Dear reader, this text is published in the spirit of open-access as part of our new project entitled The Funambulist Correspondents. Every week for a bit over a year, we will publish a text written by one of our 28 commissioned correspondents in as many places of the world. The project is made possible through generous support from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
Solidarities and Co-Struggles: Resisting From and Against the Australian Settler Colony
What does it mean to fight for collective liberation as racialised non-Black minorities living in settler-colonial Australia? Can our communities divest from liberal multiculturalism and defend ourselves against the vicious onslaught from right wing politicians, mainstream media, and fascist ideologies? How do we fight, not as white allies and saviours, but as targeted communities in coalition?
These are questions that we find urgent yet difficult to answer, especially with their echoing relevance within first world western contexts: as we marked two years to the Christchurch mosque shooting where 51 Muslims, mostly of refugee background, were killed, last month the Atlanta attack took place where six out of eight people murdered were women of Chinese and Korean heritage. The similarities between both acts cannot be missed; murders all at the hands of white supremacist settler violence committed towards the fascist end of anti-Muslim, anti-Asian elimination.
We come to write this correspondence piece as friends who have studied and organised together since we first met at the 70th commemoration of Palestine Nakba Day in Naarm (Melbourne). We quickly saw in each other something steadfast – not just an admiration for each other’s individual values but also aligned commitments and practices in building anticolonial refusal and solidarity as our life’s work. In the experiences we’ve had through working together, we’ve developed critiques around frameworks of solidarity here that don’t work for us, as racialised settlers who are both non-Black and non-white, but also of having different trajectories in coming to so-called Australia.
We actually arrived to this continent around the same time in 2003 and 2004, and were living on separate sides of the city. Carol was born in Singapore with Chinese parents who had immigrated there in 1991 due to political conditions on the mainland as well as middle class economic aspirations towards western “modernity”. Tasnim also came here with her family after growing up in 1990s Auckland – where her parents decided to migrate to avoid the precariousness of Palestinian statelessness – and after spending two years of primary school in Jordan learning Arabic and Islam. Our exchanges have helped us realise a commonality in experiences we had upon arrival – with pressures to assimilate, respond to heightened white nationalism, and navigate being seen in racialised, stereotyped terms that we hadn’t encountered before. Even though this was a time marked by Hansonism and peak War on Terror Islamophobia, the racism in these Australian terms was foreign to us.
It’s also pretty cool how we had grown up in majority ethnic mixed working-middle class areas located in the outer suburbs of Naarm, which meant that both of us respectively became familiar with certain expressions of Chinenessness, Asianness / Muslimness and Arabness here (categories that are not to be conflated) through this immersion in and new belonging to localised cultural and political communities. This helped preserve a strong love and pride in non-white ways of being and doing that we take with us into our organising, despite imposed liberal expectations to strip us from any diasporic relations and identities.
We’ve been reflecting together on how to do inter-community political work in a way that divests from the secular liberal democratic frameworks of migrant advocacy. Frameworks that seek hate crime legislation, for example, or involve calls for governments to recognise our deprived “human rights” and threatened settler status as “citizens”. Through mainstream media platforms, we’ve seen both our communities represented in liberal reporting on hate crimes and in investments to name these attacks as racially motivated or as forms of terrorism. Yet the majority of these supposedly empowering media narratives are not constructed by our own grassroots self-determination efforts. This brand of anti-racism is often articulated in negative tropes of the abandoned international student, the exploited migrant hospitality worker, the oppressed Muslim woman, subjectified categories that disempower in our newfound visibility we are supposed to be grateful for.
Calling for hate crime legislation is a tired tactic that provides short term deterrence and on rare occasions, serves consequences to perpetrators via standard state disciplining of bodies. Such calls though, nevertheless materially enable the original perpetrator of anti-Asian, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee violence – the illegitimate Australian government – to expand oppressive state aparatuses. Focusing on the legislative to address anti-Asian and anti-Muslim racism reduces racism to the subjective, which distracts us from building infrastructures of community defence to challenge structually entrenched white supremacist ideology.
