Next week, you can pick up a copy of Women’s Honi, and the semester after, Queer Honi – there is no Honi autonomous to people of colour (POC). This is because in activist discourse, race and ethnicity are often absent. I was once told by a queer female to my brown, Muslim-heritage face that I’ve never faced oppression in my life. It wasn’t intentional, of course, it’s just that feminist and queer identity politics have always been stronger on this campus than anti-racism discourses.
There are a few reasons for this, and the reasons – although unfortunate – do suggest that strong activist groups, such as the Women’s Collective and Queer Action Collective, are needed, and that they do have an impact on campus life.
Feminism and queer liberation tend to be, empirically, more bourgeois than anti-racism. This is fairly standard across thriving activist groups throughout the country, including environmental and education activism. Race profoundly intersects with class; POC are far more likely to be from poorer suburbs and with a poorer background than white people. Race leads to geographical stratification, usually to Outer Sydney locations. There are ‘ethnic suburbs’ – there are no ‘female’ suburbs, and suburbs with a queer character tend to be more wealthy and/or closer to the CBD. Activist groups work due to the voluntary time of participants, something which lower-class people are less likely to have.
There are also very few affirmative action provisions for people of colour. There aren’t many – or any – clubs with ‘POC Officers’; there is no POC portfolio at the USU. The SRC may have an Ethnic Affairs Officer, but why then was I only one of two or three ethnic people in the council last year?
Perhaps, unlike feminist and queer groups, this is because there is no autonomous POC collective on campus. There is an Anti-Racism Collective, that does great political activism regarding refugees and Indigenous people, but is largely run by white people.
Autonomy is important due to the barriers that keep us from activism. Language barriers, for instance, create an inherent shyness. Cultural barriers often lead to situations where an action, event, or a discourse of a white dominated activist space can contradict with an ethnic participant’s world view. Politically, also, there is often a strand of apathy that runs through ethnic communities that just want to survive without disruption.
This isn’t to even begin on international students who need to work harder to pay higher fees, refugees with a precarious position in a racist society, and Indigenous people, of whom I could not even begin to understand the discrimination faced.
Autonomous groups allow these barriers to be mediated and resolved in a safe space of people with similar experiences and backgrounds, who, despite being from various ethnicities, collectively lack white privilege.
The solution is not for the privileged to speak for the oppressed, but to be allies in a movement that belongs to them. Activist groups should be more accessible to POC by promoting it as a discourse, as it is promoted on campuses in the UK or the US. But until that point, activism is still missing a distinct voice in its struggles.