Each month we celebrate an Australian debut in the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club. For October we’re thrilled to focus on Ruby Hamad’s book, White Tears/Brown Scars, out now with MUP.
White Tears/Brown Scars blows open the inconvenient truth that when it comes to race, white entitlement is too often masked by victimhood. What happens when racism and sexism collide? Our First Book Club Host, Ellen Cregan, asked Ruby a few questions about the book’s origins and her writing process.
Our theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’.
Read Ellen Cregan’s review of White Tears/Brown Scars in our October Books Roundup.
Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!
Meaghan Dew: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew, and today I will be bringing you our October First Book Club recording. Our October First Book Club title is Ruby Hamad’s White Tears/Brown Scars, out now from MUP. In her book, Ruby blows open the inconvenient truth that when it comes to race, white entitlement is too often masked by victimhood. Our First Book Club host Ellen Cregan asked her a few questions.
Ellen Cregan: Hi there. My name is Ellen and I’m the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club hosts. I’m here to discuss our First Book Club pick for October, White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad, who’s sitting opposite me. Welcome Ruby.
Ruby Hamad: Hi, thanks for having me.
EC: We’re going to start with a little bit of a reading, for people who haven’t had a chance to read the book.
RH: Even before we speak, women of colour are positioned as potential aggressors. Look closer at the interactions you see at work, on social media, at social functions. Make a note of just how often a woman of colour who stands her ground, demands respect, or gives anything less than overwhelmingly positive affirmation to others is met with harsh rebuke and swift ostracism.
This nexus of race and gender, which can feel less like an intersection on a road being travelled and more like a permanent address to which we are chained, means that women of colour are rarely given the benefit of the doubt, and even more rarely considered worthy of sympathy and support. If we are angry, it is because we are bullies. If we are crying, it is because we are indulging in the cult of victimhood. If we are poised, it is because we lack emotion. If we are emotional, it is because we are less rational human and more primitive animal. A white woman may well be punished for an emotional outburst with when interacting with men, but if she is engaged in a terse interaction with a woman of colour and she becomes emotional, by which I mean either angry or distraught, with or without actual tears, the deeply embedded notions of gender and femininity are triggered and it is the white woman who was likely to be vindicated.
How so? Because, as academic and author Richard Dyer writes, ‘White people set the standards of humanity by which they are bound to succeed and others bound to fail.’ Over the course of centuries, as the proponents and beneficiaries of colonialism, whites have set the standards both for humanity as a whole, embodied in the white man, and for femininity that is designed to complement the white male and so is embodied in the white woman. In settler-colonial societies…women were assigned dual roles and regarded as protected victims but also unsuitable for governing alongside white men or of living freely. When white women attempted to assert themselves, as the white suffragettes (themselves frequently openly racist) discovered for many a decade before they finally succeeded, there were treated with derision and accused of being unnatural. Married white women were legally considered property, and rape within marriage impossible – the marriage contract was itself irrevocable consent. But when white women were perceived to be threatened by Indigenous or enslaved populations, and this was a manufactured threat to keep both the Natives and white women in their place, then they were jealously guarded as white men have always regarded what they consider to be their property, and the men of colour who were alleged to have threatened or abused the white man’s ‘property’ were punished severely, disproportionately and horrifically. It is impossible to say how many innocent black men in the colonies that became Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Australia and the United States were jailed or killed on the pretext of having victimised a white woman.
This culture of fear has stayed with us. This weaponisation of White Womanhood continues to be the centrepiece of an arsenal used to maintain the status quo and punish anyone who dares challenge it. Western society is built on a foundation of profound inequality that persists but that many people remain invested in denying, and though less attention has historically been paid to the role of gender in the construction of race and racial dynamics, as well as in the global interactions between the West and ‘the Rest’, I want to address how women of colour fit into this dynamic. Although strides in legal rights and some gains in ‘diversity’ and representation have been made, what our society has yet to confront seriously is what I believe is the greatest obstacle to liberation and equity: The conscious and unconscious biases against women of colour that we all carry and that are shaped and cemented by years of socialisation into a system that is fundamentally racist and sexist.
In order to understand these biases and the damage they cause – as well as how they are so ubiquitous that they remain invisible to many – we need to study the stories that occur at the intersection of race and gender in a capitalist society. For it is at this very junction that the biases governing all our lives come into play, shaping and tainting interactions between women, but also reflecting wider society in the process.
