There’s something about the feeling of holding a book in your hands. It’s the reason I don’t have many electronic books. In fact, I only have three. The first e-book I got, was The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, partly because it was free and partly because it’s one of those ‘must have’ books in a Black person’s library. And yes, I own a hard copy.
The other two books were not ‘must haves’, but their electronic format provided a more convenient way for me work on their text. To reduce the labour I was going to expend on them, I rationalised the purchase of the e-books – it was cheaper and yes, I could always delete them. I’m not sure they are the books I’d proudly display anyway.
So here we find ourselves with three Black men on three different continents, articulating their stories. The day after the night before, I am drawn back to my iBooks library.
The day after the night before, when we were chastised by a variety of people on social media, including some of our sisters, for selling out for landing an exclusive interview with Trevor Noah, following the backlash he faced after a video surfaced of him online telling a joke for which Aboriginal women were the punchline. While I understand the grievances of Aboriginal women, there are others who were affronted because they actually believe that Aboriginal women ain’t shit and don’t deserve shit. Apparently he didn’t owe us anything.
The day after the night before, Black folk globally were tweeting at me, insisting that both Angelina Hurley and I (together we produce the radio show Wild Black Women, for which we interviewed Noah) were not Black enough, though Noah’s Blackness apparently remained unquestioned, despite the hue of his skin.
The only people whose opinions I care about on this topic are other Aboriginal women and not because of identity politics.
The only people whose opinions I care about on this topic are other Aboriginal women and not because of identity politics. It was the souls of Aboriginal women that were at the forefront of our minds in the preparation, during and the after our Trevor Noah interview went live, just as they are every other week on our show. Which brings me back to my iBooks.
I had to read Sam Thaiday’s book, which he wrote with James Colley about Sam Thaiday’s life story, for research purposes. Thaiday is a Black man and Torres Strait Islander who once ‘joked’ on national television that crushing on Halle Berry was his “jungle fever phase”, but that he has since seen the light and worked out that “if it ain’t white it ain’t right”. Less funny and more confusing is how a ‘Black’ man may think of an attraction to a Black woman as ‘jungle fever’. I digress.
I had to read the book to review it for our show. To do the work for the sisters so they didn’t have to. Every day Aboriginal women are required to do labour for our kids, our community, our men, and for everyone else. That is the expectation. Our presence signifies a role of servitude and every day we must do our best to minimise the burden of labour and its toll on our minds and our souls. The book isn’t a literary masterpiece and while he engages a comedy writer to help him narrate his story, it isn’t particularly funny. Nor is it particularly intended for Aboriginal women (you can find the full review here).
The final book on my virtual shelf is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I read it in the lead up to his Australian tour, during which he granted us the one-hour, exclusive interview before his first show.
I read the book to establish our approach to the interview and the more I read his story, the more I became convinced that he would understand the hurt caused by his ‘joke’. The contents of the first page and the title of the book indicated that may be the case and in every chapter of his book he assures the reader that he really is Black at heart, despite the lightness of his skin.
He talks about how he speaks almost every Black language in South Africa as well as English, how he hung out with the Coloured and Black folk (even though they were mean to him at times), how it made him uncomfortable being treated more nicely by relatives because his body allegedly brought him closer to whiteness.
I was feeling optimistic about the interview and his stand-up gig.
But he also tells of how he would insist on returning to his people, how he asked to be put in the lower level classes to hang with them and in his teens he even turns ‘hood’, which turns out is peak Blackness. So this led me to believe he was pro-Black, meaning he’s on our side, unlike Thaiday. The fact that the only interview he agreed to do here was one hour with two Wild Black Women seemed to be a testament to that. I was feeling optimistic about the interview and his stand-up gig.
But that was my mistake and I’ll own it. Sister Angelina wasn’t buying any of it on the plane going down on the way to the interview and the show. You see, I had conflated articulating one’s Blackness with wanting to be of service to Black people, Black causes, and Black souls globally. I was wrong.
The Bali jokes went on and on and soon enough we were back in Australia and he mentioned the Aborigines.
The first part of Noah’s set was about his arrival to so-called Australia (and not arrival in the colonial sense but more in the border security sense). And there were some funny moments. But then he detoured to his previous trip to Bali with some white people (well, that’s all I could decipher from the accents). And we know who the Bali jokes are aimed at and who’s going to get them. The Bali jokes went on and on and soon enough we were back in Australia and he mentioned the Aborigines. He talked about the anger the joke inspired and made another joke about people being angry (ultimately mocking that anger) and drawing more laughs.
This was after we had spent an hour with him for our interview, during which we weren’t actually angry in the way he was suggesting.
He went on to say that there were some people who’d seen him [in an Aussie accent] “say this nasty thing about Aboriginal women” and some people would come to the show because they think like him. “There’s probably a few of you here right now and I’m terribly sorry,” he said.
He literally said “sorry” to the possible racists in the audience that he’d disappointed and we got to witness it all from the deadly third row seats he’d gifted us.
He literally said “sorry” to the possible racists in the audience that he’d disappointed and we got to witness it all from the deadly third row seats he’d gifted us. The same Aboriginal women to whom he had insisted he would not offer an apology for the things he says in the name of comedy.
He then attempted a colonisation joke using the analogy of having a laptop stolen and getting killed over it. He tried. The crowd laughed…we didn’t.
He then moved on after someone randomly yelled out “Zimbabwe”. Obviously other Black folk were impatient and thought he’d done too much for the white audience already too. He responded by yelling out: “Any Zimbabweans in Melbourne?”.
He didn’t at any time acknowledge Aboriginal land or Aboriginal people in the crowd and simply proceeded to talk about Mugabe. Having exhausted so much of our energy this week, that day, we were done and we were tired. And we left mid-show.
Evidently, to quote Boori Monty Prior, Aboriginal people have long been “the wrong kind of Black” on our own lands.
We then watched the commentary around our forthcoming interview play out on Noah’s Instagram, which was full of Black folk insisting that we weren’t Black. Evidently, to quote Boori Monty Prior, Aboriginal people have long been “the wrong kind of Black” on our own lands.
Noah didn’t give us exactly what the sisters wanted per se, either in the interview or in his show. Yes, to his credit he turned up to face us and I hold no malice toward him. I am more troubled that perhaps we didn’t give the sisters what they had come to expect from Wild Black Women, because they are our people and they are our audience. I was left asking myself if we were we too generous to him. It is, after all, because of Aboriginal women that we are here, figuratively and literally, and it is the souls of Aboriginal women that we are here to attend to.
So I return to the one brother in my e-books who is speaking to the souls of Black folk, W.E.B. Du Bois.
“Then it dawned on me with a certain sadness that I was different from the others…shut out from their world by a vast veil,” he writes. “I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt and live above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination time or beat them at a foot-race or even beat their stringy heads.”
I live for the blue sky moments for Aboriginal women, not the laughter or applause of others – particularly not white folk – simply by virtue of the fact that few good things in this world are ever reserved for us.