Pass the Mic

Dr Marcus Woolombi Waters, Gamilaraay

Decolonisation is about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; “it is not a metaphor for other things”. We cannot let theorists suggest its use by grassroots Aboriginal movements restricts its true meaning, and that its use outside of academic frameworks is problematic. Academics, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous who articulate the challenges of solidarity across power and difference to “metaphor” are not only divisive, they are creating a deadly precedent. Make no mistake, such thinking only continues to maintain neo-colonialism in establishing one group as more powerful, and our mob as different in deficit, and weaker. They are only maintaining the binary of Black and White, Indigenous and non-Indigenous politics. We cannot allow such theorists to complicate the argument of decolonisation to the point that it becomes lost in translation. Remember that to many, the university is seen as more than just a place of learning—it is seen as truth, achievement, trustworthiness, objectivity and normality…but for whom?

For a Blackfella to make sense of the privilege offered in university settings, we are forced to share common narratives within the privileged binary of non-Indigenous peoples. It is a process that requires mob to adopt non-Indigenous assumptions, ideologies and values, in becoming ‘legitimate’. This creates personal agency that benefits the individual, but can distance them from the culture and the community they represent. Decolonisation is in maintaining our values over and above that of the university, the public service or even the community organisation we work for. This is not nearly as simple as it sounds. Those who prioritise their community can quickly become excluded or rendered uncomfortable—such alienation is an act of neo-colonialism. Therefore, many of our scholars, public servants and community workers are forced to choose between the needs of their community and their wants as an individual, who through education or employment possess a position of privilege. Both individual and collective identities are then shaped by multiple and competing discourses over long periods of time. There is no older living epistemology than that of the Australian Aboriginal and yet in the university context, the public service and even our community organisations, our people remain contained in a deficit model. Again, this is evidence of neo-colonialism in action, and decolonisation is in not accepting such deficit and/or in negotiating a pathway that recognises Aboriginal knowledges, ceremony and cultures as running parallel, equal or even superior to that of the privileged culture that denies our true potential.

Aboriginal storytelling as decolonisation has the capacity to unmask and disrupt the identity of failure that privileged institutions has labelled our identity. As Aboriginal storytellers we must first disrupt and then remove the false constructions of our life story enacted by hegemonic “white” educational institutions and non-Indigenous authorship. In healing the transformative possibilities within Indigenous scholarship we must move beyond the qualitative research method framed by anthropologists for which ethnographic studies was born. I personally have introduced in my writing a methodology I call autobiographical ethnicity which originates from traditional forms of Aboriginal ceremony and storytelling, where deeper meaning is given to the Aboriginal experience rather than purely observational “data” written as a form of ethnography that still prioritises the needs of the university. Autobiographical ethnicity provides greater accessibility to the Aboriginal writer in “telling our stories and maintaining [her/his] story our way”.

Decolonisation disrupts and radicalises the ‘myth’ of post-colonialism perpetrated within production houses of learning, whether universities or classrooms across the world. What we are seeing is a strategic division of black races around the world preventing unity and solidarity within the labelling of ‘Indigenous’. It also allows non-Indigenous white academics the binary relationship of authority and status established over white and Aboriginal peoples as the “coloniser” and the “colonised”. The trap of such a binary relationship of hierarchy is that once taken on it becomes difficult to reverse, and only serves to reinforce the power relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. What is needed is to critique such a statement in knowledge of the culture(s) from which Aboriginal knowledge is derived. Only then can one provide an informed response, which cannot come from a non-Indigenous interviewer, writer or editor in any capacity. Aboriginal storytelling has been around tens of thousands of years—far longer than Western culture. Aboriginal writing, storytelling, pedagogy within all its forms of knowledge production needs to be seen as standing equal, parallel, and as an alternative to Western knowledge production, not as a subsection or as an elective within a humanities or sociology degree, or as a form of contemporary literature.

In my embracing decolonisation, my inherent epistemology is clear and my identity is never questioned. I am/remain Kamilaroi, my Yanguru (Moiety as genetic memory) is ancient and my Yarudhagaa (Totem as genealogy) is/remains Kubbaanjhaan (Lineage/Kinship) connecting me to my Burruguu-ngayi-li (Dreaming) as defined through Gawuban Gunigal (the waterways valleys and songlines throughout Australia). There is nothing a non-Indigenous scholar can contribute towards Indigenous knowledge production in Australia, Aboriginal literature, critical race theory and or whiteness studies. Instead, they should just get out of the way, pass over the pen, laptop and whatever else, and allow us to write, speak and represent ourselves. Once a non-Indigenous scholar makes any statement regards Indigeneity, the text is no longer uniquely Aboriginal and any definition of what they constitute as an “Indigenous voice” will always be tainted through institutional bias that favours their position.

And to those Aboriginal writers who collaborate with non-Indigenous scholars in enabling them to appropriate our intellectual property—unless you have demonstrated support for our resistance, together with an established critique of our oppression and you have made an active contribution towards our healing in regards to the cause and effect of transgenerational trauma of our people, then do not make suggestions, or cite statistics to those who do. Publications and the extraordinary numbers of non-Indigenous academics who build entire careers built on the cultural appropriation and stealing of our intellectual property is nothing more than neo-colonialism in academic practice, and it has to stop. George Lipsitz’s 2006 publication, ‘The possessive investment in whiteness: How white people profit from identity politics’ goes beyond Indigenous writing and makes the same claim also for people of colour. Lipsitz takes us back to James Baldwin when he stated that “there is no place for white people anymore citing Black, writing in any capacity”:

Blacks are often confronted in American life, with such devastating examples of the white descent from dignity; devastating not only because of the enormity of white pretensions, but because this swift and graceless descent would seem to indicate that white people have no principles whatever… (Baldwin, 1963)

All rights of the white scholar in contributing towards Aboriginal issues were forsaken after 500yrs of colonisation, slavery and theft. This is where white privilege comes from and for all those who cry reverse racism while still enjoying their ill-gotten gains on stolen Aboriginal lands, their comforts and accumulated wealth, I say this:

Your privilege was gained over the blood sweat and tears of the oppressed. When that privilege now comes under scrutiny, whites who want to continue to hide their guilt by now contributing to our voice have no place in our emergence from the hell your people created. Internationally, we are still being shot in the streets by white police, and here in Australia we continue to die in custody, live in third world conditions and even children as young as 10 years old are taking their own lives. I have no time to argue or debate with those who refuse to admit to the truth or set us free…or those who hide by accusing our people of the very hate you created.

As Aboriginal people, we have had to fight for every acknowledgement we have received in breaking down the hegemony of power relations embedded within Western institutions—white people have given us nothing. As an initiated ceremonial Kamilaroi language speaker and writer I remain vehemently opposed to the requirement that the marginalised should adopt the assumptions, ideologies, values and indeed the culture of the privileged as a way of becoming ‘legitimate’.

When will non-Indigenous scholars realise that the very concept in attempting to shape or understand something as timeless and connected as our Aboriginality is not only demeaning, it maintains colonialism and it is racist. Simply accept that we are unique, and your role here is to simply accept you do not understand everything there is to know—and at times you are better served by simply listening.


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