We haven’t talked about the Australian of the Year nominations here yet. What struck me immediately with the 2009 field is that this time around, only two of them are (as far as I know) white men.
Note, however, that none (again, as far as I know; I’m open to correction on this) are women of colour. For this year’s Australian of the Year, you can be an indigenous or immigrant person of colour, or a woman; but not both.
There’s a whole lot to deconstruct in the way the finalists are described, but there’s also plenty about the finalists themselves that warrants honour and respect. Most of them could be described as “community organisers”.
Here’s a run-down on the finalists. Fuller descriptions of the finalists are available at Webdiary.
ACT – Professor Michael Dodson AM – Indigenous leader who has pursued justice and reconciliation in widely ranging arenas.
As Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia, Mick’s dream is to achieve reconciliation in this country, and a better future for his people. An outstanding Australian, Mick represents integrity, wisdom and compassion.
NSW – Glenn McGrath AM – Cricket player who has raised money for breast cancer after his wife fell ill from it.
In June this year Jane lost her 11-year battle with cancer, leaving Glenn to care for their two children. Throughout it all Glenn has shown enormous strength and dignity, setting an inspirational example.
NT – Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu – Gumatj man, blind, who plays amazing music.
As a deeply traditional man, his songs focus on his spiritual connection with the land, his love of country, and the importance of his ancestors. […] He is an example of triumph over adversity, and of extraordinary talent.
SA – Ivan Copley – Indigenous community worker and chair of the Campbelltown Council Reconciliation Committee.
These are just a few of the many ways in which Ivan is putting his heart and soul into bettering his community. He has been described as a ‘bridge for all peoples.’
TAS – Peter Cundall AM – Expert on organic and sustainable gardening.
He remains actively involved with environmental, peace and child protection movements. Peter is a well-known and much-loved figure in Australian gardening who is respected for his sincere and open-hearted manner.
VIC – Dr Berhan Ahmed – African-Australian community leader, originally from Eritrea.
He initiated and implemented a number of projects for Melbourne’s African community to raise the standard of living, educational engagement and achievement, level of employment, and integration. He has personally supported many newly-arrived refugees, and is always there to offer guidance and a helping hand through the difficult process of arriving in a new country after traumatic experience.
WA – Dr Penny Flett – Geriatrics apecialist and chair of the WA Aged Care Advisory Council. Flett was also the first woman doctor to serve in the RAAF.
She has worked tirelessly to dispel stereotypes of old age, and shift deep-seated cultural attitudes. Dr Flett’s goal is for the community to revalue older people, and respect their wisdom and experience.
QLD – Bronwyn Sheehan – Literacy advocate who leads a one-on-one mentoring programme for foster children.
When Bronwyn Sheehan realised that foster children were not being given the same opportunities in life as other children she decided to do something about it. […] Bronwyn has inspired more than 500 volunteers to give their time every week to a foster child and her program is backed by literacy experts such as author Mem Fox. Bronwyn is making a real difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children.
Here’s a sample of NT nominee Yunupingu’s work.
Categories: gender & feminism, indigenous, social justice
It’s Mick Dodson!
Can I say from the outset that I think Mick Dodson is a very worthy winner of this award. In recent years he’s copped a barrage of racist abuse from the tabloid media, usually around being called a ‘freeloader’ or ‘on the gravy train’, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. It’s disappointing that the tabloids still refuse to acknowledge the tireless efforts of Indigenous people like Dodson, seemingly only because his world view is one of social justice and self-determination.
That said, you’re right about the women nominees. And WA nominates another female doctor – must be something in the waters here ;). I’m also very excited about the Young Australian of the Year – she seems like a leader in her own right, and like Dodson, has followed her passion and her heart for social justice causes. Well done to all winners.
A very worthy winner.
Huh, I thought they were going to announce them tomorrow! A worthy winner indeed. Good on him. And great to see anti-violence campaigner Jonty Bush honoured too, Rachel.
Lowitja O’Donoghue won in the 80s! I think Mick Dodson is a great choice, though, and it’s nice to see a mix of Aboriginal, recent immigrant and earlier immigrant Australians, rather than just one person of colour in a sea of white faces.
