Inclusivity isn't enough.
Updated: Sep 11
Inclusivity isn't enough.
After attending several music industry events and festivals in the last few months I've noticed a continuing thread in each event and common conversation with other Blak artists.
In this internet age there seems to be a collective movement towards understanding, truth telling and actions progressing towards decolonialism. But what I'm witnessing is a lot of these actions are limited to the internet and social capital with no real life experience. It's the black square phenomenon yet again. People, whether representing themselves or corporations they work for, are building their social capital by relying on appearances and in my opinion an extension of black-cladding. Appearing to be inclusive and progressive while simultaneously upholding the colonial systems they claim to be progressing from, personally and publicly.
One of the ways this manifests in the arts industry is mainstream Blak artists being sprinkled in amongst a predominantly beige lineup. While these Blak artists deservedly take up that space, those they are generally booked for commercial gigs because they are palatable to white audiences and some also push a corporate agenda. Materialism, love/heartbreak, celebrity culture etc. They aren't going to promote Blak artists who speak about taking care of their families, Blak love, taking care of Country or abolition and deaths in custody. Some event organizers have even appropriated Blak slang and motifs.
Inclusivity is the bare minimum. It's the bare minimum expected of music festival owners/organizers. Inclusivity isn't enough. It isn't enough when I enter a festival held on my own ancestral lands and I'm met with disrespect from staff backstage, disrespect towards my young family members being asked by white male staff "you don't look Aboriginal, what percentage Aboriginal are you?". It isn't enough when the only reason I accepted the gig was because it was supposed to give me "exposure" but ended up giving me zero promotion via their social media platforms. Most importantly and frustratingly, it isn't enough when I witness the continued desecration of Country that my family and my ancestors have taken care of since time immemorial and the complete oblivion to it all by punters and festival organizers. If any "inclusive" staff actually understood or cared about Indigenous peoples connection to Country, they'd know that being in that festival, literally made us sick. There are those kinds of people who work in the arts industry that do work in and with rural Indigenous communities, showing respect and honour while they are on those lands. Yet that respect and honour (again the bare minimum) is completely gone when they work on lands that have been urbanised, particularly on the east coast. They think that because they’ve gone and got a skin name that that somehow gives them permission to return to the east coast and treat traditional custodians here with disrespect and entitlement. There is a cognitive dissonance and that in itself is a conversation for another time however it does play a role in this continuing thread.
If you've attended a large music festivals, you would know that these environments create a state of mind where civility is basically optional. Punters behave like someone living in medieval england or characters from Mad Max. Diving face first into sewerage contaminated mud. I’d guess at least a couple hundred punters went home with serious injuries. Most went home broke. Yes I can appreciate events that brings us together in music and dance, performing artists have an opportunity to share their talent and art but when it comes at the detriment of Country how can we even sing and dance? How dare we?
If you have no connection to the area you may not know that the so-called North Byron Parklands is home to nearly 30 threatened species. It is the only wildlife corridor between the coast and ancient remnant rainforest at Wollumbin. It is also encroaching on a sacred site. Event organizers have known this, locals have known this and have been protesting alongside Bundjalung people against the raising of festival capacities at this site. Festival and arts event producers are responsible for the safety and protection of Country, especially when holding events in non-urbanised areas. They must be accountable for damage caused to Country. It is their responsibility to promote and enact environmentally safe and sustainable practices when running events. Realise that we are hosting you on our lands and regard traditional custodians, including those booked to perform, with the utmost respect and hospitality.
The elders of Blak artistry on this continent didn’t work their asses off, put themselves into physically unsafe spaces, perform in segregated venues and to crowds with overt racists, be fetishised and exoticized by settlers, for us to be living in this age of technology and still be regarded as less than. Still tuning into mainstream music and hear the same 10 songs from white male acts from the 80’s. When you take into account the daily experience of Blak people and the lack of respect for arts and artists in general on this continent, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Yes we will continue to create and share our art and our culture through art, there wouldn’t be any flavour in the music scene if we didn’t, but we are tired.
This year has been an eye opener for everyone. I pray we can learn from this. To protect Country.
What we need non-Indigenous peoples to realise is that it is in your best interest to listen to the custodians of the lands you walk on. It is in your best interest that you assimilate to our societal structures, that you are guided by us. Guided by our leaders that have not and do not adopt colonial ways of thinking, being and doing. I am merely one Blak woman speaking up about this publicly and this is not a rare occurrence. I will be pouring my time, energy and creativity into supporting local festivals and events.
It’s not up to us as Indigenous peoples to clean up the mess of colonization. This work is not just up to us, it’s up to all of us.
Do the work. Do better.