Review: It’s Our Country

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Wantharra. Yurra Ngay ngani yinii manathi.

Hello. What are you afraid of?  Harold Ludwick.

It’s Our Country is a collection of essays from Indigenous writers about the proposed referendum to change the Australian Constitution and the way our Indigenous peoples are placed within it.

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Anything is ambitious for the Australian polity given the current era of non reform. Megan Davis.

So here’s a bit of basic groundwork  if you aren’t sure why this should be a thing:

Australia’s constitution was bedded down by a bunch of white guys in 1901. Section 25 of the constitution allows for an entire race of people to be banned from voting. Section 51(xxvi), now referred to as the Race power, was initially included in order to keep some control of the unskilled migrant workforce at the time. This section has had its powers expanded in recent years in order to refer to Indigenous peoples. Section 127 (struck down in the 1967 referrendum) forbid that the Indigenous peoples be used to calculate the country’s population.

Ergo, there are some massive issues within our constitution, aimed directly at the Indigenous peoples.

The 1967 referrendum brought about some positive changes for the Indigenous peoples, but there is a long way to go. Especially when you consider:

a) the Mabo ruling found against the British idea of terra nullius, but made no comment about ‘settlement’. This is still a festering wound in the country’s psyche.

b) The existence of the Race power in the constitution overrules the Racial Discrimination Act, meaning that the government can decide to put racist laws in place (the NT Intervention being the most recent of these. And we’ve seen very recently some of the awful backlash of this action.)

Meaningful constitutional recognition and reform can only be achieved if all Australians understand the value of it. Josephine Bourne.

This collection of essays is important and timely. Is another referendum the answer? At this point probably not. It’s very hard to get any constitutional change passed by referendum in this country. Especially when there is no clear cut view as to the way this very important question should be tackled and what question should be posed.

Merely asking for some vague reference in the constitution is intellectually shallow and politically short sighted. Michael Mansell.

Most authors call for other steps as well as a change to the constitution, such as provisions similar to those that have been put in place for the Indigenous peoples in New Zealand and Canada. All are wary of charging forth into the territory of recognition rather than taking the time and developing the genuine constitutional reform needed.

Indigenous Australians have now waited for 228 years for our Godgiven and constitutional rights. Noel Pearson.

There is a lot of work that needs doing to improve the relations between white Australia and our Indigenous peoples. Even without constitutional change, this collection of essays contain workable solutions and suggestions that can start right now. Of course, one of the biggest challenges is that, with out Indigenous people representing about 3% of the population, we also need support  Australia wide for these things to happen.

I really enjoyed this collection of essays and the wide range of ideas and opinions therein. I just hope someone in government is paying attention.

5 out of 5 acknowledgements to the Turrbal people, the Gubbi Gubbi people and the Wakka Wakka people, traditional custodians of this land, of elders past and present, from where I write.


 

Righteous Anger: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jessica Valenti

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I’m a latecomer to the Overdrive party (here’s to free audio books that you can borrow and not have to buy!! How very civilised!) So the joys of Overdrive and the pressure of ‘borrowed’ books means that I knocked over Between the World and Me and Sex Object in the one day. And I was struck by just how similar in nature these two books are.

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Both are about the author’s need to live in a world where their body means they are treated in a particular way by (white, male) society.  Certain assumptions are made about who they are and how they are expected to behave given certain physical characteristics. Assumptions are also made about how they should react to a world that treats them as a sub-class.

One of these authors is receiving praise, while the other is receiving a stream of hate filled vitriol on social media.

Between the World and Me is a beautifully written essay addressed by Coates to his son, talking about his life experience as a black American male. The impact of being a black male in a society that accepts that black men are second class citizens and inherently dangerous. How this affected his home life, including the fear of his parents for his wellbeing and future.  What this has meant for him growing up, becoming educated, working and with the continuous threat of an early death hanging over him. I’m a stoic reader, but I had tears in my eyes a number of times listening to the fear and sorrow in this man’s story. The average Goodreads rating for this book at the moment is 4.39 (over 57,000 ratings).

Valenti’s story is a very different beast. Sex Object is a raw and angry treatise on what it was like to grow up as a girl in a society that both hates girls and wants to possess them. And then hates them even more if they happen to engage in sex. Valenti’s experiences are awful -from the abuse suffered by the matrilineal line of her family to the perverts she encountered in public as a young teen, to her string of arsehole boyfriends, and her own observations of her dissociated behaviour.