I’m curious about the phrase ‘woman of colour’. A few years ago I asked an indigenous woman who’s a friend of mine what she thought about it. She pissed herself laughing. Basically she didn’t have a huge proble with whiteys calling her that as she’s an easy going person, ,but she would never describe herself in that way. She said she was a blackfella, a Koori, a Bunnerong woman and those are the words she’d used about herself. I don’t know whether it’s an absolute, but I’ve never heard an Australian indigenous woman describe herself as a ‘woman of colour’. It maybe yet another Americanism that doesn’t work here.
I have to agree on having reservations about the phrases ‘women of colour’ and ‘people of colour’. I feel like, if people who can claim the term, Indian or Arabic or Aboriginal or whoever want to use the term, hey guys, go wild. But I’ve never heard any Australian ‘person of colour’ use it, and for me it’s too reminiscent of ‘coloured people’ with its old-world racist aroma… Plus, I’m concerned about kind of lumping every single person with tan, brown or black skin in together. They aren’t all the same, they don’t all have the same ideals or issues or problems or agendas or lives.
So I don’t use it.
I believe the POC/WOC term was deliberately chosen to emphasise one aspect of racial prejudice/discrimination that all non-Caucasian people share due to having a different skin colour than pale pinky-beige in a world dominated by Caucasian economies. It’s meant to apply specifically to that aspect of shared experience without negating other ethnic aspects.
Like any jargon though, once it moves out of the field that first coined it into wider public use, it picks up other connotations. I’d never thought of it as implying that all people with tan, brown or black skin were exactly alike in all respects, although I guess I can see how that could be one interpretation of it.
The problem is that I think it can elide difference too much. I think it does imply all non pinky-beige people (and I love that phrase) share a common experience that they can primarily identify with. Of course, there are commonalities, but there’s too many diiferences in histories and cultures for it to have a lot of meaning IMHO. And as Hendo, said it’s not really a phrase use by ‘non-pinky beige people’ about themselves In Australia. Do you really think Mick Dodson would refer to himself as a ‘person of colour’? Hmm, and I never thought about how we’d never use the terms ‘coloured people’, but ‘people of colour’ is okay. Interesting.
I wrote this over and over, fully aware of the issues some people have with “of colour” in the Australian context, and having been involved in prolonged conversations about it elsewhere. What is written above is what I ended up with, and it still perhaps wasn’t exactly what I was trying to say (although I’m pretty sure Hoyden readers, and any regular readers of Anglosphere race-blogging, know exactly what I mean and how I intended it) – a word for “not-white”, which is the concept that in this particular post is exactly what I was trying to express. “Non-white” has very much its own issues, defining people purely in terms of the dominant group, and is not a good alternative IMO. I tried to make a point of not eliding all difference by including “indigenous” and “immigrant” as two separate categories.
I use POC while blogging not because “coloured people” leaps to my mind and I’m correcting, but because many POC self-identify this way (and yes, some Australian POC do also). When I mean “indigenous people”, I say “indigenous people”, or “Aboriginal people” (or use a more precise term when indicated). In this case, I didn’t just mean “indigenous”. Perhaps I could have included the word “person” after “indigenous”, instead of putting the word together with “immigrant”. More acceptable, possibly, to some, but also not expressing what I was trying to say. The vagaries of language. To any indigenous people here who are offended, I apologise. I’ll keep reading and searching for a better way of expressing this idea.
I wonder why it is that there is no term for “not-white-person” in common use in modern Australia. Looking at the whiteness side of things, white people in general in Australia sure don’t like talking about race and racism: except in pejorative terms, or to pretend that we’re colourblind, or occasionally to engage in a little noble-savage whimsy.
I agree it is hard to find the right language, which is indicative of how fraught issues of race and colour are. I wish I could come up with the perfect phrase, but I can’t. I’m interested that you say some Australian identify as POCs or WOCs. I’ve never hear any Australian call themselves this. It seems a USA and Canadian phrase to me and therefore I wonder why it should be universalized, especially in such a specifically Australian event. As I said above, I don’t like it much because I think it actively elides histories and cultures and using the phrase ‘an indigenous or immigrant woman of colour’ does that . In particular, I suspect there’d be a lot of indigenous people who’d be uncomfortable with the label.
