Is chron­i­cling Indigenous de­spair the only way we can get on tele­vi­sion?

The Guardian Australia - - News - Chelsea Bond for Indige­nousX

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 show upon 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:

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:

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.

Dr Chelsea Bond is a Mu­nan­jali and South Sea Is­lan­der woman, aca­demic and board mem­ber of Inala Wan­garra Indigenous com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion

Guardian Aus­tralia is proud to part­ner with Indige­nousX to show­case the di­ver­sity of Indigenous peo­ples and opin­ions from around the coun­try.

‘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.’ Pho­to­graph: Indige­nousX

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