14th February, 2017
There are some things in life you have to do. In my own life there are certain things I can’t get out of no matter how hard I try; showering or eating when I’m sad, rent, my family group chat, capitalism, staff meetings, living within earshot of the Nightcat’s Sunday night salsa nights, to name a few. There are some things however that are optional.
I started freelance writing last year. It was also accompanied by a few television appearances. Most of my writing centres on feminism, colonisation and self-determination. I write when I’m angry or sad or trying to understand the world. Sometimes I’ll write so that settlers understand their moral obligation to my people. I do this out of obligation to my people, not to the settler.
But often it is not seen this way. I was frequently the only black kid in the classroom. Whenever I was lucky enough to see my reflection in the curriculum I was expected to be both the pupil and the teacher. If there was any black content in the classroom, the class would turn to me expectantly. The teacher would ask, “is there anything you would like to add Nayuka?” Sometimes I would shrug, sometimes I would add something. I was the ‘teacher’ insofar as the actual teacher was unchallenged by the content. A troublemaker if I referred to invasion. A troublemaker if I made the settler teacher uncomfortable.
When I write something on the internet or am on the television I will get a flurry of tweets or messages from people. Some will be generally supportive. Some will be unsolicited advice. Some will be angry and will be an essay much longer than the original piece I wrote. Sometimes I will get linked to random conspiracy theories. Others (if I’m being honest, mostly white men) will demand answers from me, or some might ask me to answer questions for their essays (white women). They demand answers. Like I owe it to them.
But the oppressed do not owe the oppressor anything. I don’t owe white people anything. I don’t owe men anything. I don’t owe strangers anything. It is the luxury of the privileged to expect things, to feel entitled to things. Cis men often expect people to put out. White settlers expect black people to not remind them of invasion. Rich people expect poor people to get out of their way. Heterosexuals expect queers to not make them feel uncomfortable with their hot queer love. People in power expect everyone else to be grateful for scraps.
The other night I was out and a white man who vaguely knew of me came up and asked for a hug. I said no and there was a very awkward three seconds that followed. When you decide not to play into the dynamics society expects you to the response is interesting. It ranges from confusion to anger. The irony of this is that the scale of justice is skewed to the oppressed. It is our existence and our oppression that enables privilege. In January I was at a museum in Brussels. I was pretty depressed in general but there was a Congolese art exhibition from the late 19th – early 20th century that made me cry. There were photos from the Congo that reminded me of old mission photos. I realised although I had questioned and challenged white supremacy I still seek to make people comfortable; letting comments go, dressing different, speaking in my best white English. This year I pledge to stop doing the things that are not my job.
Nayuka is a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman. She works for Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network as a Project Manager and is a freelance writer.