EC: Thank you so much.
RH: Thank you.
EC: So I’m going to start with a very kind of, this might get you on a spiral, but what was this book’s journey to publication from the very beginning? So the article?
RH: The article, yeah. So yeah, it is, the genesis of this book is an article I wrote for the Guardian, May last year, May 2018, called ‘How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour’. And I knew it was, it was, it was going to ruffle some feathers, but I wasn’t expecting the… the enormity of the reaction, and certainly not that it was going to go viral globally, so that was overwhelming. So what I was trying to do in that in that piece was…you know, describe I guess even, because I was still trying to understand it myself, how often in conflicts between a white woman and a woman of colour, and something that I started to realise I was experiencing, that you know, that I was having these interactions with different women that seemed to play out very similarly, and despite me, you know, modifying my behaviour or how I spoke to her that yeah, I would end up, you know, being accused of being a bully, and of hurting her and etcetera, and you know, I’m not talking just about everyday daily reactions. I mean, these are interactions where the woman of colour is trying to talk or confront a white woman about, you know, something the white woman may have done or said. So, you know, the basis is that the woman of colour feels wronged or was wronged, and is trying to somehow rectify it or talk about it, and is quickly shut down. So you have this situation where you have the initial sort of, you know, say trauma, and then trying to talk about it just leads to kind of more punishment. So it’s not acknowledged and then you’re punished again on top of it. And so that’s what, you know, obviously there’s not much you can do in a thousand words. So the article just kind of touched on it. But it obviously, you know, there was a big backlash but it really resonated, obviously with many women of colour from different backgrounds, you know, other Arab women, Black women, like I said, Black American women, Indigenous women here, and so it was something that, even though our experiences as women of colour are obviously different, and there is, there was a common element there, and that is what this book delves into. So what is this thread that connects this?
EC: Excellent. What was it like being in the middle of that Twitter storm after that came out…
RH: Oh my god…
EC: I can’t even imagine.
RH: Yeah, it was quite… like, it was bewildering the extent of it, and just the amount of anger and like, ‘how dare you say that,’ and I thought it was pretty clear that, that like, the piece was coming from a place of, like… written from a place of, you know, sort of pain, my own pain and the pain of other women that have been through it – but also like, it’s almost like it’s questioning. It’s like, what, what is there what is happening? Like, why does this happen? And, and the frustrating thing is when you do write about race and racism is, doesn’t matter how many times you talk about it as a system of power and that, you know, when you’re talking about white women and you’re talking about women of colour, you know, like, you’re not really talking about their skin colour or their biology, you’re talking about the role that they’ve been afforded and socialised into in this society. So, so a lot of the reaction was, ‘I can’t believe you’re bullying white women just on the basis of their skin colour,’ and it’s like no, I’m talking about what is it about the status and the role that white women have in this society that gives them this, this kind of like, this, this tool that they can use, and that they use against us, and then pretend that it doesn’t happen, and that it doesn’t exist. And so that’s, you know, that is what I was trying to get to when I was… there was a plea in there, you know, for us. This is, like, this is, this is happening. Like we’re… we’re burdened by the baggage of being from the background that we’re from. Like, you know, being Arab – so I talked a little bit in the article just briefly about, you know, terrorism – how whenever there’s a, there’s an attack, and it’s all, someone always says that they saw a crazy Middle Eastern person, right?
RH: So it doesn’t, you know, right back to Oklahoma. So even before 9/11, like, the Oklahoma City bombing in… 93 or, I don’t, I can’t remember when it was, mid-90s. So you know, and obviously that was a white male that that perpetrated that, but the initial reports were like, ‘oh, these two men of Middle Eastern appearance were seen leaving or running away.’ And so that is, that is kind of what follows us everywhere.
EC: Absolutely, it’s like the worst game of bingo ever, after that happens and looking at the comments, like, ‘oh, when are they going to announce that this was a Muslim?’
RH: Yeah, like, but, and like sometimes it is, but often it’s not. But that doesn’t seem to matter, like…
EC: Like, no-one ever says ‘what if it’s a white man?’ No-one ever says that.
EC: So people attacked you quite intensely for writing about racism, holding white women and white feminism to account. Was there any aspect of, kind of dread, I guess, when you put the book out into the world, of what people would say and think and do?
