Black Life, Black Solidarity, and Late Stage Settler Colonialism

3 Apr 2024

Life – Black life – does not stop once the article is written and the words are published.

Black Life, Black Solidarity and late Stage Settler Colonialism

Life – Black life – does not stop once the article is written and the words are published.

I wrote the first of what was intended to be a series of five articles for IndigenousX in August last year. Black Grief and the Elimination of the Native traced the ways grief and trauma continue to be all too prevalent within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. I explored how this grief becomes compounded through too many and too frequent deaths; how trauma is further compounded by the oft-tragic circumstances surrounding each passing. 

On social media, I could see my article found traction with many readers who were impacted by the emotions that sit at the core of settler colonialism’s violence. I also saw racists were quick and eager to whinge and evade responsibility for the ongoing agenda of genocide which furthers the Australian state, at the expense of us natives. 

Interestingly, those who I wrote of in my article, with loved ones who passed too early, who knew intimately what it was to grieve through the multiple layers, did not respond purely to the emotive nature of the article. When I sent follow up messages and emails to those whose stories I voiced, checking in and sharing the final words I had written, they responded in ways that can only come from that intimate understanding; to have this much grief and trauma in their lives – in this colony – is a uniquely Black experience. As I wrote in Black Grief and the Elimination of the Native

Beyond the dispassionate nature of data and numbers, are real people. Families and communities repeatedly traumatised by these insidious forms of violence, the cruelty of a modern settler-colonial state that seeks to eliminate the native. Deceptive in nature, this kind of violence is no less brutal than other forms of coloniality, of physical violence.

When you contrast the sombre responses from those whose stories I shared in my article, with the more emotive responses from other Black voices in online comments, the reality of living Black under settler colonial violence is revealed. Grief becomes multiplied, layered across not only loss but the trauma of preventable disease and illness, of stoppable deaths, neglect and racism at the hands of the settler colonial state, and of the collective resonance felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the disregard for Black bodies and Black lives, across 236 years of colony. This stark reality, once lived, is one in which the emotive ebbs and flows with each fresh trauma, until only a stoic gravity remains that this, this version of Black life, should not be the norm but is, unfortunately, to be endured.

Writing this latest article has been a struggle. This fresh batch of words have only come to me now, over seven months since my first article. In that time there have been numerous funerals, a serious stroke in my family that ruptured my world, and the everyday hustle of working full time and caring for loved ones all at once. Life – Black life – has continued to hammer me across the intervening months, when I should have been writing four more articles. What does this version of Black life entail? Is it having to pick yourself up again, and again, and again, after each and every passing? Is it acknowledging those in our communities who have lost the resilience to keep going, seeking to hold them and cherish them as they succumb to grief and loss? What is the everyday lived reality from within a country that seeks our elimination? 

In contemplating grief, resilience and the strong black woman stereotype, Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba and Barapa Barapa community organiser and campaigner Apryl Day recently wrote:

Conversations with friends and family as of late are centred around burnout and an overwhelming sense of struggle within our community, not only as individuals but a collective grief we feel for our community across the nation. Within the past six months, we have witnessed more than 30 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people die at the hands of police and prison. We have our people experiencing Sorry Business, community obligation, racism and discrimination, and historical decisions around our self-determination and human rights all at the same time. These are multiple layers and moments in time that are truly exhausting—moments that require us to be present and vulnerable but nonetheless force us into strength and resilience.

Like Apryl, I too am aware it is not only me who has been battered across the past half a year. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, collectively, we have been forced to cope with continued deaths and Sorry Business, a notable number of them results of carceral state violence. We have also had to cope with a referendum that saw such a rise in widespread racist discourse and abuse, it led to an increase in calls to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander crisis hotline 13 YARN, and the visceral resonance and recognition felt among many Blackfellas as Israel began its current and ongoing campaign of violence against Palestinians. 

Over two years ago I wrote with Palestinian Muslim organiser, Tasnim Sammak, about the connection and solidarity between Blackfellas here in so-called Australia, and Palestinian people. In Black Australia to Palestine: solidarity in decolonial struggle we outlined: 

In Palestine, the violent dehumanising of Palestinian people is similar in ideological underpinning to Australia’s early colonial frontier, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were dehumanised based on race and treated brutally. Such dehumanising of a People based on race (or ethnicity or religion) is undertaken with intent to ensure the “elimination of the native” and with the express purpose of propagating non-Indigenous claims to sovereignty, internationally endorsed nation-states, and false notions of benevolent or benign societies.