The nominees sound like a great bunch of people no matter what sort of phrases we use about them and I’m sure Mick Dodson will use this opportunity to stir up some trouble in a very positive way. I support his idea that we need to find a new date for Australia Day that everyone can celebrate.
It’s also Chinese New Year today, so happy Chinese New Year to all.
Just to pick up on Fine’s point, Indigenous people I’ve had this discussion with have always indicated – aside from other identifications such as Murri – that they’d like to be addressed as “Indigenous people” – and I’ve been picked up on not capitalising! Specifically, if one is going to do comparisons with others, I’ve heard it said that the relevant ones are with other dispossessed peoples and not with – say – African Americans whose history and relation to colonialism and Imperialism is quite different. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s often an emphasis that the priority of living in this land is important, and therefore rubrics like “Multiculturalism” are inappropriate.
I do think we need to be aware of the specificity of Australian experiences, and I can see what Lauredhel was getting at in good faith and recognise all this can be quite fraught, but I suspect the best way of proceeding is to call people what they would like to be called.
The kind of mindless criticism I was referring to is evident in Janet Albrechtsen’s column today.
That Dodson wants to use his award to push for debate about issues he feels strongly about (moving Australia Day in this instance), makes him no different from any of the past winners, all of whom have used their increase in profile to raise awareness of issues they care about. This does not make Dodson an ungracious winner, or a hypocrite as Albrechtsen claims. Further, Dodson’s discussing the award with his family before agreeing to accept it also doesn’t make him an ungracious winner. Previous winners have also said their acceptance of the award rested on discussion with family members. Would Albrechtsen consider these people ungracious winners?
There is a thin veneer of racism about Albrechtsen’s comments, especially as I suspect she would not direct similar criticism toward a non-Indigenous winner.
Yes, in 1984! Other female winners have been:
Dame Joan Sutherland, 1961, opera singer
Dawn Fraser, 1964, swimmer
Evonne Goolagong, 1971, tennis player
Shane Gould, 1972, swimmer
Dame Raigh Roe, joint winner 1977, president of the Country Women’s Association
Kay Cottee, 1988, sailor
Cathy Freeman, 1988, runner
Fiona Stanley, 2003, epidemiologist
Fiona Wood, 2005, burns surgeon
(Have I missed anyone?) So it seems that exceptions are made for people who play sports. That’s pretty much par for the course with AotY.
Blimey, AotY was also awarded to such pillars of the community as Alan Bond and Paul Hogan. Bleargh. And it seems Steve Irwin only escaped by virtue of being up against a cricket player.
While people are welcome to identify themselves however they like, I tend to hear “people of colour” as implying that “white” is the default. So in the Australian context, I think you need more than two groupings, even when you’re going for broad sweeps, “Indigenous” and “non-Indigenous” and “recent migrants” seem more appropriate to me. As Mark mentioned, merging Indigenous peoples and recent migrants into a group is jarring, because mostly what they have in common is that they don’t look like me.
All that said, it was great to see an Indigenous, academic, activist beating a cricketer.
If only my local Australia Day municiple brekkie had organised the band to play Australian music. (I was thinking of Ruby Hunter, Tiddas, Dan Warner, Shane Howard, Midnight Oil…)
What they have in common, in this context, is that they are not in the dominant racial group, and have likely been subject to racist prejudice and discrimination in their lifetime. And that their nominations are a break (not an isolated one, as we can see) from the tradition of Australia hero-worshipping a particular flavour of white masculinity.
I think it’s interesting that Australian English has no language for that commonality, has a paucity of language for talking about racism; and I’m not yet convinced that that is purely because the groups we’re talking about are quite different in many other ways.
Have there been any openly gay nominees?
I think that’s an astute observation, Lauredhel.
Yes, but just as you said in the last excerpt I’ve quoted, the distinctions and the analysis need to be finer. Prejudice and discrimination manifest themselves very differently against recent immigrants and Indigenous people, and I think it’s useful to understand that racism isn’t a singular phenomenon culturally with singular causes, as well as the point I made before about the Indigenous people I’ve heard say that the whole “Multiculturalism” story doesn’t include them – because it elides their prior possession of the land.