RH: Yeah, like… yes. How it like… It’s kind of like after being through that with the article, it’s kind of, you know what I mean, I survived it and etcetera. So I feel like nothing that happens from this can be as bad. And it might still yet, but it hasn’t been so far. So who knows. I think because the article was such a flashpoint, and which is not to say people weren’t already talking about that. But I think it was where the article appeared, it was in a masthead like the Guardian, which is, you know, like, it’s a very, like, it’s legacy media, it’s a long-running title and it’s, and it is, you know, predominantly very white. So, so to have it there, I think a lot of people were just, a lot of white women were like, what is this? And for some people they never probably wouldn’t have heard of that those that concept like, you know, I wrote it for a feminist and audience who’s also, you know, across anti-racism and that space, who would know what it means when we say ‘white tears’, that we’re not talking about, you know, distress in every single context, that it’s that fragility. But because it went well beyond that audience, a lot of people, I think, really didn’t know, so I was like, oh, well, this is your introduction to that! But you know, on the flipside, because it did go global, like, viral globally, that drew a lot of support from women of colour overseas. And it was that that kind of kept me going in the terms of writing it. It’s like, I think people needed it. You know in a way it was like, I’ve already rolled that dice, like that’s it, I’m associated with this – So I should, you know, kind of keep going, because some people can’t. Because you know, it’s their job or their life, they’re not in a position to be able to talk about stuff like this. But since I am, then I feel like it’s kind of like almost a responsibility to, because I start, you know, I’ve come this far, like, why just stop out of fear?
EC: That’s such a great phrase.
EC: So in your writing, in this book and in the rest of your writing, you hit a really sweet spot between good journalism, academic thinking and narrative nonfiction. What’s it like to juggle these three balls at once? It would be tricky.
RH: I think for me that it’s a natural style. That’s just, that’s how I think and that’s how I write. It’s, it is, it’s not quite all one thing or the other. But the funny thing is like, you know, in writing this, my editor would sometimes be like, ‘your tone is a bit too academic here’, but I’m, you know, I’m doing a PhD, and I went on leave to finish the book. But I’m doing a PhD and my supervisor’s like, ‘ah, your writing’s too journalistic here,’ you know, so… (Laughs).
EC: Oh, oh no!
RH: Yeah, you know, so I really do kind of straddle that line, and yeah, it’s something I work, like, I work hard to maintain, you know, to, to, to keep it accessible, because I wanted this book to be accessible. But at the same time to be, you know, rigorous in drawing on, you know, research, academic research, research of other journalists and authors, and looking at, you know, newspapers and things like that. And so that was really important, but I also wanted the reader to, you know, to not forget the reader and just sometimes go back into almost like speaking aloud, as if in some parts of it are like I’m thinking out loud. Because I wanted to really show, I’m not pretending that I have these answers here, you know. I’m not going to be like, ‘I’m going to solve racism!’ like, I’m still discovering things, and I’m, so there’s a lot, I have a lot of questions in the book to sort of show that this is a conversation, like I, like I’m talking out loud, but on the page. But, so yeah, it’s um, yeah, I guess it’s, I’m fortunate like that. So that’s kind of my writing style, and I have just worked to, yeah, to maintain it. So when I do see that I’m starting to get a little bit, you know, lost in the research and lost any sort of theory, to sort of, to bring it back with like a personal story or a question, or just to sort of remind the reader that there’s actually a person here writing this.
EC: And as a reader, I found this to be such an active reading experience. Like I was sitting there in bed reading the book and I was like, I almost can’t focus on it because my brain is full of so many ideas, and I was like highlighting and underlining, and I don’t really do that.
RH: Oh, wow, that’s such a compliment.
EC: Well, it’s you know, it’s just the way that you write it, you’re encouraging people to engage with those ideas, and you’re not trying, you’re not standing up on a soapbox and giving a lecture, you’re really, you are asking those questions and throwing those anecdotes in, and like, encouraging that engagement, I thought. What was it like making the leap from an online article to a full-length book? You said before that 1,000 words is too short, but then you’ve got so many pages here!
