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Dr Chelsea Bond is a Munanjali and South Sea Islander woman, senior lecturer at the University of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, founding board member of Inala Wangarra Indigenous community development organisation and a proud resident of Inala – an outer western suburb of Brisbane featured on season two of SBS’s Struggle Street.
This week the second series of Struggle Street airs on Australian television bringing our neighbourhood of Inala into the national spotlight. According to the promo, season two of Struggle Street tells us “what happens when your luck runs out”. As a blackfulla living in Inala, I guess we must be some of the most unluckiest people on earth.
While I don’t question the intentions of those involved in the production of Struggle Street, or the genuine struggles and strengths of the individuals featured this season, I remain unconvinced of the transformative promise of the showupon its viewers. It is entertainment. And as a blackfulla, I am tired of entertaining white people by showcasing our despair.
I’m not worried about the risk of our neighbourhood being “stigmatised” because it already is. The concern I hold is more complex than good or bad stereotypes of materially poor neighbourhoods. What I struggle with is the national appetite for Indigenous despair which I argue serves a more sinister purpose than “for your viewing pleasure”. And yes of course the show features non-Indigenous people too, but I have to wonder whether this is the only way blackfullas can get ourselves on television. I worry too that it becomes the only story we are permitted to tell of ourselves.
As a board member of an Indigenous community controlled organisation, I am conscious of the necessity of despair in securing funding to provide critical services to our community. Each grant application requires us to demonstrate the needs of our community, not our strengths. I can’t help but be troubled by the utility of despair, politically and psychologically for us as blackfullas.
If our recent history tells us anything, it is that chronicling our despair – no matter how thoroughly – just isn’t emancipatory. We have had our fair share of national inquiries, royal commissions, and ABC Lateline specials to teach us that. Each time we open up our wounds for public consumption, even when those wounds are not self-inflicted, they are seen as evidence of our incapabilities. These wounds become yet another testament to the incommensurability of our culture with the “modern” world, offering the necessary moral imperative for sustaining white control over our lands, lives, children, alcohol consumption and unemployment benefits, to name just a few.
Indigenous despair is not a matter of good fortune or bad; it is an enabling apparatus to the colonial project, cleverly disguised behind an agenda of benevolence and good intentions. You don’t have to scratch the surface too deep to see that under the promise of Close the Gap and the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, Indigenous peoples have little to no control over our own affairs; in fact, we are hard-pressed even getting funding through Indigenous affairs. In the aftermath of the abolition of Atsic (an Indigenous elected representative body) at the turn of this century and the birth of a “new paternalism”, it appears white control over black affairs is intensifying.
The recent treatment of the Referendum Council was particularly telling. Despite devising a modest proposal from an extensive national consultation process, the Council’s proposal of a Voice to parliament in the Uluru Statement was dismissed as “radical” by the prime minister.
In his media release, Turnbull states with no sense of irony:
We have listened to the arguments put forward by proponents of the Voice, and both understand and recognise the desire for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to have a greater say in their own affairs … People who ask for a voice feel voiceless or feel like they’re not being heard. We remain committed to finding effective ways to develop stronger local voices and empowerment of local people.
The federal government listened, acknowledged and then ignored the wishes of Indigenous people to have a say in our own affairs – which remains a fundamental right articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of which Australia adopted in 2009. Yet despite the outcry from Indigenous Australia at the dismissal of the Uluru Statement, most Australians have simply moved on.
Which is much like Struggle Street. People will gasp for a moment at the injustice, but they too will move on. And the everyday brutality of colonisation will continue to impinge upon the lives of blackfullas in this country. You see, for blackfullas the struggle is both everyday and everywhere; one need not bring a camera crew to our suburb of Inala to see it. Just keep the cameras rolling in Indigenous affairs.
Sadly, our despair only makes for good television, and exposing it was never meant to result in transformative emancipatory policy solutions. It serves to maintain the status quo.
Blackfullas in my neighbourhood have long talked about the brutality of being black in Inala and the need to mitigate its effects so that tragedy and despair don’t become our only way of knowing ourselves. Several years ago, in their song “Inala’s still the same”, rap group Indigenous Intrudaz sang:
Brutality is a cold reality
gradually tragedy changes your mentality,
profanity becomes a part of your personality,
the strategy is not to lose your only bit of sanity …
Like Intrudaz, I agree, “Inala’s still the same”. It is the same as every Indigenous community across the country in its experience of the brutality of colonisation. It has nothing to do with luck.
Inala’s still the same, and so too is the struggle, because the colonisers have never stopped colonising.
This article was first published by Guardian Australia on 28 November as part of their ongoing partnership with IndigenousX
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