Ooh I like the debate on names this has inspired! *such an anthropological linguist, or a linguistic anthropologist*
I’ve come to the conclusion, for myself, that I really can’t just lump all the people with dark skin (or white-skinned identifiers, like a couple I’ve met) in together, because people are individuals, and different people prefer different terms. Amongst Aboriginals, I’ve met people who hated the term Koori and others who think it’s the best one; and I’ve accidentally offended heaps by thinking that the term Indigenous is the best, because (a) my work tells me to use it as it was the most inclusive and (b) it covers both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. So I used ‘Indigenous’ for years, and found out that some people hate it and prefer ‘Aboriginal’, but then ran into the old problem of some-people-don’t-like-‘Aboriginal’. And I wouldn’t usually refer to ‘blackfellas’ unless another blackfella did it first. Because you know, it can be used positively, and negatively.
And I’ve *worked* in Indigenous policy and programs, with Aboriginal people, and I still can’t get it right.
It’d be nice and easy for me, and I do think it reflects something poor about white culture / people, that we don’t have a neutral or positive term for this concept.
Yes, but “non-Indigenous” includes recent migrants, and recent migrants and non-Indigenous both include white people from the UK, New Zealand, etc etc as well as people of varied hues from Asia, Africa, etc. So when what you’re trying to describe is, as Lauredhel pointed out, “that they are not in the dominant racial group, and have likely been subject to racist prejudice and discrimination in their lifetime”, neither of these terms would be remotely helpful. Because some of the people included in those terms are the dominant racial group, and some are not.
Yes, but Indigenous Australians don’t call themselves ‘people of colour’, so why would anyone else call them that? It’s really basic to refer to people in the way in which they want to be referred. ‘People of colour’ just puts everyone in a really lumpy, ungainly bag, labelled ‘non-white’.
Even when talking about immigrants I don’t think it’s a very useful term. The experience of a Somali refugee who arrives here traumatised, war torn and without resources is very different from, say, the experience of a prosperous, middle -class business person who’s Hong Kong Chinese and travels back and forth between the two countries taking care of business. They will both experience prejudice, but the difference in the way they live and how that prejudice affects them is huge. It’s not very helpful to lump them all in together either because it leaves out huge swathes of their lived experience.
It might also be useful to note that the Irish suffered a huge amount of prejudice and discrimination in Australia up until the ’70s. Sectariansim anyone? So, it’s all complex and even referring to skin colour doesn’t cover the different forms of racism that have gone on historically. And of course, even ‘race’ is a problematic category.
I think the answer lies in nuance and specificity in the way we use language and not just using a catchphrase.
It might also be useful to note that the Irish suffered a huge amount of prejudice and discrimination in Australia up until the ’70s.
Not to mention racist by immigrant against other immigrants, because they were from a different country of origin. My Dutch grandparents and father have several stories about receiving abuse from the Irish and English immigrants that lived on their street when they first moved to Perth, including having bricks thrown at them because they were Dutch.
I’m interested that you say some Australian identify as POCs or WOCs. I’ve never hear any Australian call themselves this. It seems a USA and Canadian phrase to me and therefore I wonder why it should be universalized, especially in such a specifically Australian event.
I don’t like the terms POC/WOC, but as a Chinese-Australian who gets in a lot of discussions re: race/ethnicity in online, predominately US-centric forums, it is a term I have found myself using more and more often, simply through lack of any other term.
Further to Rebekka’s point, the term ‘recent migrants’ is one I’m highly uncomfortable with, because whilst including folks recently arrived from white-centric nations, as she notes, it also excludes those multi-generational people of colour (and as an aside, this Australian WOC is feeling rather like some kind of mythical creature, right now) who still experience racist prejudice, as well as reinforcing the idea that all non-pinky-beige folk are recent arrivals or Indigenous peoples.
hendo, I’m curious about your use of the term ‘white-skinned identifiers’; could you elaborate a little, because on my initial reading it suggests the sort of ‘not [black/Indigenous/Native/Asian/etc] enough’ idea that generally pops up in many discussions of race (particularly in relation to discussions of dispossessed peoples involving native/Indigenous women being raped and their ‘light-skinned’ children being denied their heritage and histories), so I was hoping you could clarify?