RH: It was it was women of colour, like it was women online that that were like ‘you, you can’t let this moment go’, right? Because it was such a, you know, you know it really was really was a big deal and and there, you know, you’ve forced this into like the mainstream sort of consciousness now, and they’ll forget it again if they can, so don’t, you know, so like, keep it going. And they were like, you gotta to turn it into a book. And I was like, book? Like, what, is there a book in this? Like, you know, then I was like, okay, so I was like, you know, just, you know on Twitter just saying, okay, so what are you, what do you all reckon if maybe I can put together an anthology. I can get stories from, you know, other women of colour and we can, you know, sort of all talk about our experiences. And some were coming back and saying is that…is that gonna like really change, you know, is that going to influence any sort of policy, is that going to change practices in the workplace? So there were kind of encouraging me to, to go more of a, you know, kind of like this.
EC: Go big.
RH: Yeah. And so I was like, wow, okay, and then there was like this, (Laughs), you know, moment of panic when I got, you know, the, the publishers interested in, and asking me to send them a proposal, it was like, how is this a book, like, it doesn’t seem like it. But the thing is, once, you know, once I started reading the research it’s like okay, yeah, this is definitely like, you know, there’s because – like I said, I knew I had to start with this, the stereotyping and the archetypes of these different women of colour, and the archetype of, you know, the white damsel. Once you start reading it and you’re just like, oh my goodness, like this – yeah, there’s definitely, there’s definitely… But then in the end it was like, you know, I could have kept going.
RH: I had to rein it in. Yeah, so… it’s, yeah, it was quite an organic process writing it as well. It changed a lot from the initial proposal, which I’m sure is normal. It’s my first book so I couldn’t tell you if that’s…
EC: I think that’s pretty normal.
RH: (Laughs). Yeah.
EC: And so everyone who’s listening should just stop what you’re doing, just go buy the book – but you haven’t read it yet, so can you, Ruby, give me a quick summary of the white damsel? Or of white women’s tears or… Just really quick. I know that’s hard, I’m sorry.
RH: No no, that’s OK. So the white damsel is the archetype of virtuous, upstanding Christian white womanhood that was essentially created as, to be the face of Western or White Society in the settler colonies. And the reason for that is, is to sort of present white society as all those things, virtuous, upstanding, faithful, like as in devout religious. And the purpose was to position her as the binary opposite of the colonised women. So if she’s virtuous and devoted and faithful, then by definition the colonised women are not that. And then that was used to rationalise their further subjugation and oppression.
EC: Yeah, and the, you go into the history a lot, and it’s just such a tragic history in all of these different places. It’s just repeated again and again, and… And like, the legacy is, is ongoing today.
EC: So there’s a brilliant phrase that you use in the book, that I think you say came from one of your Twitter followers or friends, that’s the ‘Damsel in Defence’.
EC: What do you mean by this? I love that.
RH: Isn’t it great! Because I, um, I owe so much to Twitter really, I know I complain a lot about social media and the trolling, but I owe a lot to it as well. So I was… I can’t remember the question I asked, but it was a long the lines of, what, what do we call, like, a woman, you know, who just defends, or you know, just constantly makes excuses for you know, whether it’s politicians, with whoever, at the expense of other women.
EC: Lady Trump voters.
RH: Yeah, pretty much. And so she, yeah, this, this follower who doesn’t use her name on Twitter, so I kept her anonymous, she said it’s a ‘damsel in defence.’ and, this is perfect! Because you know, I’m talking about the Damsel in Distress, and then it is just, it really is like there, there is that pivot, she becomes… so the idea is that she pivots from you know, needing sort of protection, and you know, to then being quite strident, and even, you know, assertive or even aggressive in how she defends white society.
EC: And I think it’s really great to have those two side-by-side because the ‘distress’ of the white women’s tears is actually defensiveness, and it’s like, it’s actually being defensive and defending something that puts you at an advantage, or puts her at an advantage that kind of screws everyone else over.
RH: Yeah. But even like, what annoy, what I try to get into is that in a way, it’s screwing herself over as well.
RH: Because yes, it’s gonna, you know, white women will have, you know, privilege over people of colour, but because of the way the system is structured, it’s always going to be underneath the white man.
RH: So even, and you find that even, you know, like, in places where there’s the most, you know, gender equity – so, you know, in Nordic countries, in Sweden, they have astronomical rates of domestic violence. So you would think that wouldn’t be the case, right? But it is, and, and I think that part of that is that we need to sort of look into this, this legacy of, of… well, white society has promised, in a way, men that they, they’re in control, they’re at the top. So even though white women are sort of catching up to them in some places in, in the, you know, the professional life and in the public sphere, it’s not really translating into interpersonal, sort of, equality or equity.
