Shut Up And Listen

A statement by the People of Colour Caucus at Queer* Collaborations 2017

This statement addressed Queer Collaborations 2017, held at the University of Wollongong, as a protest against racism. Specifically, it raises the voices and the anger queer* people of colour have against the racism they face in queer* communities. Unfortunately, Queer Collaborations is not the only queer* community that benefits from an ingrained racism and oppresses POC members of a queer* experience,  and as such this statement is being released to as many publications as possible to finally get our voices heard.

It is important to note that this statement was created by a group of gender diverse individuals, particularly lead by a queer* woman of colour, genderfluid and non-binary individuals.

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Hi to everyone here, we’re the people of colour caucus and we’re tired, of being marginalised, being ignored and being spoken over at the same time. This is something that happens year-in, year-out at QC, but not just that; it happens everywhere.

As we write this, we’re laughing, we’re joking, we’ve found humour in the midst of being suffocated by whiteness. But sorry, you’re not invited. It’s autonomous!

First off, we’d like to remind you that we don’t owe you an apology, an explanation, or our cooperation. By standing here today and saying this, we’re doing you a favour. We’re giving you the chance to be better allies. You’re welcome.

Whiteness is everywhere, and it’s overwhelming. But when you yourselves are white, you can’t see it and what it does. White people benefit from this privilege in every aspect of your lives, and that includes your queerness*. Just because you have faced oppression as a queer* person, it doesn’t mean that you no longer benefit from your whiteness.

There is a history of white supremacy everywhere, in broader Western-dominated societies and in queer* culture. People of colour have been bogged down by this trauma for decades, for centuries. In addition to the struggles we face within our communities for being queer* and within white culture for being people of colour, to be sidelined because of our race within queer* spaces is fucking exhausting.

Of course we’re angry. When marginalised people are angry, they protest, they shout, they demand change. The privileged don’t always like this, because to acknowledge that they have an edge over others by default, is to acknowledge that something needs to happen. And so, you call us aggressive, you say we’re not engaging in productive discourse. You ask us to be nicer.

Calling people of colour – and black people in particular – aggressive when we’re expressing the frustration and anger we have IS a way of shutting us down. You want us to talk about our oppression on your terms. You don’t want to be confronted, because there’s the urge to maintain the status quo: whiteness. You want people of colour to be palatable, agreeable, inoffensive. You want us to assimilate.

To the white people in the audience nodding along to what we’ve been saying, to whatever we’ve been fighting for, we see you. We see your canned responses to our anger, the reposts on Facebook, the “yaaas queen”s (which, by the way, is cultural appropriation). And we don’t need your half-assed solidarity.

What we need is – we’ve said this before, but apparently you didn’t listen, so we’ll say it again – for you to shut up and listen. That means acknowledging and confronting your whiteness in every single aspect of your lives, and recognising your privilege. It means knowing that if you’re out there on the streets fearing discrimination for being queer*, we’re fearing that and being told to go back where we came from. (Believe us, it still happens. Turns out racism isn’t over.) Oh, and remember, unless someone is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, they aren’t from here either.

Challenging your privilege is confronting, and pretty damn uncomfortable. It’s scary to know that everything you took for granted your whole life so far could break down. I mean, can you imagine not being given jobs, or being terrified of just walking home at night, just because of your race? What a concept!

These conversations aren’t easy to have, and discomfort is normal. Feeling this unsettlement can take a toll on your mental health, but we’re here to remind you that mental ill health is not an excuse to be an asshole. Your struggles are entirely valid, but there’s a difference between not having the energy or spoons to have a conversation on a given day, and shutting down a conversation in its entirety because “it messes with your mental health”. White fragility masked as mental ill health is racist and unproductive. You are still benefiting from your whiteness, and you still have an obligation to learn and unlearn.

On that note, has nobody considered that white supremacy may have fucked with our mental health too? I mean, you’d think that centuries of colonisation, oppression and abuse at the hands of white people would affect us in at least some way. And yet, we’re still here, we’re still queer* and we’re still fighting.

You expect us to march for marriage equality while having “no fats, no femmes, no Asians” on your Grindr profiles. You want us to stand behind – never with – you, while using our cultures and vernaculars as a costume. You think we’re here to conform to your presentations, your expressions, your conceptions of queerness*– which are bland and unseasoned. No thank you. But here’s the problem: we aren’t here for you.

The people of colour in your lives are some of the strongest people you will ever know. Every day, we wake up in the face of white supremacy and keep going. Queer Collaborations does not exist without people of colour. This movement, as well as many others, is built on the backs of people of colour. And you still haven’t stepped off.

We’re sorry that our existence and struggles inconvenience you. We’re sorry that you’re made uncomfortable by us calling you out. We’re sorry that we’re going to continue to make you uncomfortable for as long as it fucking takes. We’re sorry that white privilege has done so little for you. We’re sorry for trying to break down a system that isn’t made for us. We’re sorry, we’re sorry, we’re sorry.

Wait, actually, we’re not.

We know that a lot of people here are going to, by the end of today, forget all about what we’ve said and continue taking your privilege for granted. And maybe you’ll say, “But you haven’t told us how to be better white people?” If you really want us to spell it out for you: stop taking up our space. Start reading things people of colour write and let us speak for ourselves. Recognise that you will never understand our struggles, and know your place. Stand behind us and use your privilege to uplift our voices. Ask us what we want, and never assume that you know. Acknowledge that we never have to give you an answer, which you’re just going to have to deal with. And for once, don’t be racist, just be quiet.

Thank you for listening, we wish you no good fortune in the upcoming new year. This message has been brought to you by our Asian sister Scarlett Johansson.

***

This statement was followed by an act of protest. All POC that were present and standing in solidarity turned their backs to the almost entirely white audience to proclaim––

 “And finally, you’re behind us on this!”

 

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AQSN’s Recommendations to Queer Collectives

The Australian Queer Students Network’s POC/CALD* Officers make the following insistences to Queer Collectives:

  1. The Statement is to be read at the next Queer Collective meeting by a Person of Colour. If there is not a Person of Colour present, or the Person(s) do not feel comfortable reading the Statement, this may be delegated to the Chair to read.
  2. A soft copy of this Statement is shared on every Queer Collective Facebook page, and shared in every Queer Collective Facebook group.
  3. A hard copy of this Statement is provided in every Queer Space.
  4. Every Queer Collective asks for this Statement to be shared in relevant student medias (e.g. Student Newspapers, Student Magazines, Queer-specific Publications).

*(People of Colour/Culturally and Linguistically Diverse)