To me, this book is clearly a memoir of a young woman’s decent into anxiety and  mental illness due to strings of abuses which society writes off as ‘normal’. Because women are supposed to take this behaviour from men and, if not thrive , at least not be scarred. Being flashed is normal. The threat of being grabbed and abducted is normal. The threat of rape is normal. Being cat-called is normal. Being humiliated in public for the way you look is normal. Being expected to humour boys and men is normal. And reacting negatively to any of these behaviours can result in your injury or death.

Both Valenti and Coates talk about the ability of white men to take the lives of their victims with impunity. If only the victim had done “the right thing” there would not have been a problem.

The thing that bemuses me most are the reactions to Valenti’s book – the average  Goodreads rating is 3.79 (1200 reviews) with comments along the lines of ‘I’m not sure what her point is, so she saw some dicks on the subway’. (At 12, Valenti got off the subway to discover some filthy animal had ejaculated on her during her commute. Plus the other exposed dicks.)

One of Goodreads reviewer criticises Valenti for her hostility, but not being hostile or traumatised enough to not participate with her fans or attend book signings. (Excuse me?? The woman has to be too traumatised to make a living for her suffering to be valid?)

Sex Object makes me angry and also brought tears to my eyes for a very different reason to Between the World and Me. There is so much truth in it, and to me it seems that a number of reactions criticising it for it’s lack of scholarly direction are wilfully ignorant. This is the story of an abuse survivor – except her abusers are the general public, men who go home to their wives and families, but see no issue with harassing underage girls on the subway or on the street, or in the classroom. Valenti ends the book by reading a stream of comments on her articles and tweets. Trolls are the underbelly of the internet community – cowards who hide behind their keyboards. There should be a legal option to find and prosecute animals who threaten to do harm to anyone via this medium.

Both of these books are looking at the sub-category of what it means to be human. Of who is deserving of justice and a voice  and who is not.

Please read them.

Without You, There Is No Us: Revisiting Suki Kim

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I’m a pretty big Book Riot fan – I mean what’s not to love. The staff and writers are passionate about books and reading and I love their philosophy of encouraging wider reading throughout the book loving community.

I’m also pretty interested in stuff coming out of North Korea. North Korea is such a restricted, sealed off part of the world, we really have no idea what’s happening there with the exception of the state of the current Kim Jong’s hair do.

I’ve been unwell this week and took the opportunity to catch up on my favourite podcasts, and something I heard Amanda and Rebecca talking about in episode 164 left me absolutely cold and angry.

In 2014, Without You, There Is No Us was published, detailing Kim’s time spent as an undercover journalist working as an English teacher at a school for the sons of the regime. The book was published and marketed as a memoir. It should not have been – Kim is an investigative journalist. Kim feels that if she had written the same book as a white male, this would not be the rabbit hole she would have fallen down.

I read Without You, There Is No Us last year, not long after having come across Kim’s TED Talk. It was interesting and offered a view of what was going on inside the regime from a perspective not given by the “defector lit” that seems to be most of what we, the public, know of what’s going on in North Korea at the moment.

One of the things that bothered me about the book was the ‘sub-plot’ (if you like) about Kim’s ‘lover’  and her difficulty keeping her relationship together whilst in one of the most cut off places in the planet. This struck me at the time as a tad juvenile, but the writing of these sections were so  underdeveloped and under described compared to the rest of the book, it was almost as though it didn’t belong there.

Now I can’t help but wonder if perhaps, in fact,  it didn’t belong there- if this was something edited in to help sell the book as a memoir (‘honey, you need a love interest’) rather than what was actually going on for her. It would certainly explain the jarring sensation those sections gave me.

This also leads me to ask – what else was edited out? I was  a little perturbed by the book seeming to hold not as many insights as were hinted to in Kim’s TED Talk. I initially assumed this was a writing problem, but perhaps this too was an editing issue. I would love to see what edits were made to Kim’s work to see if there was indeed, as she claims, an effort to make it into a Korean Eat, Pray, Love. (You can read the interview here.)

Let’s make no mistake – Kim’s achievement it huge. She infiltrated, investigated, escaped and reported on one of the most repressive and dangerous regimes in the world at the moment.  This has been trivialised by her publisher – the organisation that should be going out of its way for her –  because of her gender and her race, and how that makes them view her as a marketable commodity.

Remember that all Hunter S Thompson had to do to be labelled an amazing journalist was hang with a bunch of bikies and take a heap of drugs. How would a woman in that situation be labelled and/or marketed?