Media Decolonised

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Basketry and fibre-sculptures by Karen Wyld

Similar to other colonised nations, Australian media is white. And, let’s not mince words, it shamelessly displays ignorance, cultural bias and racism. I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Not when there’s support for such outdated views – and a profit to be made.

And its not just mainstream media. The multitude of independent media can be just as uninformed, uncaring and unsympathetic. And while I think of it, let’s put the literature industry into this bucket of white entitlement and exclusion goo.

What? You want evidence of my assertion? Sure. I could point you to decades of evidence. Instead I’ll focus on three recent events and how people reacted (or didn’t). And because solutions-driven is in my blood, I’ll do a part-two. An upcoming post containing a few suggestions to assist the decolonisation of media (and literature).

The first event came in the midst of outrage on how children were being abused in the justice system. In the midst of Aboriginal lives lost through deaths in custody. And in the midst of hundreds of years of no justice, and decades long inaction to stop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders deaths in custody. It came in the midst of more incidents of black people being fatally shot by police in American. It came in the midst of horror, despair, grief and anger.

This particular incident was the callous murder of an Australian child. Killed by a vigilante. By an angry racist white male. Rather than feeling outraged by the death of a young Aboriginal boy, countless non-indigenous people were more concerned with a few broken windows. The media whipped up a frenzy. And people willingly responded. This concern for damaged property soon moved on to the usual I’m not racist…but narratives: he should have been in school, his parents are to blame, he was no angel. What these people really meant was > he wasn’t white.

The perpetrator’s history was not dragged through the mud. His act of extreme violence towards a child was not discussed. The ongoing vigilante behaviour within this town was ignored, as were the online Facebook communities inciting racialised violence. Because the boy was black.

The sound of racism

Within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in their family homes and online communities, the feelings of raw shock, loss and grief were evident. As was the anger that this extreme level of violence could occur and still non-indigenous people don’t want to discuss the impact of racism on First Nations peoples.

Before the mainstream narrative slid into an even darker place, I was expecting an uproar from allies. If not from Australians who support First Nations peoples, then from people and organisations that advocate against violence towards women and children.

The sound of silence was deafening

Ok. Forget them. The black lives matter advocates and allies from around the globe will surely step up, speak up, support us. Many of us have supported their causes, especially in recent time. Solidarity! Global connections! Black power!

The sound of silence was heartbreaking

Support did come from other indigenous people from around the globe. Those that know what this type of grief and loss is about. And have felt the pain of the resulting blame-game or mass silence. Solidarity! Global connections! Aboriginal lives matter!

Meanwhile the media continued their biased, non-evidenced (offensive) reporting of this tragic loss of a young life. And people continued the unwanted critique of parenting skills, damaged public property – and the false premise of criminal instincts of Aboriginal people. Non-factual, racist arguments that have been circulating since the British first invaded our nations.

I temporarily silenced this clamouring racism with a poem

The next incident was an American author who said some ill considered, white entitled tosh at an Australian writers’ festival. She said nothing new. Started nothing new. Added nothing new. Her views are not dissimilar to what can read in newspapers, on social media, in online women’s writing communities, or  heard around the board table of a book publisher or Australian literary peak organisation.

Some people chose to react to her inane ramblings by walking out, blogging their views or engaging in online discussions. Then the mainstream media picked up their ears – domestically and internationally. Some of this advanced an ongoing discussion; most of it didn’t.

I’ve got no problem with people expressing how this insensitive public talk impacted on them. Or highlighting how it relates to centuries of oppression and ongoing inequity. And I’ve no problem with respectful debate within the media. But, to be honest, I was a bit dismayed that the pen/mic was not being handed to First Nations peoples – even after everyone else had their say.

(I acknowledge that Aboriginal or Torres Strait writers, bloggers and commentators might have responded to this event, but I didn’t see any among the flood of other blog posts, articles and panels.)

Reading and listening to the tsunami of responses to this event, I was a bit concerned how discussions and articles lacked an awareness of how colonisation continues to impact on us (Aboriginal people). Despite a visible strengthening of collective support amongst/for non-white migrants and descendants of non-white migrants, First Nations peoples seem to have even less of a voice. We get pushed to the bottom of the heap – always.

This single incident at a writers’ festival was given a lot of media coverage. The (very valid) feelings of a diverse range of people who feel marginalised was given more media coverage, and the incident incited more public outrage, than the death of an Aboriginal boy. Feelings of writers are obviously of more public interest than the tragic loss of life.

Now the latest, and third, incident. Until today, I followed a twitter account called Media Diversified. Its a UK-based organisation that, according to its website, is: ‘…a young and growing non-profit organisation which seeks to cultivate and promote skilled writers of colour by providing advice and contacts and by promoting content online through its own platform.’

Now you’d think that a organisation that advocates for *POC/BAME writers would be respectful towards First Nations peoples. Strength in solidarity!

(* POC = people of color / BAME = Black, Asian, and minority ethnic)

Yesterday morning I opened twitter and noticed a few Australians I mutually-follow were tweeting to @WritersofColour (ie Media Diversified) with concerns about a recent article they’d published. A few of the people tweeting their concerns were respected Aboriginal people.

