals, and an obvious awareness and comfort amongst the women who came to the show and were enjoying themselves. At the time I did not really pay too much attention.

The next band was 50/50 male female, and there was a similar representation on the floor. Again I did not pay too much attention. It was when the following band started playing that my non-noticing—as a benefit of my lived privilege as a man—became much more exposed. They had an all male line up. Noteworthy here is that also embodied the progressive politics and values that was the foundation of the event, and the broader community in attendance. What was different was the floor. Right in front of the stage was not only dominated by men, it was exclusively male.

I need to stress here that I did not note any aggressive or abusive intent or actions towards women. Rather there was an absence of the comfortableness I had witnessed only an hour prior with an all-women band on stage. For me it is not the overt impacts of patriarchy and sexism that are the most insidious. It is the everyday, the ones we (mostly men) don’t notice so much that require our attention. The example here illustrates how they permeate into progressive spaces. It is not in the actions of men that these were visible (to me), rather the response, perhaps preemption of women in not being willing to be in front of the stage for an all male be band—irrespective of the bands politics, and that of the audience—that are most telling.

I think men need to step back, (perhaps) become a little uncomfortable and embrace uncomfortableness in these spaces. Reflect on and reduce their presence. To make spaces for others—on their own terms.