Dear Trevor Noah,
I am a Yorta Yorta woman; an Australian Aboriginal woman.
I’d like to take the time to explain to you how inappropriate, but also how hurtful, your comments are to my sisters and me.
I’d also like to give you some context, as it was clearly lacking when prepared and delivered a particular comedy routine about Aboriginal women. This is especially important given that you are about to step foot on Aboriginal Country to leverage your career.
After all, this was and always will be Aboriginal Land.
The comments I’m referring to, say this:
"All women of every race can be beautiful.
“And I know some of you are sitting there now going, 'Oh Trevor... I've never seen a beautiful Aborigine.'
“But you know what you say? You say, 'Yet.'
“Because you haven't seen all of them, right?"
When I watched this clip where you make fun of Aboriginal women such as me, I was speechless and dumbfounded. And that doesn’t happen very often. I mean, I talk in my sleep —apparently, I’ve had a full on argument with someone who was wide awake.
What got to me the most, is the way you caught me off-guard. I would have imagined such sentiments coming from Donald Trump, rather than you.
Straight up, until I heard those comments, I was a massive fan — massive fan. I rolled out your YouTube clip from your routine on colonisation to anyone and everyone who would listen. I have always felt that your ability to take challenging and sensitive topics and educate people through humour was ingenious. You consistently demonstrate the ludicrous nature of the colonial attitude of white superiority. And people pay you for the pleasure.
Once I was able to articulate and form coherent thoughts, I wondered what your mother would think of you. I am sure that she, along with many other women in your life would be disappointed. Not to mention how you would feel if someone made comments about women who could be your mother, sister, aunty or friend. I am sure your mother and other women of colour in your life had to experience being the butt of a man’s joke because of their race and gender.
So, let me tell you about me. I am a PhD candidate, have a Masters of Public Health, I am an Aunty, a godmother, advocate for Aboriginal people, occasional journalist and a public health policy influencer and researcher. This is what I hope people talk about me for rather than how attractive I am or how good I am in bed.
Like many women though, I have been sexualised in the workplace, sexually harassed online, over the phone and in person and sexually assaulted for no other reason than a man wanted to feel my body.
I am sure that in light of the #MeToo movement you can see why your comments, which reduce women to sexual objects, do very little but continue to perpetuate a culture of sexual harassment and which assists in normalising sexual assault.
In addition to sexual harassment and assault majority of women face, Aboriginal women, like many other women of colour in colonised countries, have been and continue to be sexualised by white men.
For years, we were seen as the property of white men to be used and abused. We became the romantic other; something to enjoy, but not take home to your mother. The children who were products of these couplings were often denied. Aboriginal mothers were left to raise them if they were not forcibly removed as part of the Stolen Generations. The Stolen Generations a period lasting up until the 1970s where Aboriginal children, in particular, those of mixed heritage (more ‘white blood’ meant the child had a more likely chance of being ‘civilised’) were removed and placed in children’s homes, fostered or adopted out. It remains one the largest opened wounds in Australian history and society. So not only did so many of our women find themselves the plaything of white men, but they also bore, and experienced the loss, of their children created by those men.
Our women still bear the scars of this horrible legacy.
While there would be no good time for this comedic routine, the timing of it resurfacing is particularly unfortunate given this year’s theme for NAIDOC. NAIDOC, in case you don’t know, is a week every year which celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. “Because of Her, We Can” focused on the significant role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have and continue to play for our Peoples and wider Australia. There are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women throughout history and today who are leaders. Leaders in their family, community, at the state level or nationally. The value of our female leaders’ mouths, is that they speak on behalf and for the benefit of our people, not the sexually explicit function you portrayed.
While you suggest that even if a woman isn’t “beautiful”, that they can still be sexually gratifying to a man —I respond that Aboriginal women, like all women, exist beyond servicing men. Our value is more than just pretty faces and beautiful bodies. We are not a traditional Disney Princess-type character whose sole personality trait is beauty.
Beauty is, and always has been, in the eye of the beholder. However, beauty is not the primary function of women. Our bodies are not there to be used by men. We are and always have been many things including intelligent, funny, courageous, and generous. These are beautiful qualities, which make a person attractive.
Your comedy routine demonstrates why feminism is still needed. It is men speaking like you have which has made me realise I am a feminist. That I, as a privileged Aboriginal woman with the ability to speak out, must do so for those women who can not, and for those who are yet to be.
I can appreciate that your routine was filmed five years ago, and you may have reflected on these comments since. Regardless of when the comments were made, they have circulated the public space, and they needed to be challenged so that people understand that they should never have been said in the first place and should never be repeated.
I expect that all the media criticism, while warranted, has not been easy. So I extend an invitation when you arrive on Aboriginal Land. An invitation to sit and chat about Aboriginal women’s history. Our experiences.
Don’t be shame, I welcome an opportunity to yarn so we can both learn and heal from this experience.
An Aboriginal woman
Summer May Finlay
Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman, academic, writer and a public health consultant. Summer has worked in a number of different areas relating to Aboriginal health and social justice. Follow Summer @OnTopicAus