The discussions I’ve had with Indigenous women in particular about the POC/WOC usage, is that yes, it’s complex, and Mark’s right about a lot of the particularly Australian discussions about Multiculturalism leave out the acknowledgements and discussions about some of the particular Indigenous experiences, but generally many of them have seen the WOC/POC terminology as something in the way of coalition-building, for want of a better term. Though, I’ll note that many of these women have also been doing work with Native American women and been involved in their discussions of how they work with American POC/WOC, so that’s likely impacting on the vies of the term, given some of the other accounts mentioned here.
It’s sad that the move to “Irish and Dutch people were discriminated against too!” seemed inevitable. It’s a classic Bingo square, folks; and inappropriate in a thread that should be a reasonably safe space.
I’ve come to the conclusion, for myself, that I really can’t just lump all the people with dark skin (or white-skinned identifiers, like a couple I’ve met) in together, because people are individuals, and different people prefer different terms.
And yet you just did: “People with dark skin.”
The term “people of color” doesn’t lump all people of color together except to the extent that it identifies the group of people who are not white. It doesn’t imply that the group is homogenous any more than any other identifying phrase does. It merely implies one particular commonality.
It seems to me that if one objects to the use of the term “people of color” without offering an alternative, as many people in this thread have done, one is objecting to the idea that one should ever consider people who are white and people who are not white as two distinct categories, and that objection strikes me as an odd one.
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I don’t see that at all, Angus. The dichotomy white/not-white obviously effaces differences which are not just theoretically relevant but culturally important for how racism manifests in the Australian context – which is the context of this post. It may have some analytical uses, and it makes sense in the terms in which Lauredhel wants to highlight what’s at stake in the Australian of the Year nominations, but it also seems to me that a call for the reinscription of a dichotomy organised around the signifier “white” is problematic.
Who’s calling for the reinscription of a dichotomy, Mark? You’ve just conceded that the distinction makes sense in the context in which Lauredhel used it, so why object to her using it in that context?
I’m not objecting to Lauredhel using it in that specific context to make that point, as indeed I said, Angus. I am suggesting, as I and others have said, that it’s not one particularly common in Australian parlance (and I’ve been interested to read what stephanie and Jennifer wrote about their use of it). I’m also saying that I agree – for the reasons I’ve given – with what kate said:
What I guess I am objecting to is the inference I think is there in your comment that there’s something objectionable about some of the comments people have been making. I don’t agree with that, and I don’t think it’s greatly helpful to anyone to characterise the discussion as if it’s a matter of taking sides.
Mark, I may have been unclear.
I meant to direct my comments to people who object in principle to the use of the term “person of color,” as Fine and Hendo did. I didn’t mean at all to suggest that it’s always and in every situation a useful term.
You say that the term “makes sense” as Lauredhel used it, and I agree with you. But I don’t see a consensus on that point in this thread.
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I guess my concern about all this discomfort about POC implying white is the default, is that, well, it is. Not in the sense of POC are whitefolks with some extra melanin, but the fact that, in Western societies, yes, including Australia, whiteness is assumed. And whilst people are obviously free to hear things however they wish, I tend to view that sort of discomfort as similar to ‘colourblindness’ (otherwise known as ‘let’s assume everyone is like me’); in otherwords, it’s part of a tendency towards wanting to step back from some of the ways many POC express how mainstream society treats them under the guise of anti-racism.
Lest my snarky reference to being a mythical creature fool you, I do think there are complexities around the use of POC/WOC in an Australian context that could do with some hefty discussion. However, as more of these sorts of threads pop up, the more convinced I become that those conversations need to be had in POC/WOC safe spaces, because whilst I’d love to discuss it with stephanie (if she would also like to, of course), I’m not comfortable doing it here, given some of the attitudes displayed, whether intentional or no. And as mentioned to lauredhel elsewhere, that’s whilst acknowledging that Hoyden is one of the Australian blogs wherein I feel the least worn out and silenced by the comment threads.
I actually think kate unintentionally hit the nail on the head, in saying:
And I would suggest that it’s jarring perhaps because it’s jarring to think about the fact that looking like you carries a distinct difference in experience of the world which a variety of folk, and a myriad of other differences, share in the lack of.
“It’s sad that the move to “Irish and Dutch people were discriminated against too!” seemed inevitable.”