EC: That leads really well into my next question. I’m very happy with that. (Laughs. ) You talk about white women being kind of second in charge to white men, helping them uphold the world order in which the white men are on top. Why do you think these women choose to boost themselves up on the structures that oppress them, rather than tearing them down?
RH: First of all we can’t… There’s no, there’s no one answer to that. I think first and foremost, though, we need to look at the advances that white women have made through feminism, have been focusing just on gender. So looking at the oppression of women on gender alone. Now, white women are the only women that are only oppressed by gender. So when you’re only going to focus on that, you’re automatically going to leave the majority of the world’s women behind. And, so I think that is just, you know… an automatic sort of weakness in the white feminists, or western feminist sort of history. And the second one is, white women have still been socialised into this system, and so there is still that sense of superiority over other, you know, non-white people. And whether that manifests overtly, or whether it’s just sort of, you know, carried around and it only comes out when, you know, in these sorts of interactions that I talk about. Um, it is, it is there and that is not something I think we’re really acknowledging, particularly in progressive spaces where, you know, no-one wants to be like, you know, regarded as in any way, you know, racist or et cetera. But when you have a system that is so fundamentally unequal as ours, that is built on, you know, colonisation and dispossession of Indigenous populations, and then enslaved imported populations, and then refugee and migrant populations who, in many cases were themselves escaping the colonialism in their countries – then that doesn’t just, that doesn’t sort of just disappear because, you know, individual people want to be good individual people. So, um… Yeah, I think there’s this, this failing in progressivism and in, you know, mainstream white or Western feminism that this idea that just by putting more women in charge, and that’s automatically going to sort of trickle down, this idea of trickle down feminism, right?
EC: Oh my God.
RH: That can’t happen, because A, because, again, gender is not the only factor that oppresses women of colour, and B, that it’s still the same system that was set up above all to privilege white people.
EC: Absolutely. One of the terms that kind of gets thrown about a lot when women of colour call white women and white people out, is ‘divisive’, which I…
RH: Oh yeah.
EC: Which I just, it’s just like, it’s not being divisive, because the, I feel like the mission there is actually to unite, and to stop this thing that is pulling so many people down – except for white men.
RH: But this is, this is the thing. So they’ll say, ‘oh, you’re dividing us, and you know, the men are the real problem.’ But again, it’s that failure to see, or to acknowledge that it’s not only, you know, this patriarchy.
RH: And it’s not it’s not only gender that is holding us back. And so if we were to just shut up, and you know, be like, ‘okay, we won’t draw attention to that, we won’t complain about that’, then we’re just, we’re going to be heading further and further into a future where, yeah, white men and white women may very well hold equal power, but because they have not challenged the actual systems and structures that are, you know, whether it’s in politics or business, and the justice system, educational systems – that’s all going to stay the same, which just means you’re just going to have more white women coming up, and the rest of us are not. And this is, this is the great danger. We, you know, with this idea of this Sisterhood and things like that, because… If white women are aligning themselves with women of colour when it suits them, and when it’s beneficial, but they’re not acknowledging the, the difference and privilege between them and between other women, then it’s really only using the works and the struggles of women of colour to boost themselves.
EC: Yeah, which is scummy.
RH: And, and again, it’s not always conscious.
EC: Of course not.
RH: You know, I don’t like to sort of… Oh, I’m sure many times it is, but I don’t want to sort of always like, I don’t want to be, like, ascribing malevolence. This is like, this is an insidious system that has, is so deeply entrenched we don’t see it anymore.
EC: No, no, it’s a thing you have to unlearn, I think, rather than even, you don’t know about sometimes.
RH: Yeah, yeah, yep.
EC: So in the book you write a lot about white violence and how it’s historically been perpetrated against people of colour to keep those colonial and racist systems in check. There’s always been right wing terrorism, but in recent years it seems to be having quite an intense resurgence, especially amongst young white men. Do you think that these acts are kind of, do you think there’s a connection between the voices of people of colour being rightfully more amplified now with the internet, and it being accessible, that these young white men are kind of, like, getting uncomfortable.
