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Canberra Today 3°/5° | Friday, August 19, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

What if Brittany and Grace had been black?

Sisonke Msimang… “It is obvious that white women’s anger follows racialised lines, and that the media follows the stories journalists can relate to.”

Indigenous leader JULIE TONGS, an ‘increasingly angry black woman’, feels deserted by the sisterhood when it comes to issues around Aboriginal women and children.

SOUTH African writer, activist and political analyst Sisonke Msimang says there has been a lot of talk this year, of a reckoning, of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins as the faces of the future.

Winnunga CEO Julie Tongs.

“Some of these words have been hard to hear; not because I don’t wish them to be true, but because of how tone deaf they are,” the Perth-based activist wrote in a feature in “The Guardian” on March 6 titled “Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins are supremely admirable and the acceptable white faces of Australian feminism”.

“There is most definitely a reckoning, but it is one that does not include covering the stories of angry black women,” she writes. 

From long and increasingly bitter personal experience, I relate to and agree with everything she has said.

“There is no reckoning for Australian women if the media and the public aren’t able to listen and relate to the stories of Aboriginal women, women in hijab, women whose skin is far ‘too’ dark, and women who live on the wrong side of town, who can’t go to university and who will never report from parliament or file stories in newsrooms,” the article says. 

“While I have been full of admiration, each time Tame has earned the spotlight, I have imagined the response if I had behaved that way, or if any number of black and indigenous women in the public domain had dared to do the same.”

Msimang says that Tame has had her critics, but her actions sparked a national conversation that has been carried out with the kind of care she only wished was on hand when angry black women were in the spotlight.

“I am yet to see black women’s anger greeted with the same kind of public solidarity or sympathy,” she writes.

“And yet black women have been expressing anger for years as they address racist police and education systems, as they try to create opportunities for themselves and face the double burden of sexism and racism.

“It is obvious that white women’s anger follows racialised lines, and that the media follows the stories journalists can relate to. Angry white women herald a new frontier in feminism, while loud black women are considered rude and uncouth.”

Like I said, I agree with Sisonke Msimang and to illustrate my point, I will mention just two of the many issues that I, an increasingly angry black woman, have raised loudly, publicly and repeatedly over a number of years.

However, the depth of the silence with which my entreaties for the scandalous treatment of Aboriginal women and children in Canberra to be addressed can, in my opinion, be best explained by reference to the fact that these issues are being raised and agitated by a black woman on behalf of other black women and their children. Frankly, what other explanation can there be?

Despite the lengths I have gone to, I have not generated any meaningful response from the ACT government or more than a scintilla of interest, concern or serious response from local media including the ABC, the Canberra community or the sisterhood. 

Those two issues are the rates of incarceration of black women and the number of Aboriginal children subject to care and protection orders in Canberra, the national capital and alleged haven of progressivity. 

The latest data available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that the crude rate (total number of cases divided by the resident population for that cohort) of imprisonment of Aboriginal women in the ACT in 2019-2020 was 632.7 compared to a non-indigenous rate of 9.4. The ratio of Aboriginal to non-Aboriginal women incarcerated is, therefore 67.3 which is the highest in Australia and more than three times higher than the average ratio across all other Australian states and territories, which is 21.4. (ABS document “Prisoner numbers and Prisoner Rates by Indigenous Status and Sex, States and Territories, 2006-2020″).

I would be surprised if this is not the highest crude rate of imprisonment of indigenous women in the world. 

Similarly, the latest ROGS reports from the Productivity Commission reveal that, despite the hype and political grandstanding associated with the Our Booris examination of the ACT care and protection regime, the Our Booris recommendations remain to be implemented. 

Meanwhile, the rate at which Aboriginal children in Canberra are placed under care and protection orders is 89.8 per 1000 children compared to a rate of 6.9 per 1000 non-Aboriginal children. The rate at which Aboriginal children are placed under care and protection orders is increasing and is currently the third highest in Australia.

A final word from Sisonke Msimang: “Over the past year I have watched the exaltation of angry white women who have finally understood the limits of respectability. 

“I have watched as a narrative emerges of white women as fighters, as eloquent challengers of the status quo, as upholders of the feminist legacy with little or no reference to black women who have been doing this for years. As with many other issues, the racial double standard is stark.

“Higgins and Tame’s stories were well received for many reasons, but surely one of them is that for many journalists, Tame and Higgins are relatable.”

Sisonke Msimang’s full “Guardian” article can be read here.

Julie Tongs is the CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services. 

 

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