And I think it’s sad that you’ve taken the opportunity to make a comment like this. Prejudice and racism have cut many ways historically. I made my comment to highlight the complexities of a debate that can’t easily summed up into a neat dichotomy of black/white. *Sigh* Nuance is needed not dichotomies which just erase difference. Historically, the Irish were a group which experienced institutionalised discrimination. I use this example to complicate the debate, not shut it down.
Jennifer @30 – kickarse comment. thanks – it was helpful for understanding what’s going on in these kinds of conversations. sometimes i forget how frustrating it is when you find yourself having the same one again and again, e.g. in cases like this where it’s not something I’ve talked about very much, so am busy being interested by it and forget that others are over it (or sick of the ‘usual’ comments that crop up in it)… if that makes sense. right.
Sometimes I really shouldn’t comment when I don’t have time to write things out fully & check them through for misunderstandings from people who don’t know me.
What I was trying to get at with “people who don’t look like me”: there are a lot of people in Australia who don’t share my priviledges, they have some common ground, and they have many differences. While they share the experience of racism, they don’t necessarily share much else. My major concern with big broad descriptors is that there is a possibility of making Indigenous peoples disappear. I certainly don’t think that is the intention of anyone here.
I agree that white (and straight, and male) is set as the default person in Australia currently. We don’t get news articles telling us that “two white youths etc etc” and we do still get “two Asian…” or “two African…”. I’m just cautious of anything that might perpetuate that.
We need more ways to build coalitions between “non default” people. There are quite a few of us, and I’m sorry to have articulated my thoughts badly, particularly when people are left feeling this isn’t a safe space.
Yes that is a great comment Jennifer. Fine, reread Lauredhel’s comment at 10. There is no attempt to reduce complexity to dichotomies, nor any lack of nuance as much as you want to see it. Discrimination faced by migrants whose first language is not english, or other European migrants is/was qualitatively different to that faced by people who are discriminated against on the basis of colour. It is a problem when discussions of the latter merge into the former. Generally this results in a continued failure to deal with the most damaging forms of racism as they currently exist (anti Irish sentiment may have been a formative part of Australia’s history but it is not current in the way that for eg anti-muslim sentiment is ) and is part of the discredited and unhelpful colour-blindness stance. It makes whiteness and privilege accruing from whiteness invisible . Making whiteness visible again is not enforcing dichotomous distinctions, it is an attempt to bring those privileges into the frame, so they cannot be disavowed by those who benefit from them. And yes there are a large number of distinctions that can be made within whiteness as well as there (there are arguments about the way in which some attitudes towards the Irish mirrored some aspects of orientalism for eg) but that is not a reason to let whiteness go unremarked.
Whoops part of a sentence went awry – the last sentence should read:
“And yes there are a large number of distinctions that can be made within whiteness as there are within other groupings …”
But I don’t think ‘POC’ does a very good job at making ‘whiteness’ visible as the privileged space. As several people keep saying ‘POC’ isn’t a category that many Indigenous people use to describe themselves. So, why should white people use it? Stephanie as a Chinese/Australian says it’s a term she doesn’t like but uses in US blogs so she can join the conversation. So, again I question its efficacy.
Yes, it says that there’s something that people have in common in that they’re a member of a subaltern group. But, it doesn’t talk about crucial differences within that group (class, money, status, education, gender, sexual orientation), so it feels like a bit of a sledgehammer to me. That’s why I say we need to use more specific language when we talk about people.
Fine, since it’s been well established here that the purpose of the term here is not to erase difference, this argument is somewhat lost on me. Perhaps this might help pin it down: do you also feel that terms like “woman”, “person with a disability”, and “gay” are not useful; are “sledgehammers”?
I’ve been trying to spend this conversation saying “Yes, and…” rather than “Yes, but”. Perhaps we could try to keep things moving?
I’m also not sure why you picked out Stephanie to hold up as your example while ignoring Jennifer – and while arguing for nuance and inclusion? Hm.
This point has already been acknowledged at 10 and is now being belaboured The question is how do we talk about the groups not represented here? We can talk about the white people, the indigenous men, the African Australian man who were acknowledged but how do we talk about those who are not recognized. Yes we can say Indigenous women but what of other women? That was the point of the post to acknowledge the diversity of the list while pointing out the ways in which it is still unrepresentative.
