• Black Panther Woman, Marlene Cummins. Photo by Alina Gozin'a. (Photo by Alina Gozin'a)Source: Photo by Alina Gozin'a
Community comes together to oppose racial discrimination after Aboriginal activist, musician and media identity is racially abused while busking outside a Newtown bookshop.
Mikele Syron

5 Sep 2020 - 11:54 PM  UPDATED 8 Sep 2020 - 4:49 PM

The social media community has rallied together in a show of support for Aboriginal Blues icon, activist and Elder, Marlene Cummins, after she was racially abused outside a popular bookstore in Sydney's inner-west in July.

The racial abuse occurred while Ms Cummins was busking with her saxophone outside of Newtown's ‘Better Read Than Dead’, a store that promotes a progressive image of inclusion.

The racist encounter was witnessed by several of the book store's staff as well as members of the general public, but nobody came to the Elder’s assistance.

“The lack of action from the staff was a contradiction of what the bookshop was supposed to represent," Ms Cummins recently told NITV News.

"Even when they apologised, I told them an apology is an action word.” 

In a video posted to social media, the renowned Blues artist, who has a celebrated history as an activist involved with the 1972 Aboriginal Tent Embassy and the Australian Black Panther Party, questioned staff at the bookshop as to why they failed to offer her assistance during the incident.

Ms Cummins said she was emotional and disappointed after the encounter because it was not the first time that the store's staff had witnessed and ignored racism directed at her while busking in front of the venue. 

“The staff in the store had never acknowledged me, but their customers came out and gave me praise," she said.

"I’m an elderly woman and not once was I offered a cup of tea or a drink of water.” 

The incident has since brought the local community together on social media, with calls for the bookstore to take action for the lack of intervention during the incident.

The manager of the bookstore, who requested to be known only as John, said the business recognised staff members did not adequately address the racial abuse experienced by Ms Cummins and failed to intervene.

However, he said the matter had motivated the organisation and its staff to seek education around how to be better allies to the Indigenous community going forward.

“I’ve spoken to Aunty a number of times since the incident and I feel like it has strengthened the relationship, we have also done a number of things internally to address our shortcomings and to ensure that we would respond differently should another incident occur,” he said.

John also said that the store has made an agreement with Ms Cummins to sell her art as a direct way of supporting her in the wake of the incident. 

While most of the broader community offered their support and understanding, others had taken to social media to criticise Ms Cummins for her response, labelling her “aggressive” and insisting that she should not have “attacked” the bookstore's staff. 

Ms Cummins insisted that she was hurt and upset at the time, and did not attack members of staff.

“It’s the typical response from white Australia, there is a huge problem with denial rather than addressing racism,” said Ms Cummins.

“I never get racial abuse from Indigenous people, it’s always white people, mostly white men …  They ridicule and make fun of vulnerable and marginalised people.”

Ms Cummins said that her encounter with racial abuse was the very discrimination she has devoted years of her life protesting against.

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