In the words of Christina Sharpe: “we are constituted through and by continued vulnerability to overwhelming force though not only known to ourselves and to each other by that force.” So our shared commitment to solidarity and co-struggle lies in our desire to know ourselves and each other, rather than through any desire for “positive” representational politics curated by colonial institutions that birthed the patronising exceptional, good migrant-bad migrant dichotomy. We want to come together in all our difference and also refuse nullifying allyship solidarity constructs that impose one homogenous “ally” identity upon us, effectively cutting us off from any rootedness.
We’ve met through our own journeys and ambition to open up space for moving towards what is marginal outside dominant political discourses on offer in our communities. A curiosity to see what else exists that can validate our alienation and solidify our belief in principled movement work drives us. Work that does not expect the settler state to address white supremacist violence, work that does not advance a multicultural settler bourgeois elite. Work that rejects a conditional acceptance through utterance of post Hansonism and 9/11 patriotism in the coerced identities of being Asian Australian, Australian Muslim, Arab Australian, Palestinian Australian, Chinese Australian.
We grew up conscious of the assumptions underlying such terms of national belonging reflected in a re-introduction of the abolished White Australia policy with the bipartisan implementation of illegal mandatory refugee detention and racist immigration citizenship tests. Today, we see that our work needs to involve a refusal to legitimate military, counter-terror, policing and carceral industrial complexes here and overseas, where Australian imperialism, after Edward Said, “lingers where it has always been”, as exemplified in the black sites of Nauru, Manus Island, and Christmas island, as places of Australian offshore detention/prison camps.
Confronting anti-Indigeneity and Afrophobia within settler discourses on multiculturalism that our non-Black communities continue to rely on since the Howard years has required us to be critical of the dominant politics involved in government and non-for-profit campaigns countering Islamophobia, Sinophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Asian racism. The racisms our people face are not separate forms of oppression yet communities tend to stand up against state violence in isolation, avoiding any discussion of Australian colonisation rooted in anti-Blackness within their discourse in order to bargain with the white political class they are hoping to lobby. Instead, we do believe that inter-ethnic migrant/non-white coalitional discourses are necessary as these oppressions cannot be fought through hyper-individualised career activism built around the cult of personality, or as single issue campaigns that whitewash settler colonisation through affirming Australia’s image of itself as progressive and benevolent.
For us, RISE Refugees, Survivors, and eX-detainees is one organisation that makes the complicities of multicultural settler politics most stark in its existence as a unique and unprecedented body that disengages from such mainstream activism. RISE was initiated in 2009 as an autonomous organisation entirely initiated and led by eX-detainees, and consisting of a membership that is exclusively refugees. The concept of refugee and eX-detainee self-determination is relatively new here, but RISE demonstrates their ability to do so without government funding and refusal of singular victimhood, through their prioritising of mutual aid, advocacy, and education for and by their communities, whilst also working in relation to and solidarity with local First Nations activists.
There’s great political possibility in migrant solidarity praxis involved in supporting RISE’s work, such as the Sanction Australia campaign, which calls on international human rights bodies to sanction Australia from participating in international refugee humanitarian decision making and human rights forums until The End of Mandatory Detention, The End of Refoulement and The End of Refugee Boat Turn back policies. Sanction Australia takes political lineage from both the South African anti-apartheid movement and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, and today demands the divestment from refugee security and detention appartuses by all Australian education and health institutions.
In the earlier stages of our friendship and political collaboration, we saw that possibility also lies in our respective groups’ organising of Indigenous solidarity contingents – another site that models migrant solidarity not only with First Nations but also within broader Asian, Muslim, and Jewish communities as well as with people at these intersections of identity – Muslim Asians and Jewish Asians. The purpose of working together as contingents at various Indigenous actions was to not only organise our communities in solidarity with Indigenous sovereignty but to also mark our specific presence in the movement space. We were seeking to look out for each other and other racialised folks going alone and to also find others who shared our political critiques and aspirations.
