Name: Yarramun Conole
Tumblr: On Being a Blackfella
1) How long have you been running your blog, and who is engaging with it?
I started my blog probably two years ago now. I intended it to be a space where I would educate non-Indigenous people on Indigenous issues, cultures and languages, but it has since evolved into a space where I can connect with other Indigenous people and talk about stuff that is important to us and currently happening in our community.
"The emotional labour that I had to put into constantly educating non-Indigenous people really began to take its toll."
The emotional labour that I had to put into constantly educating non-Indigenous people really began to take its toll, so I think that’s why Black Australia has evolved into a safe space solely for our people to communicate and be unapologetically Black and proud.
"Black Australia has evolved into a safe space solely for our people to communicate and be unapologetically Black and proud."
There’s so many people who engage with the blog. The majority is of course Blackfellas, but there’s also heaps of support that comes in from blogs overseas that have a similar theme.
I see the blog as mostly engaging with Black people, whether they be Blackfellas or Black people from around the world. Also I engage with lots of non-Black people of colour too. And I think that’s really cool.
There’s a lot of solidarity going on. I love it.
2) Why is no cultural appropriation of Aboriginal cultures important to you?
It’s important to me because so much of my culture has been taken away from me and my family.
My language is pretty much extinct, and what’s left of my culture and language is next to nothing, so it’s very hard to piece it all together and preserve it for future generations. It’s hard to feel proud and have a sense of belonging when you don’t know all of your language and culture.
"Much of my culture has been taken away from me and my family."
When we as Aboriginal people are here with so much of our history and cultural knowledge stolen from and denied to us, I see it is as a pretty big insult for non-Indigenous people to appropriate parts of our cultures that still exist and use it for their own personal gain or as an accessory. When you remove something from its cultural context, you remove its history and significance.
"I see it is as a pretty big insult for non-Indigenous people to appropriate parts of our cultures that still exist and use it for their own personal gain or as an accessory."
Cultural appropriation very much trivialises the violent oppression our people went through and continue to experience. It also makes our cultures “cool”, “unique” and “exotic” for non-Indigenous people, but when we take pride in our culture, we’re too much. We’re seen as holding onto the past. We’re seen as dirty. We’re seen as primitive. They love our culture, but they don’t love us. But ultimately it lets privileged people, in this case white people, profit off our cultures and labour.
Cultural appropriation is very homogenising too, it’s what happens when something is removed from it’s cultural context. We don’t hear the stories along with it, we don’t hear from the people who’s culture that thing belongs to. Cultural appropriation is very damaging and is an act of violent colonialism at it’s most extreme. It creates stereotypes which reduce marginalised people down to certain parts of their culture.
"We don’t hear the stories along with it, we don’t hear from the people who’s culture that thing belongs to."
Often times with cultural appropriation and racist stereotypes, Indigenous peoples are reduced down to our face paint for ceremonies, we are reduced down to the way we pronounce English words, we are reduced down to didgeridoos, we are reduced down to being the lovable tribal savages, we are reduced down to the homelessness and substance abuse and alcohol addiction that exists within our communities - as though that’s all that we are and all that we’ll ever be. And of course this is not at all OK.
We are more than that. We are a proud people with a history who have survived genocide. We are a people who continue to fight for our rights and justice. Indigenous sovereignty has never been ceded. We are strong people and who respect the land and who will always care for it and our community.
3) How did the 'Walkabout' name and the party organiser's responses affect you?
As soon as I became aware of the event’s name, I thought “oh no, here we go again with non-Indigenous people stealing culture”.
It made me really angry because going on walkabout isn’t something that my family and my people do anymore. So why did these people think they have any right to claim a connection to country when they’re non-Indigenous?
My family lost that part of our culture in the early 1900s. So, whilst they stole my culture and whilst they ripped off Indigenous spirituality and connection to country, I’m still left without my culture. I’m really tired of non-Indigenous people disrespecting my culture, my history and my people. And I guess after I first criticised the event and called the organisers out publicly, that was as much as I could do.
"My family lost that part of our culture in the early 1900s. So, whilst they stole my culture and whilst they ripped off Indigenous spirituality and connection to country, I’m still left without my culture."
Myself and many other Aboriginal women were silenced and mocked, simply for speaking up and not letting racism slip. We were labelled as the 'angry Black Women', which is totally inappropriate and really dehumanising.. So there was definitely some misogyny and anti-Blackness intersecting there as well. And considering the racism that soon began to litter the event page, I really didn't feel safe, and up to trying to reason with people who don't respect my humanity.
"Myself and many other Aboriginal women were silenced and mocked, simply for speaking up and not letting racism slip."
The emotional labour involved in fighting oppression and fighting for justice is really intense. This kind of thing is such a common occurrence that I have learned to know when to stop, when to pick my fights and how to take care of myself when it happens.
4) What did you think about the 'Walkabout' party organiser changing the name?
I really think it was some serious back peddling on their part. I don’t think they did it because they didn’t want to offend people. I think they did it because they were more concerned about being called a racist then they were about actually being racist.
5) The party organiser company (Choo Crew) said in an official statement that it wishes to learn from our Indigenous community about how it should engage with the Indigenous community to avoid offending in the future. What do you think is the best way forward to ensure that non-Indigenous people learn what is cultural appropriation and stop doing so?
I think the best way to ensure that non-indigenous people learn what cultural appropriation is and how and why they should stop doing it is to simply listen to us.
For years and years, ever since invasion, we’ve had people speaking on our behalf, speaking over us, silencing our voices. We have always had to endure paternalistic and patronising government policies that have never actually taken into account our needs or opinions. We’ve never really had anyone sit down and listen to us. I say no more.
To have people listen to us for once would be really refreshing and is a small step forward.
"To have people listen to us for once would be really refreshing and is a small step forward."
Listen to Indigenous peoples when we tell you something is racist. Listen to us when when we speak about Black deaths in custody, about forced child removals.
"Being a good ally is about listening."
Listen when we speak about the extreme poverty that some of our mob live in. Listen when we are speaking about history, about this country’s history that is nothing short of genocide and pain. Being a good ally is about listening. Being non-racist is a never-ending journey.
You’ll never get to a point in your life where you can declare yourself not racist. You’ll always be unlearning racist attitudes, stereotypes and you’ll always be unlearning oppressive behaviours.
"You’ll always be unlearning racist attitudes, stereotypes and you’ll always be unlearning oppressive behaviours."
They key to doing the right thing though is simply just listening. That’s all we want. We want non-Indigenous people to listen to us and to see our humanity. To value our lives, our cultures, stories and history. Just listen.