RH: Absolutely. It’s, um, it’s, I think it’s driven by fear of loss of control and loss of entitlement, loss of privilege. It’s… Whenever it’s, when society is just rolling along, and everyone knows their place, and because, you know, people of colour aren’t protesting and they aren’t demanding more, then you don’t need to be, you know, physically brutal. You know, you don’t need to like, you know, you know… Whack that stick. Is it Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt that said ‘talk softly, but carry a big stick.’
EC: Mmm, I’m not sure.
RH: So, that’s…someone said that. And so, that’s, that’s… You know, because when there’s not as much resistance, and when white supremacy isn’t threatened, then there’s no need to articulate it. There’s no need to enforce it overtly. But because people of colour are making some noise and they are getting louder, and braver, and in some cases winning victories, then yeah, that’s, for sure that’s going to result in, that’s what’s lit, that’s what’s driving a lot of this, this resurgence. You know, it’s not that, it’s not that the sentiment of white supremacy I think is resurging, it’s that it’s been voiced, and that people who were previously, wouldn’t have thought of themselves as being right, that far right-wing or, or white supremacists because they’re like, ‘oh, wait a minute, it, it’s it’s fine when you know, we had, we gave them some rights, but now that they really want more, and I’m starting to oh, well, no, we can’t have that,’ right?
EC: ‘Too much, too much.’
RH: And, you know, it just reminded me, you know, and I read, when I was sort of researching the book that, and I can’t remember who was, the author that sort of gave this, this analogy, that a lot of white people, yes, were abolitionists, they wanted to…
RH: To like, you know, abolish slavery. But they didn’t see black people as equal. So it’s not that they wanted to give them all the rights they had, they just thought, ‘it’s quite unseemly for us to still own them, so let them be free.’ But so, you know, so that is, that’s, we have to sort of be careful when we, when we even talk about, you know, what is a white supremacist. What is it? It’s not just the people that are marching and then, you know yelling out, you know, racist slogans.
EC: It’s much more sneaky than that. So at one point – this is kind of my own personal aside here – at one point you get into the racism of white women in the yoga and wellness kind of industry, and scene, which is something that personally drives me bananas. Can you tell me a bit about what goes on there? From – it’s really a tiny bit in the book, but I was, just…
RH: Yeah, that’s something that came up with a lot of the women I interviewed.
RH: And, and I did say in that that I, you know, I’ve practiced yoga, and I tend to just practice by myself at home now, so… I have seen how it’s exploded and how it’s changed. So I think what’s happening there, it’s that, that tension, as what we were just talking about earlier, between wanting to be a good person, and that, in some ways that means having to deny problems with anything that you’re a part of. So I think, you know, if someone brings up the, you know, why is yoga so expensive? Why is it dominated by white women? Is it okay for white women to say Namaste and use Sanskrit…
EC: And ‘tribe’.
RH: Yeah, yeah, things like that. And spirit animal, and all those words. So there’s this almost like… the implication is that by doing all that, they’re automatically a bad person, and that’s that. There’s no – and so, in order to avoid that sort of conclusion, they have to just shut down the question altogether, rather than have the conversation, rather than thinking about maybe this can lead to somewhere where, you know, no-one’s telling you you have to stop doing yoga and things like that. But is there a way to, you know, un-whitewash it so much.
RH: And so yeah, so that came up with a lot of the people that I interviewed – and not just in yoga, but this whole idea of wellness, which again is one of the things where you’re like, well, you think that’s where it wouldn’t happen, but it does happen.
EC: Oh, people appropriate so many cultures in wellness, kind of, yeah, I see it all the time. How would you…Anyway, people are baffling. There’s this really awesome woman who is kind of an Instagram influencer, and she’s a yoga teacher, and her name’s Jessamin Stanley, and she’s black, and she’s fat, and she’s just the most amazing person. And she talks about…
RH: I think I’ve seen some of her things, yeah.
EC: Yeah, she talks about how to, like, decolonise those spaces, and make them accessible and all that sort of stuff. She’s fantastic.
RH: Again, that’s another, you know, that’s another area I could have dived into so much cheaper, but I had to sort of just pull, pull, you know, pull back and… but yeah, so that whole, yeah, there’s a lot of tension in that. But I’ve also just the other day, I was just talking to a friend who’s you know, she’s an academic but she’s also into knitting, and these conversations are happening in the knitting scene as well. I was like, what?!
