Some notes on lateral violence

11 Sep

On Tuesday 9 September 2014 I facilitated a discussion for people of color on lateral violence, as part of a workshop series organised by the Women of Colour Collective at University of Melbourne.  

It was a fairly organic discussion where people brought up a lot of different issues. I won’t recap what anyone shared but some of the broad topics we discussed included:

– different understandings of what lateral violence is
behaviours that make up lateral violence, what does it mean to say “within a community”, who is your community?
– what causes lateral violence
eg internalised colonialism and racism, scarcity of resources and power for a community (or belief that there is a scarcity), racist institutions and media coverage implicitly trying to divide and conquer as well as explicitly pit POC against each other, lack of compassion for different experiences
– lateral violence can involve or intersect with power differentials – whether it’s things like community leadership positions, employment, political control, class, regionalism, misogyny, ableism, transphobia and queerphobia, and more
– internalised racism also replicates hierarchies of colour, culture, class, language, regionalism, who is more ‘backward’, who is more ‘authentic’, who is seen as more representative, accusations of assimilation and complicity, identity policing – there are multiple hierarchies and they play out differently in each community – multiracial “people of colour” spaces also understand belonging differently again
– is it possible then to distinguish when something is horizontal or hierarchical? does this make a difference for how communities respond?
– can we distinguish racism between poc communities from racism between people who are part of the one community, again is this necessary or useful?
– we can become accustomed to a binary lens of oppressor/oppressed – learning how to talk about harm and oppression in other ways is another skill

– ‘lateral violence’ can also be a term that’s used to minimise and brush off important conflicts between people of colour
– the term can be appropriated to shut down discussions
– political and intellectual disagreements between people of colour are seen as “bickering” and “in-fighting” and a reason to deny rights and power while the same disagreements between white voices are seen as “public discourse” and “national debate”
– interpersonal conflicts can be complex to navigate and worthy of being taken seriously
– we silence ourselves in preparation for how disputes will be seen by white people
– when talking among ourselves we might feel we should be able to address racism without always referring to white people – but whiteness is never absent either, even in our relationships with each other

– what are some strategies for dealing with lateral violence?
– refusing derailment and being pitted against each other – take issue with institutions and behaviours not individuals
– sometimes helpful to speak privately to avoid conflict being appropriated – other times it’s important to respond as a group and community, not individualised and isolated
– focusing on personal trust and love can help, so can considering wider political context
– responses should consider duty of care, compassion and kindness
– respect that we have can different experiences without delegitimising each other for them
– in Mick Gooda’s speech (see below) he talks about drawing from culture as a source of strength, identity and confidence in response to lateral violence
– in multicultural and multiracial “people of colour” spaces with no shared culture, can people build solidarity based on political commitment – but be aware political commitment can also be used in lateral violence to attack each other for not being radical enough
– our ways of responding to and resolving conflicts may not look like the methods we see in white-dominated culture – different interpersonal dynamics and responsibilities

A couple of texts:

Mick Gooda focused on lateral violence in his 2011 Social Justice Report as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

He is discussing lateral violence specifically in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and partly in relation to Native Title processes but I think some of the strategies will be relevant to other communities too. There are also lots of other resources in the references.

Andrea Smith talks about the problem of using the idea of “privilege” and confessing privileges, she looks at the example of working together as women of colour within Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and trying to ensure they considered specific issues like settler colonialism, disability or anti-Black racism but in terms of collectively transforming their understanding and practice.

For anyone interested on the topic, Richard Frankland runs workshops on lateral violence and cultural safety, his website says “Cultural Safety is a workshop primarily designed for the Australian Indigenous population but can be adapted to fit other ethnic groups as required”. More info here:


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