“I’m not racist”

June 22, 2011 § 10 Comments

I hear this line of defense so often when I challenge white people on racist behaviours. I had the privilege of listening to a recording in which Tracey Bunda, speaking on a panel “Women of the First Nation” that opened the Feminist Futures conference, broke down how it is that white people exercise privilege in saying these words.

How is feminism relevant to Aboriginal people’s lives? Whose purpose and for what purpose is being served when Aboriginal people come into this space? In crossing over into a feminist space what risks are hidden that we may have to come face to face with? And we usually do that alone as Aboriginal woman. And in raising this matter I think how permanent a fixture being raced, moving into racialised spaces and how race takes a very different shape to say, the time in which my mum grew up which was 1920’s and even the time in which I grew up in the 19 – I’m not telling you.. (laughter). But it’s still very insidious within Australian society and it takes a very different shape.

You know, it’s easy to look at somebody like, what’s-his-face, an Andrew Bolt, but it’s those very insidious forms of racism that have become very sophisticated, and they are framed within politically correct, ‘colour-blindness’, and it’s those sorts of racisms that Aboriginal people deal with, and non-Indigenous people deal with, and part of the privilege is to be able to say “No, I’m not racist”.

(later, during question time, in response to audience member asking Tracey to expand on ‘the privilege of being able to say “I’m not racist”’…)

When we challenge a person on their behaviour and that person responds back to us by saying “I’m not racist”, it’s an exercise of power to shut down the conversation. Right? Because, the person who is saying that, and it’s usually a white person, wants to hold, wants to be centred and dominate virtue. And so that behaviour of goodness is always then attributed to whiteness. And then in challenging white people by saying “That behaviour is racist. What you have just said is racist”, there’s this retreat to virtue and a retreat to goodness to dominate that particular space. And so, in dominating that space; “No, I’m not a racist”, what becomes unspoken is that “You’re not virtuous because you are not engaging in polite conversation with me. You’re actually wanting to disclaim my virtue. You’re bad”. And blackness is associated with bad.

– Tracey Bunda, a Ngugi Wakka Wakka woman and Associate Professor of the Yunggorendi Centre at Flinders University, speaking on panel “Women of the First Nation” which opened the Feminist Futures conference that was held end of May in Melbourne. Notated with her permission.


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