On belonging and home.

12 Mar

Often I feel guilty and apologetic that a lot of the people of colour stuff I do isn’t “real activism”. And there are a lot of social and political changes I’d like to see, and that I’d like to do more work on. Issues around labour and poverty, the criminal justice system, and refugee and immigration law in particular do seem more desperate, devastating and urgent to me than the kind of cultural problems I spend more time investigating, even if the latter might underpin the former.

That said, sometimes I feel kind of bashful when I talk about things like being asked “where do you come from?” like it’s not really important, it’s relatively benign, all non-Indigenous people are from somewhere else, having time to harp on about that sort of thing is based in the privilege of being free from more violent ways of being racialised. But being made to feel unwanted in your only home is a big deal. Having your knowledge of yourself denied and disputed is a big deal. I’m still only at the beginning of unravelling the psychological toll of these “microaggressions” and its impact on who I’ve become. I don’t want to trivialise these experiences any more. The emotional is real, and real politics deals with emotions.

And these experiences have hugely informed my political participation. When I was 17 I did a refugee solidarity action with a friend. When I was 18 I organised a small climate change rally. Both times I was asked by strangers, “what’s China’s policy on refugees?”, “why aren’t you doing something about coal in China” &c. This happens to me regularly at protests. I moved to Australia when I was four years old and I’ve been a citizen since primary school. I have full and equal civic rights, so the “macro” politics of law and government aren’t the issue for me in this instance. It’s cultural and psychological aggression that tells me I shouldn’t participate in the political life of the country in which I live, where I grew up and went to school, where most of my friends and family are, where I hold citizenship and vote and work and pay taxes, of which I understand the most history and politics, by which I am most affected, in which I am most invested. Liberal advocates for refugee and immigrant rights like to talk about the “contributions” refugees and immigrants have made to this country but white Australia only wants immigrants to contribute convenient labour that doesn’t displace white labour, we’re not supposed to be part of directing or defining the future of the country.

So I’m crying on aeroplanes, again. And when people ask where I’m going, I swallow the complications and tell them I’m going home.


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