Media Diversified’s response: no response.

So I went to their website and found a long list of published articles that mentioned Australian invasion/colonisation/settler history and First Nations peoples. Sadly, these articles contained disrespectful and/or outdated identity terminology. Articles that misrepresented invasion/colonial/settler history, and the ongoing impact on Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.

Nothing new. I’ve read this type of outdated, white entitled mis-telling of our history from many sources. Except this academic author was not white. And neither was the media outlet that published their work. But the impact of these articles is the same as the centuries of words about us, written by invaders/colonisers, settlers and their descendants.

Yesterday afternoon I emailed Media Diversified the following:

“I noticed with some concern your lack of reply this week to a number of tweets from First Nations peoples and other Australians. They were raising valid concerns about an article posted on your website that appeared to erase our histories. I then looked in to other works by this contributor and discovered a long stream of problematic articles that no only erased our experiences, but contained offensive identity terminology and an unfortunate re-telling of our histories. The emotional impact of reading these works was no different than reading the work of uninformed white writers. So I will be writing a blog post later about this, and naming your organisation. Diversified media is a positive goal, but not if Aboriginal people have to endure a new form of colonisation from a new source. Let’s diversify AND decolonise, please. I won’t name names (ie not mentioning the author of the problematic articles) but I will be naming your media outlet. So thought I’d pre-warn you, in case you wish to address my comments publicly; and hopefully adopt better guidelines for writing about First Nations peoples. Nothing about us without us!”

Their response: no response.

How are these three incidents connected? All of them demonstrate how media (and literature) are not only culturally biased but they are far from diversified if they misrepresent, ignore or silence First Nations peoples.

Everyone working within media or literature needs to reflect on where they sit on the power and privilege spectrum. Many people working in these sectors may find that opportunities are rare. They might have to struggle to be heard. And they might be dealing with racism and inequity. But they’re probably not as disadvantaged as those who’s ancestral lands they occupy. So move over. Hand on that mic/pen. Be more inclusive.

Diversified media is a great goal but it is meaningless without a purposeful effort to decolonise media. And decolonise literature. Most people operating within media and literature sectors unconsciously participate in, and profit from, new wave colonialism.

Don’t trample us, First Nations peoples, in your endeavour to get heard or published.

And don’t stay silent when our communities and lives are ravaged by racism.

Don’t turn away when racism is behind the continued loss of children.

Update: Media Diversified has responded to tweets and are looking into our concerns. This is a positive early response from a small indie organisation. I want to acknowledge the respect they’ve shown so far.

I wish it was this easy to get Australian media and literature sectors to listen.

 


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7 thoughts on “Media Decolonised

    • Yes, its not just in Australia that we are constantly fighting these battles. Other indigenous peoples of colonised nations, such as in your country, have similar stories to share. Thanks for the supportive comment, Yvonne. Its been too long since we’ve chatted ☺

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Karen, I’m so glad that I found you over on Twitter and then have got to know you there (and read you here, occasionally, too).

    I’m so saddened that the Black Lives Matter movement–for all the really good conversations it has raised about the entrenched racism in our culture(s) and media–has by and large ignored Indigenous peoples. It’s disappointing and it seems to be a missed opportunity.

    One of the things I’ve enjoyed about Twitter is the active Indigenous Australian community on there…not just news about Indigenous issues, but Indigenous people talking about issues themselves. Sharing their stories, connecting with each other and with non-Indigenous people like me. I feel as if this has allowed me to finally hear the Australian Aboriginal community on a large scale. It’s so important. But Twitter is not mainstream media; it’s not even a media organisation! It bothers me that diversity has become a bit of a buzzword, to make businesses sound like they’re trendy and interested in promoting different voices, but in the end, it’s all lip service and nothing new is really happening.

    However, I was just reading the Guardian and saw this article:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/20/ear-disease-wrecked-ts-life-sadly-hes-not-alone-in-indigenous-australia

    and noted this at the bottom of the page:

    “Our stories, our way”: each week, a new guest hosts the @IndigenousX twitter account to discuss topics of interest to them as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. In partnership with IndigenousX, we’re inviting its weekly host to tell us about who they are, what they are passionate about, and what they have in store during their upcoming week as @IndigenousX

    I hope this is the start of something bigger.

    Like

    • Hi. Its nice when my social media worlds collide. Thanks for your comments. @IndigenousX is awesome. Its grown quickly under Luke Pearson’s leadership and the many rotational curators. I enjoyed a week at the steering wheel last year. Keep reading #IndigenousX and the many accounts that are Australia’s blak twitter, and you’ll continue to find great content!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It would seem “diversity” is measured only against the Colonisers, and not those Colonised: the First Nations. In an era when White Australia is still so vocal in asserting its legitimacy, it is a missed opportunity when those who have suffered post-colonisation — the immigrants, the refugees — still consider themselves more important voices than those stifled in the first invasion.

    Like

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