At the moment there is a contingent of black people protesting the Commonwealth Games. For some people this may not make sense - it’s just a gathering of countries competing in athletics.
However it’s not just a competition. The Commonwealth Games originally began in 1930 as the British Empire Games; that is a sporting competition for countries that were colonised by the British. Many, including myself, see it is a celebration of colonial history and its legacy.
To expect black people to not protest is to pretend that we are happy with being colonised subjects. We never consented to invasion, we never ceded sovereignty, so when the empire is on our country, of course we’re going to take the opportunity to protest. It is a strategic move; the world media’s attention is fixed on the Games and it is a reminder that Indigenous peoples around the world exist, never consented and have not assimilated.
During this time, my social media feed has had two different kinds of engagement. The first is people with family or friends who performed in the Opening Ceremony and who have been a part of events; people who are proud to see their culture represented on a world stage.
The second are those who support the protesters, and even who are at the Games themselves doing protesting. These are people who are angry that we are part of the Commonwealth, a club we never consented to joining. On occasion, I have seen some of these people calling out those who participated in the Opening Ceremony. I have observed these two different groups clashing; the former are embarrassed by the protest, the latter are embarrassed by the performance.
Black people are often put in a tricky situation like this. On one hand these black athletes are taking part in the colonial display, but it is also their livelihood. It is an opportunity for them to exercise their talents, to make money; they are just going to work, and getting the job done in a time when Indigenous households make-up the country's bottom income quintile. And for the black viewer so deprived of black excellence, we tune in to support black athletes, and see ourselves represented, as well.
Looking back, black people and the Commonwealth Games have a fraught history. The 1934 games, for example, were meant to be held in Johannesburg but there were concerns about the treatment of black and Asian athletes under an apartheid South Africa, so it was moved to London instead. When Cathy Freeman won at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, she did a lap of honour with both the Australian and Aboriginal flag and was booed. For the many Indigenous athletes that are competing, I can’t help but imagine it is often a lonely world—Perhaps they too feel extreme discomfort in participating at the Games? Colonised players, particularly those in settler colonial societies are forced to where the colours of their colonisers— and they probably find comfort in knowing mob are watching and supporting.
While many Indigenous people would have preferred that no Indigenous people were involved in this years’ Commonwealth Games so as to not legitimise the colonial circus, on the other side of the colonial coin, a number white people were unhappy with the amount of Aboriginal representation. Both Alan Jones and Pauline Hanson thought that Aboriginal people were over represented in the Opening Ceremony. Hanson said it was “disgusting” while Jones said that much Aboriginality was, “not Australia.” Black people are put in an awkward position where they have to defend the representation of Aboriginality in the Opening Ceremony, while also critiquing our involvement in the entire games itself.
To perform or protest goes to the heart of a division that exists amongst any marginalised community; whether black, queer, feminist etc.
In our community, we see those who don’t find assimilation an issue. They’re fine, even pleased with, the dominant system and would just prefer to fit in with that. They are not concerned with resistance, and in some cases, they don’t agree with it. Then there are those who believe operating within systems is the perhaps the most effective way to make change. Using police and incarceration as an example; we have a side likely to believe prisons and police could be a bit nicer - kill a few less black people, and maybe have a few more black people in charge. There are others who do not want to participate or legitimise the system, and are more interested in decolonisation and radical shifts of power.
Ultimately, I believe our conditions as black people would not have improved if people didn’t protest. I also believe the colonisers whose wealth was amassed from our land, resources and labour should remember their obligation to us and remember that we still exist. All power to those protesting the Stolenwealth, I say.
Nayuka Gorrie is Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer living on Bundjalung country. She writes social commentary, satire and comedy for television. Follow Nayuka @NayukaGorrie.