• Nakkiah Lui, the winner of the 2019 Patrick Wright Playwright Fellowship. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
We're surviving but why aren't we thriving? Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander actor, writer and playwright Nakkiah Lui contributes to our #StoriesOfSurvival series.
Nakkiah Lui

25 Jan 2016 - 4:02 PM  UPDATED 25 Jan 2016 - 6:09 PM

A Question of Survival

I personally don’t think survival is a feat. I grew up going to Survival Day marches as a child, but I don’t think ‘survival’ is something we should necessarily be proud of. What we should be proud of is our fight. Survival is a basic human instinct. When we talk about survival, you can’t help but think ‘surviving what?’ I wonder if celebrating survival is taking over from the question of what we’re surviving. To me, that’s about fight.

Interrogating the Term

It’s not just a choice of words, it’s a choice of thought. It's about interrogating why we do things. Unless we’re interrogating ourselves and pulling apart why we do things and why we act on them, then our actions don’t change. You always hear people say ‘actions speak louder than words’ – well not really. If we aren’t constantly interrogating words, concepts and ideas, it can become rather tokenistic. Then what we’re actually saying is let’s resign ourselves. In Australia, the tokenistic things - they don’t help.

If tokenism helped, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wouldn’t be where we are today.

From my mother to my grandmother, to my great grandmother and great great grandmother – yes, they survived. But that’s only because someone was trying to destroy them. That’s why I think it’s about a fight. Interrogating the concept and interrogating our language is for me, the only way to make sure our actions change.

What’s At Stake?

The first way to turn the conversation back onto the perpetrator, so to speak, is to stop internalising our own oppression. We so often talk about racism, but I think racism doesn’t exist; it’s white supremacy that’s the issue. We have to put the onus back on white Australia, in terms of the treatment of non-Aboriginal people and that includes non-Indigenous people, whether or not they’re of white descent. We’re a wonderfully diverse, multicultural country, but in so many ways, there are issues with racial supremacy and I think that’s about an internalisation of whiteness. On one hand, we are a country, we are a community and we do live together. I think on a very personal level, there’s a lot of cohesion. But on another level, you need to have fringe ideas, and they need to cease being fringe. Where we do call it Invasion Day, where we are focussing on white supremacy, on our history of violence. Those conversations are so uncomfortable to have because it’s about making whiteness visible. It’s not allowing whiteness to be the norm that we don’t focus on. Because at the moment, whiteness is just default. That’s my issue with ‘survival’.

The term assists whiteness in becoming invisible.

Our autonomy, our history and our future is at stake. Yes, we’re surviving, but our life expectancy is so low compared to non-Indigenous people. Diabetes is a chronic illness. In my community, the scars from having bypass surgery are called the ‘initiation marks’. Most of my family are in jail. We make up such a huge percent of the jail population. I regularly see blackfullas being harassed by the police. So these conversations are about our very existence. We’re surviving. But, how? Why are things not changing? For me, it’s not matter of celebrating surviving, it’s a question of ‘why aren’t we thriving?’

We want to hear what ‘survival’ means to you! Whether it’s about strength in adversity, commemoration and mourning, or hope for the future, hashtag #StoriesOfSurvival across any social media channel, and your photos, yarns and comments will appear on our Survival Day feed, on NITV’s homepage.