While the Asian contingent emerged through mentorship, consultation, and ongoing volunteer work with RISE, the Muslim contingent emerged out of a specific political moment. In January 2017 a group of Muslims including Tasnim came together to create a Facebook page to critique a multiculturalist ‘Happy Australia Day’ promotional billboard advert that was using two young Muslim girls wearing Blue and White headscarves and carrying the Australian colonial flag.
This billboard gained widespread attention because after right-wing groups mobilised against it, it was pulled down and leaders within the Muslim community decided to fundraise to reinstate it as a gesture of opposition and reclamation. The contingent was organised after laborious intervention from critical voices who wanted to break from the settler registers that both sides were speaking through and reinstate instead that the only billboard we want to see is Muslims Say No to Australia Day, given Indigenous sovereignty has never been ceded. The Muslim contingents became an annual gesture of solidarity that counters the state’s inclusion of migrants in its Australia Day proceedings and ceremonies.
From organising contingents, we began taking initiative with providing translation of Invasion Day information, postering, marshalling and other work in the lead-up to rallies. While we started with this work from a sense of responsibility as migrant settlers complicit in Australian colonisation, we also came as people who are invested in a co-struggle against oppression – rather than just articulating our participation through a self-objectifying white allyship politics that is there to help in physical presence and with material resources. While our actions may have been read in this way, it is important that we don’t allow for a misrepresentation of our own migrant communities as an untapped market for movement building, as there are many reasons why working class refugee and migrant folks can’t “show up” to contingents, let alone rallies.
So much organising activity tends to be centralised in the city or northern suburbs, while public transportation is expensive, heavily surveilled, and with constant delays. Neither can precarious, racialised workers afford to take time off work, or for others to have the able-bodied capacity required to take part in visible political mobilisation where there is a large cop presence due to trauma from war or authoritarian repression in their own homelands, local experiences with police raids and disaffection from seeing white voters constantly support right-wing policies that target them.
As a break from popularised online racial literacy that recycles US discourse on proximity to whiteness and measures of privilege, migrant solidarity here should be able to account for difficult realities that non-white communities face, in the different and recent conditions of our arrival to this continent, as well as our own fraught inter-ethnic relations that have both newly emerged through neocolonialism, and that which precedes western colonisation. One way to do so is through a self-definition of revolutionary politics in a way that is honest and open to the risk of experimentation. A politics that prioritises poor and working class migrant material needs, to then build political education and community defence with them, from the grassroots where it is valued – rather than top-down institutional and individualising formats of education such as panel discussions and lectures. We’re interested in making space for complexities beyond white-Indigenous relations in Australia that erase migrant displacement, dispossession and Indigeneity across African, Arab, Asian, and Oceanic working class cultures.
Then perhaps, we can truly re-imagine coalition and reciprocity here with each other, not as something that insists on dislocation from one’s being, continued hierarchical existence, “equality” in suffering or forced unity between us – despite unaddressed harm seen for example in Arab exploitation of Asian workers and Chinese genocide through Islamophobia. Rather, we are investing in fighting nationalistic right-wing ideology within our communities as a step towards nurturing a reciprocity that honours our shared histories of anticolonial, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperial resistance brought together as co-struggle with Indigenous peoples on their stolen lands. We cannot do this work alone, without seeing and knowing each Othered other, or by performing whiteness through assuming an ally identity.
When we move in this intentional way that encompasses the vastness of who we are, that does not require us to shrink our difference as is imposed upon us by multicultural liberalism, we honour our own lineages and agency as diasporic communities seeking to destroy white supremacist state machinery. As the Australian state continues its neo-colonising reach across the seas, we are finding ways to stand in co-struggle with revolutions for the People and Land everywhere else in the world.