I dunno. I think it does a very blunt and explicit job of making ‘whiteness’ visible as the privileged space, and that is in fact exactly why it makes so many people uncomfortable. Its very limitations in terms of disparate ethnic nuances (which is an acknowledged weakness for some forms of social analysis) is precisely what pushes ‘whiteness’ front and center to be examined without camouflage.
I wonder if part of the problem here is the idea that there can be any one word which captures a particular group of people. Many people experience disadvantage as a result of the privileging of whiteness; to me, that’s what the ‘OC’ (of colour, not the TV show ;-)) works to capture. Yet, there are differences in that disadvantage, and they should never be erased. But they’re only thought of as erased if we assume that the term WOC/POC tells the whole story, and assume that it’s not simply illuminating a particular facet of a problem which (always, inevitably and forever) requires further examination. In the end, even terms like ‘indigenous’ or ‘Australian Chinese’ or ‘African American’ can be conceived of (and even used) as sledgehammers, depending on the context: there are enormous diversities within these groups, relating to generation, geographical location, political groupings, immigrant communities and so on and so forth. These specificities matter, there’s no doubt about that; but it doesn’t in and of itself make more general descriptors *wrong* or problematic in every context. This context, for example, seems to me perfectly suited to a broad brushstrokes illumination of the extent to which whiteness does and does not shape the awarding of the Australian of the Year. That said, I think debate about the often US-centrism of the terms WOC and POC is a useful one, but more because it illuminates a particular kind of politics of race and whiteness, and I think that self-reflexive meta only makes for more just, more ethical activism (but then, I do think that language constructs, so…).
Jennifer, I would love to talk about this stuff with you. :o)
All the concern trolling and derailment by white people is really repetitious and boring. Also, ignoring of women of colour and treating them like interesting specimens of sociological data is pretty galling.
The term “people of colour” isn’t even from the USA, it’s from the West Indies. White people saying we shouldn’t use it cos it’s racist is about as useful as straight people saying GLBTQIAQ people shouldn’t use “queer” because it’s heterosexist, i.e. not at all. And, I would assume, it reveals more about the naysayer’s own internalised bigotry than about the actual problematics of the term.
This has already been done: http://womenofcolour.blogspot.com/2008/11/who-is-woman-of-colour.html
And despite a document answering such uncritical queries, I do agree with Jennifer that there are more conversations to be had, but this isn’t the place, and Fine, Mark, and all the other whites who presume to speak for people of colour would probably be a bad addition to such a conversation.
Fire Fly, you’re definitely right in that this conversation has occurred in a pretty problematic way… and now I have ‘but face’:
First, the document you link to also points out that the term POC/WOC is predominantly used to self-identify in the US context, as has been observed here, but that this is shifting… I think that part of the question that is being raised here (and not only by white people) is whether it is an easy fit for those Australians who fall outside the category of white—as in, is it a term used to self-identify? Obviously, for some it is, for some it isn’t. It’s interesting, though, in that it raises questions of coalition-building across national borders, and the issue of the risks that can arise in the dominance of the US in shaping radical politics is an important one, methinks… but, granted, not the focus of this thread, and specifically in relation to race activism, definitely not a question to be decided here.
Second, I think the question is who exactly is ‘we’ in the phrase White people saying we shouldn’t use it cos it’s racist is about as useful as straight people saying GLBTQIAQ people shouldn’t use “queer” because it’s heterosexist, i.e. not at all? I don’t think (but correct me if I’m wrong, coz I haven’t re-read the thread) that anyone was saying that, say, indigenous people ought not to use ‘WOC/POC’. The question was being raised about whether a white woman ought to use it. I agree that this isn’t a question for white people to adjudicate, and nor is this thread the place for it, and that the attempt to pin down terminology in this thread as if it, and the people it describes, were dead butterflies in a case, is presumptuous and a perfect demonstration of white privilege, but it is also a different manifestation of white privilege to the attempt to take people’s self-determined identity away from them because it’s considered not politically correct. In case it’s not clear, my point here is not to undermine what you’re saying, Fire Fly (at all at all at all), but to make the accountability you’re calling for stick. I don’t want your calling people out on the privilege that informs the presumption to speak for people of colour to get lost in folks claiming they were never telling people of colour what to do; that it (white privilege) doesn’t just lie in ‘telling them what to do’, but it also lies in the attempt to pin down, to decide once-and-for-all an “accurate,” singular label for others. As if there were a singular ‘truth of the matter’, rather than the capacity for shifting identifications depending on the political context (including the coalitions being invoked).
