Saturday, December 17, 2011

Apartheid without the D

It was an amazing party.
Incredibly silly brain bending stuff - creations of all kind happening everywhere in every possible form.

the room scattered with giant crawl-through vaginas and sphincters as a a turd took a flying leap from a high ladder into a toilet far below.

Lots of bum jokes, wee jokes, a giant elephant and inside out man.

My kind of stuff. completely.

Except, well.... when the 'joke' came. From a 9 foot foam pith helmet caricature of itself.

"What do you call Aparthed without the D?"

"A Partay"

And then the words echoing back on the white bubble in which the party was encased, literally, mirroring back on the mostly beige laughing faces, or the beige silent faces, or on the handful of less beige, more brown faces - whom I knew all by name - literally in this city where I know almost no-one.

And I realised where I was. In another white bubble created against the dark night of this suburb of colour where I live.

Apartheid - without the D - the death, the state sanctioned violence - but a whitey partay none the less.

I bought a drink and stepped outside the white bubble to stare into the dark night. I had felt so happy to find something of a semblance of what I left in Sydney five blocks from my house, and then the nasty shock of who I was and where I was hit me.

The white hot air balloon sheathe encasing a room full of groovey artie pale skinned hipsters, walling off a suburb of refugees from Angola, Burundi, Mozambique and other nations copping the fallout of white South Africa in the 1960s to the 1990s, and walling off the still very much living pain of apartheid, to enforce a metaphorical apartheid - where alternative culture becomes a way that whites do culture, and culture does whites, where to be white here, ensconses us and I mean me into an urban colonisation of culturally and socially mobile whites into cheap popular suburbs of colour.

And I wondered how different is this to the high paling fence separating my Mum and her Ngarabal neighbours, and the border clashes (lost footballs, broken bottles and roaming dogs) she regales me with and the bodily habits in hicktown of being not black, not brown in a racist town. (White people do not walk the streets in the country).

and if this is where I've ended up after 22 years of leaving the country then why bother leaving?

Maybe it was a one off. Maybe I was reading too much into it.

A month later I went to another artyparty 10 blocks from my house, in the heart of cool coloured suburbia. I'd already come down in the morning to stock up on fresh fruit and veggies in my Nanna cart, meat from the "thiem thit" store, lychees from the "Pham" store, weaving between the indochinese elders doing coffee on the street cafes and the African women in dayglo burquas lugging kids, groceries and themselves along the street, and loving food and people and food and life.....

A few hours later, the suburb is transformed, shops are closed, families are at home, streetlife is minimal. I climbed stairs to a white box above the major shopping strip to support my local indie artspace, because this is what I want to do. These are the people I want to meet, to collaborate with, to show/perform with.

Everyone looks eerily like myself - only thinner, and with more facial hair. The women all wore dresses. Not exactly genderqueer, and again, 95% white.

the event is fun, people are friendly. The art is a mixed bag and there is an MC entertaining the supportive community crowd.

and he makes a joke, about the "Local triads" . In the same suburb where 2 blocks away "Footscray By night" reinvented Karaoke as community cultural development and Vienglish detournements of men at work songs IN THIS AMAZING VIDEO which is the best thing I've seen all year and was made right near where I work....

And I want to fall through the floor with shame.

and I don't know where to start challenging these people or these spaces. to insist that there is a different way of doing whiteness in suburbs of colour than in the ghetto model which seems to prevail.

Have I described the street of white picket fences next to where we live? or the 3 suburbs south of the train line where all the white people go? or the goldfish shopfronts of gorgeous gourmet or bespoke designerwear which demarcate the white bodies from the brown bodies in the adjacent restaurants and shops?

I'm sick of whingeing about Helbournia, and whingeing about the white middle class on which I so precariously balance on the edge of, because I'm implicated in it, I'm part of it, and it in me, and I have to own this and work to make whiteness something other than a displacing privilege of bad power relations.

This is still not my home, yet in making it my home, in settling here, I'm doing my best to be an unsettling presence. To break the bodily habits of how whiteys do whiteness here, but it is uncharted territory, so strange and so hard sometimes.