I’d like to talk for a moment about writing and white privilege.
If we are born white, we inherit privilege. We might not be privileged in many other ways – e.g. economic or family circumstances – but we inherit a privilege that our white ancestors built into the system for us – a system that used other human beings as slaves and chattel in order to accumulate power, wealth and control. This is evidence-based fact, not an opinion. We can’t say ‘black lives matter’ without acknowledging white privilege.
This is confronting. For me it’s painful and shameful to think that I belong to a group of people who have killed and abused others, but this is the legacy of our white ancestry. How do we change it? By speaking out against what we see, in every way we can, because this privilege is sewn into the fabric of our lives, and runs through every thread of our days. This privilege is why we only hear about a 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal site here in Western Australia AFTER Rio Tinto have just blown it up. It’s why the family of David Dungay had raised only $30,000 on GoFundMe in the first two and a half years of fundraising, and have now raised almost half a million dollars – because prior to the last two weeks, not many of us were paying attention. I read the news every day, but I only learned about this (or we could also say that I only noticed this) A WEEK ago, even though David Dungay died in 2015. And I noticed because the protests, and the death of George Floyd, made me pay attention.
In 2016 I presented a paper as part of a university symposium in Shanghai on cultural diversity in dystopian fiction. In my research I found that when American researcher Megan Rutell statistically sampled 15 popular dystopian YA titles she found that representations of cultural diversity varied widely depending on whether the novel had a male or female protagonist – 67% to 13%. However, when she considered whether these characters were portrayed in a culturally significant way, the novels featuring male protagonists were reduced to 33% and those with female protagonists to 0%.
As a published writer, I’m in a very fortunate position, because my stories go out into the world. Therefore, I have a responsibility to think carefully about how I represent the world, and whether my unconscious prejudices and fear of ‘getting it wrong’ result in uplifting or denying the existence and experiences of people of colour. There is much work to do, both for me personally, and in the writing, publishing and reading community. Just as in the wider world, I hope we can urgently have the awkward, uncomfortable discussions, and listen, listen, listen … so we can learn, do better, and finally dismantle the systems and personal prejudices that perpetuate racial injustice.
As readers, here are some places we might start:
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, edited by Anita Heiss
Australia Day by Stan Grant
Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss
Taboo by Kim Scott
Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
Cathing Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
The Yield by Tara June Winch
I’d love to hear your recommendations.