I’ve pondered long and hard about posting this comment. Crossing fingers I’ve avoided pitfalls; lemme know if otherwise.
I think that part of the question that is being raised here (and not only by white people) is whether it is an easy fit for those Australians who fall outside the category of white—as in, is it a term used to self-identify? Obviously, for some it is, for some it isn’t.
It’s interesting that you (and others) neglect the fact that it’s not used uniformly throughout the USA, that it’s part of a marginal oppositional discourse, and that the document specifically points that out. The fact that people of colour are not a hive mind isn’t new to anyone except white people. That, apparently, it takes many paragraphs to get the point across just indicates the paucity of this discussion.
This discussion hasn’t been about the appropriateness of terminology used by a white woman, it has been about the anxieties of white people who don’t know how to relate to people of colour trying to couch those anxieties in objective language (and painfully contradicting themselves in the process).
The irony of white Australians objecting to the US-centrism of a radical anti-racist discourse isn’t lost on me either. Who in Australia do you think benefits most from US imperialism?
And if you’re in such a rush to agree with me, WP, why couch your comment as a ” yes, but…”?
Fire Fly’s last blog post..Stop the racism – Converge on Canberra
‘Yes, but’ because I wasn’t entirely agreeing with you… I agree that white privilege shaped this thread, and appreciated you pointing it out, but I thought it happened in a slightly different spot to the one you identified.
As far as the suggestion that I think people of colour are a hive mind because I’m aware of the difficulties of the adoption of a terminology from the US context (which, to avoid similar accusations this time around, itself has a complex and diverse history) into Australia… I really am not sure how those two work together. My critical appreciation for this difficulty has arisen through participating (generally through observation, given that I’m not a member of the communities in question) in debates about coalitions between recent immigrants and indigenous communities by some of these groups. Such coalitions in the US are rather different, I think, to those here.
And whilst I too appreciate the irony of those who benefit most from US imperialism being concerned about it specifically in the context of anti-racist discourse, I don’t see that this means that this concern is not justified, or that it’s a straightforward function of white hypocrisy. I agree that in some cases on this thread, that’s probably what’s at work; it doesn’t mean that it always is (or rather, that the concern is simply reducible to that hypocrisy). In at least some cases, it arises from taking seriously the perspectives of those Australians who feel that being identified as people of colour obscures the specificity of their experience, community and politics, or puts in place coalitions they are uneasy about.
The anxiety that whites in this thread have expressed about not homogenising speaks more to their own concerns about their privilege rather than actual concerns about US-centrism. I actually don’t believe that white Australians would be capable of “taking seriously” those concerns about US-centrism if they tried, and what I see here is nothing of the kind. Instead, what you have is a scramble to avoid addressing the actual political purpose of the term “women/people of colour,” which is to assert the common interest that the people so identified — people who have been colonised and subjected to racialised subordination by whites — have in overturning white supremacy.
The issues people have raised about US-centrism are blatant red herrings. It’s white people who have a problem with considering all people of colour the same, not poc. It’s quite clear to poc that we are very different from one another, and the adoption of a common moniker doesn’t threaten diversity or the recognition of marginalised differences. If it limits white peoples’ ability to appreciate difference, then that’s their own problem. (And it really does seem to be a problem, if you can go from “one Indigenous woman I know doesn’t like the term” to the obviously false “no Indigenous people use it” without being challenged for homogenising, in a discussion about how whites have such a hard time with not homogenising poc.)
Instead you have a bunch of rather disingenuous arguments about US dominance that have no sense of the international relationships between movements. It’s significant that a term which was coined and is used to assert solidarity amongst the racially subordinated is being challenged for homogenising and US-dominance. To me this looks like a massive derail; a self-justifying saviour complex that belies the overwhelming dominance of whites over all poc. No, I don’t need any white Aussie to save me from the slavering hordes of American poc so keen to assimilate me. In fact, I think it’s the white Aussies who might have a problem with the idea that we might have more in common with people from another continent than them, so it’s rather the other way ’round, I’m afraid.
Fire Fly’s last blog post..Stop the racism – Converge on Canberra