April 15, 2019
You may have heard a collective triumphant cheer emanating from Indigenous people on Twitter the other night.
If you were unaware of the cause for this celebration, it was due to the rare occurrence of hearing unfiltered unedited Indigenous excellence aired in a public space, for the whole world to see.
This excellence came from a source many of us have to recognise as one of Australia’s leading voices on matters of race and racism in the colony.
We are of course talking about Dr Chelsea Bond.
Dr Bond was speaking as part of a La Trobe University event panel discussing the dubiously dubbed topic: Has racism in contemporary Australia entered the political mainstream?
Were anyone other than the good doctor on such a panel, we would have probably just put out a few tweets along the lines of “Are you fucking kidding me with a question like that? How can it have ‘entered’ when it never left?” and so on
Instead, we could just smile and sit back, knowing full well that this topic was in the safest of hands. This my friends was our chance to give the nod, pump our fists in the air and claim her because she is fire and the most unapologetic example of black excellence.
Opening up with an acknowledgement of the 170 or so academics who wrote an open letter to La Trobe to oppose the original idea for the panel, namely having Tim & Tom flog a dead horse in front of a live audience by debating the question “Is Australia a racist country?”, confirmed our suspicion that this would not be a talk that would allow any elephants hiding in the room to go unnoticed.
“The question is fundamentally flawed because it is premised on the idea that racism is an artefact of a bygone era and as something that is external to Australian political life. Australian history has more than a racial dimension. Race has been foundational to this country, it arrived on the ships in 1788….”
“In our continued presence, blackfullas are the uncomfortable truth that this nation must reconcile itself with. We are the most courageous when it comes to conversations about race having copped the full brunt of its violence but also because we have nothing else left to lose – literally.”
Although highlighting the hypocrisy of the panel itself, the question and the entire premise of the debate – Dr Bond refused to be considered the equity speaker.
She called out the organisers and the manner of how the speaker order was organised. She provided the rationale for her presence, despite being critical of the panel and organisers because, she states:
“I do so with a genuine hope of carving out more productive and critical conversations about race as an oppressive structure to enable strategising about how we might undermine it as it continues to bear down heavy on the lives of blackfullas in this country every single day.”
To the obvious discomfort of some of the other panelists, she stated “In my life time I have witnessed the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act on three separate occasions and each and every time it was only in relation to Aboriginal people and strangely enough, it was to do with land every time, not women and children, as they would have you believe.”
In calling out the speeches of the other panelists who for the most part focused on the individual elements of racism as opposed to the structural, Dr Bond said “Blackfullas have felt the full brunt of the violence of racism in all of its forms and we know too well that it is not aberrational but rather foundational.”
Dr Bond highlighted the claims made by the organisers of the forum when the forum was intended to be a debate between Tim Soutphommasane and Tom Switzer who they stated were “the two most important voices on this debate on racism.”
Calling out the hypocrisy of centering a white man on the discussion of racism in Australia and placing his as an authority on the topic, Dr Bond said, “I couldn’t find evidence of Tom’s scholarly work around race and racism except some opinion pieces that appear to diminish or downplay its existence.”
She also identified the hypocrisy of the other so called expert, Tim Soutphommasane, who “is the former race discrimination commissioner who has publicly claimed that the Northern Territory Emergency Response and later the Stronger Solutions Policy in the Northern Territory – although racist-y was okay because it was for a worthwhile cause and he too bought the line that it was about sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities.”
The mic drop moment in addressing the shortcomings of the former race discrimination commission was when Dr Bond said “and while it is pleasing to hear Tim taken a stronger position on matters pertaining to race now that he has left the post…” When she said that I just about bolted out of my seat because he has been held up as the poster boy of the good migrant minimising the race issues in this country and only calling our race issues in the individual and behavioural sense rather than the racism that is foundational, structural and embedded in the entire society that is Australia.
Dr Bond highlights the fact that when people extol the virtues of the Racial Discrimination Act, specifically that the former Race Discrimination Commissioner in stating that it gives Australians a means to hold racial discrimination to account but of course, this is simply not the case when it comes to Indigenous people as we well know and Dr Bond pinned them to the wall on this point with her brilliant dissection of the suspensions of the Racial Discrimination Act to make laws against Aboriginal people.
She says, “As a student of history and politics, I am sure Tom will tell you about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protection Act of 1984, the Native Title Amendment Act of 1988 and of course we know about the Norther Territory National Emergency Response of 2007, all of which required suspending that Racial Discrimination Act. So I don’t know why we are not telling the truth about the Racial Discrimination Act not actually holding racial discrimination to account, specifically for blackfullas in our land. From South Australia to the Torres Strait to the Northern Territory.”
She powerfully called out those who fail to have truthful and confronting conversations and said:
“In my being, I refuse to bear false witness to these lies. Racism deniers and model migrants, regardless of their academic track record will never advance a collective understanding of race in this country and nor will debates framed on false binaries about whether racism is real or situating the battleground between the left and the right side of politics.
Race has worked for the settlers regardless of which political party is in power. One might feel a little less racist-y, but it doesn’t mean it is.”
This is black excellence. This is a powerful black woman going into a space designed to place her into a tokenistic box and dominating. She was fire and intellectually outranked all that spoke before her because – as she said – blackfullas do not just speak from experience, we theorise and examine the origins of the power that oppresses us.
Thank you for representing in the most powerful way sis!
You should watch this fire from Dr Bond here.