EC: Oh massively, massively. Yeah, there’s a whole, I also knit…
RH: Oh, okay, yeah!
EC: Instagram knitting at the moment is undergoing a really big conversation, and there’s a lot of, also in sewing there was this one New Zealand pattern company that had a kimono that they were calling, they were calling it a kimono and it was a jacket, and one woman called them out about it and they kind of battened down the hatches. But then what…
RH: Ah, yeah. See, again, that defensive reaction.
EC: So defensive. But what the worst thing was to me to see, was that there were all these – so she did post and she said, ‘I’m really sorry, I’m changing it, I’ve done the wrong thing, I’ve got to learn.’ but then all these other white women in the comments being like, ‘you shouldn’t have to apologise for this, you’ve done nothing wrong.’ I was like, stop, you’re making it so much worse! But it was, yeah, so those are conversations that are happening and that’s maybe why the internet’s really great, you know, ways that you can have those conversations and that people do have those platforms to make change.
RH: Yeah. Yeah, I mean… that’s not, you know, who… and then, I don’t know, why am I surprised that that would happen in the knitting community? Again, is that, is this, is that my unconscious bias there just going, you know, sort of devaluing that space as if everyone who knits isn’t isn’t going to be, you know, across, you know, any sort of critical race theory or interested in it. So, you know, that was that good.
EC: It’s very interesting. So do you think that a truly intersectional feminism is within our reach?
RH: Um…Well… first of all, I’m, you know, that word intersectional now has so much baggage…
EC: It does, it does.
RH: And you know, like, some of the research that I draw on in this book like that by Kyla Schuller, and, and you know, she’s like, we can’t even look at race and gender as intersecting. Like, they’re…I mean like gender was a racialised concept, like, like that, you know, the binary between man and woman were so strictly enforced as yet another way to dominate, you know, the colonised world because it was like, ‘well see, you don’t respect your women, I mean, you don’t, you can’t even tell the difference between a man and a woman, we would never let a woman work out in the fields like that,’ et cetera et cetera. So, you know, we almost have to look even beyond this idea, like, you know, intersectional is a great metaphor for helping us work out, okay, yeah, things can collide and create something new that is really experienced really acutely, and you can’t understand unless you’re in it.
RH: But in terms of, can we have a feminism that turns its back on white supremacy? I, I mean we can… It’s really going to take, you know, I mean there’s only so much that women of colour can do, and we’re doing it, and you know, Indigenous women here are at the forefront of that. There’s, it also takes… There has to be a conscious sort of untethering away from white supremacy, and that is going to come with a loss of privilege, the loss of privilege of being white, and, and, and occupying a space that is implicitly… Recognised and considered to be superior to people of colour. But the benefit, the positive that’s going to come from that is then you actually are going to have a chance to dismantle patriarchy.
EC: Yeah, absolutely.
RH: Because you’re blowing apart this idea that, of a hierarchy where white women exist just under white men.
EC: Absolutely. I’ve noticed in my reading a different attitude towards racism, and you kind of mentioned it before, that authors and activists are thinking, asking white people to be more than just not-racist but to be anti-racist, and spend time on learning that racist behaviour. Do you think that this is, sort of like a logical, and sort of – again, within reach kind of way forward that can make positive change?
RH: You know, and I think so, and that doesn’t just mean you know, announcing on Twitter, ‘I’m anti-racist’, or, you know, calling out other white people or anything like that. What that means is, you know, when, like, a feminist organisation would have to acknowledge, um, how, how, like, how and when white women are sort of appropriating or drawing on the work of women of colour for their own gain. So look for, for instance, I noticed we’re seeing a lot of, you know, because with climate action being in the news so much now, so I’ve seen quite a few articles and I know I reference one in the book of, where there’s been Indigenous women and women of colour that have been at the forefront of environmental rights, and that when they’re put in charge of, sort of, environmental organisations, it’s, there’s a, they see a lot of success, a lot of success there. So I’ve seen quite a lot of white or, you know, western magazines saying ‘yeah, see, what we put women in charge the environment is going to benefit!’ and it’s kind of like, well hold on. Once again, you’re not looking, you’re only seeing them as women, you’re not seeing them, that they’re driven by more than their gender, they’re driven by wanting to protect their land, to protect their people, to protect their, maybe their country from colonisers, et cetera. So you can’t, you’re isolating gender, and you’re assuming that if white women or women in the west were in the, in charge in the same way, that the outcome will be the same. But it’s not going to be if they’re only looking at gender itself. So there, there has to be less of this sort of assumption that what happens in non-western countries is going to translate the same, because hey, we’re all women. And I think there has to be more… Like, they’re just… There has, that this, you know, we talk a lot about this idea of, of, you know, you have to ‘make space’, but we need to, do need to see more, like, that the demands that woman of colour are making being met. We need to see our visibility and our amplified voices translate into material change, which means we need to see more women, women of colour say in editorial positions.