Arguments against First Peoples’ solidarity with Palestinian people are easily refuted when viewed through a framework of anti-racism and settler colonial theory, where colonisation is viewed as an ongoing structure that seeks to eliminate the native, not merely a singular event situated in the past. The racist underpinnings and objective of elimination are made visible in the past violence and government policies of both Australia and Israel. And so, the current violence in Gaza, ongoing for the past five months, has given rise to deeper considerations about the connection between Blackfellas and Palestinians. It is not only in the past that colonial violence exists within Australia and Israel – it is in the current physical brutality of Israel’s assault on Gaza, just as it is in the sly violence of Australia’s contemporary state systems and institutions.

When the most recent spate of violence in Palestine began in October of last year, I found myself reflecting on the violence, its disproportionateness as an alleged response to Hamas, the seeming readiness and ease of its coordination, and its broader implications. A Libyan-Australian friend, Fattimah Imtoual, reminded me that at this moment we are witnessing the very act of colonisation in contemporary times, a genocide right before our very eyes. Of course, now, five months later, this seems exceedingly apparent to many, but at the time it reminded me of how often we view colonisation as a phenomenon consigned to the annals of history, when Europe sent its boats out to the rest of the world to conquer and settle new lands through acts of violent conflict and massacre. 

For many years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been calling attention to the ongoing impacts of colonisation within Australia’s contemporary policy failures and its policing, prison, housing, health and education systems and institutions. We have attempted to make visible for others what has always been plain for us to see. That it is not just the ongoing impacts of colonisation that are present – in contemporary Australian society, the Black experience is to live with the everyday, often covert, violence of settler colonialism.

In thinking through the relationship between settler colonialism in Israel and Australia, I have sought to term what is happening here in Australia as ‘late stage settler colonialism’ (noting that others such as Yorta Yorta and Gunai woman Holly Charles seek to use similar terminology, e.g. ‘end stage settler colonialism’, in their soon to be published research); akin but separate to the ideas that the term ‘late capitalism’ infers about modern global societies. If what is happening in Gaza now is the brutality of the early or mid stages of settler colonialism, then what we are witness to in Australia is the same thread of colonial genocide, evolved over 236 years to become sly in nature and less visible to those outside the bounds of its violence. 

There are so many threads connecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here and Palestinian people overseas. The theft of land, the moving in of settlers to replace the people who already live there, the acts of genocide, the establishment of a state that violently unfolds its own authority and self-appointed sovereignty over the top of who and what already exists. In contemporary Australia the evidence of late stage settler colonialism is found in the high rates of Aboriginal deaths in custody, suicides, prison rates, and early preventable deaths due to ill health. It is also found in the low rates and levels of education and employment – all statistics of deficit blamed on Blackfellas rather than on the racist and violent systems that continue to perpetuate our genocide. 

In Palestine, the objective of entrenching settler colonialism is found in the racist rhetoric against Arabs and the Islamophobic discourse around Muslims. It is visible in the displacement of people from their homes and lands, and in the acts of genocide that seek to eliminate a whole people, their history and their culture.

Importantly, late stage settler colonialism is also found in Australia’s entrenched agenda of racism. It can be seen in the racism that characterises Aboriginal people as violent criminals, which is the same as the racism that characterises Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as violent terrorists. These characterisations are ones which we are witness to in everyday life, often discounting them as low stakes, as non-violent. But in the genocide of Palestinians – in the continued ongoing colonisation of Aboriginal lands – we can see the way in which these racist characterisations lead to a dehumanisation that allows people to look away when state violence is enacted. This racism allows people to look at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, often young Aboriginal people and children, who are subject to violence and death at the hands of Australian police and say ‘but if they hadn’t been doing wrong in the first place, then they wouldn’t be in that situation’, blaming them for their own deaths. This racism allows people to look at what is happening in Gaza right now and say ‘but the Palestinians are the aggressors, they are the violent ones, they are all terrorists’. This racism is also the same dehumanisation we have seen, and continue to see, in antisemitism, that led to the Holocaust and which people may wrongly seize upon now as they manage their responses to what is unfolding in Gaza, or as they sink deeper into far-right ideology.

As I finish off my words to this article, I want to be clear it is not only grief and trauma that characterises the Black experience. Us Blackfellas, we are the survivors of settler colonialism. We have survived attempted genocide, and we continue to survive through late stage settler colonialism. As survivors, we now stand in solidarity with Palestinian people.

As Apryl Day has written, we can experience Black life as simultaneously the grief and trauma of living within colonial violence, and the strengthening beauty of Black joy: 

Black Joy is our sovereign right. It is a form of resistance against ongoing systemic oppression and racism. It’s paying homage to our old people who have paved the way for us, and it is respecting their wishes to see us thrive and be unapologetically us. It is healing, love, happiness and calmness. It’s embodying and respecting our cultural rights and needs and respecting our right to rest and maintain boundaries.

In the words of legendary band No Fixed Address, we have survived.

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