RH: Producing positions. And not just, you know, like tokenistic sort of appointments, it needs to, to really sort of translate into, into a different way of solving problems, and, and the outcomes, you know, different outcomes of what do watch on our screen? What do our magazines look like?
EC: Because there’s so much to learn that’s been kind of pushed down and pushed down and pushed down throughout history, and you know, it’d be a very different world today if that hadn’t been the case. Sadly, we can only imagine.
RH: Oh I know, I’m just like, wow, what…
EC: You get a spiral thinking about that sometimes, like oh… And my last question for you, one of my favourite things about your book is that it offers an analysis of racism and white feminism in the context of contemporary Australia. Like you do go into the US and you do go into other places, but it is an Australian book. What other books on racism would you recommend to Australian audiences wanting to look at that context more?
RH: Um, in the Australian context?
RH: So I, in terms of like, sort of the history – oh, even the present, of how we got to the present, so I draw a lot on the work of Aileen Moreton-Robinson, who I’m doing an event with at the Wheeler Centre in November, which I can’t even believe that! Like, that’s so exciting. So, you know, and she’s talking very much, you know, Talkin’ Up to the White Woman, she’s talking very much about the relation, that, that power imbalance, right, between Indigenous women and and white women, and how, you know, she’s focused on white feminism as well, and how white feminism is not, is not, again, is only looking at gender and not looking at how their whiteness has helped to maintain, you know, domination over, over Aboriginal women, First Nations women. So I think, you know, engaging with work like that and then, you know, I try to sort of, to draw on, you know, I’m a big, you know, I’m a big fan of amplifying and citing and referencing, and then just thinking, what can I add to this? Is there something I can add? So and I’m, and I think a lot of the work that’s been done in fiction, like Claire Coleman’s fiction as well, is, is really exciting – and I’m trying to read more fiction, because between my book – sorry, between my book and my PhD, I hardly read fiction.
EC: You wouldn’t have a lot of time, would you? (Laughs. )
RH: No, but it’s hard. I’ll do miss out on a lot. But, um, you know, and then you have writers like Melissa Lukashenko that does both, (Laughs) I envy those, those, those people. So yeah, I definitely think if you really want to look at the dynamic between, you know, how white women can, and do dominate women of colour and Indigenous women without sort of acknowledging it, then, then Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s one of the best places to start. And…yeah, I mean, I draw, I do draw a lot on some US writers as well, that I just ‘discovered’. I’m doing scare quotes, obviously I didn’t discover them. But I came across, that I found very exciting, and one was Stephanie Jones-Rogers who wrote They Were Her Property, where she looks at how actually, you know, white women were not just bystanders while their men owned slaves, they were active slave owners. And, and she wrote that, that only just came out in February this year. And Kyla Schuller, The Biopolitics of Feeling. So, these, like, quite academic texts, I’m sorry. Um, so, and that if you want just the more, um, non-academic but still, you know, of course the work of Maxine Beneba Clarke.
EC: Wonderful writer.
RH: Because yeah, because I do, you know, because I do draw on primarily academic stuff. So it’s just, I don’t get into her work in the book, but again, this is what I mean, like I really would have loved to expand, but I couldn’t.
EC: Well there’s always book two.
RH: There’s, well, yes, what do I follow up with? Yeah.
EC: Something just as wonderful, I’m sure. Thank you so much for coming to talk to me, Ruby, it was so nice to talk to you.
RH: Thank you, oh it was my pleasure.
MD: That was the October First Book Club edition of the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. We’ll be back soon, but while you’re waiting, you should drop in on the Kill Your Darlings website for commentary, essays, memoir, fiction and criticism. See you next time.