An open letter to the man who racially trolled me on Invasion Day.
I realise you don’t know me. We have never met, but you think you know me because you read my words in a publication. You read the words I had carefully and lovingly crafted together, words that I drew from the wisdom of my old people, the same ancient wisdom that rests comfortably within my souls’ bones, what my old Leempeen calls my dilly bag of truths. You read words that I was proud of, the first text I have ever had published. You took that moment; you took my story, my truth, and my moment to centre yourself and your colonial discomfort within my narrative.
In your messages, you said I lacked credibility because of the colour of my skin. This is confusing because my brothers and sistas with their beautiful dark skin are maligned for their colour. Yet, I walk through the world with never a second glance because of my fair skin (I recognise and acknowledge my privilege.)
You told me I wouldn’t exist without colonisation: that my Aboriginality was so diluted that I resembled the invader. And I should identify more with the coloniser than with the community I love and was born into.
You threw around eugenics like confetti, with no conscience of where it landed or how it stung. You told me I only claim to be Aboriginal for attention and sympathy – as if being anything other than what I am would be preferable.
You had your say, unchallenged and very publicly; now I want to take some time to respond.
Firstly, I want you to know that words matter. In fact, in this colony, words and language shape the world. Quite frankly, anyone who says otherwise is lacking insight. Or is steeped in privilege they’ve never had to feel the hurt or experience the harm of words.
Secondly, when you weaponised your words against me, you revealed, in a very clear way, the colour of your heart, and embodied the worst of this country they call Australia. You exemplified the utter disrespect and dehumanisation of this nation’s First People – my peoples. You used your language to assault me; the words became violence within themselves, such was their power.
And thirdly, your whiteness was made visible through the power you wielded that day on social media as a white man, within a space that enables and gives primacy to your mainstream voice. Your racial vilification of me was an example in the long line of many, of barriers faced by women of colour participating in public spaces in this country. You asserted yourself as the expert, as the “knower”, relegating me again to the margins. It was obvious that you see my people as relics of a bygone era, ignoring the dynamism of our culture and community.
But I want to say thank you, as strange as that may sound. When you rode in on your colonial horse to troll me, you reminded me that I cannot let my guard down, even for a moment, because the coloniser is always waiting, lurking in the shadows to pin us to the wall and silence us.
And you reminded me how lucky I am to be an Aboriginal woman. I have a family and community that support me. I have the wisdom of my old people. I have my grandmother’s stories coursing through my veins; and while I can retreat and spread the puuyuupkil on my wounds, I wonder what you can do to heal the hatred in your heart. Because it’s ugly, it’s senseless and it’s unhealthy.
Following in the footsteps of her mother Tabitha’s daughter Mabel is exercising her voice.
So I finish this correspondence to you by sharing the wisdom of my beloved Leempeen. Leempeen would say:
“Daughter, as you go about your business in this white man’s world, remember there is a battle raging every time you sit with them, fogs of doubt will shroud you, that’s their brand of trickery, the way they twist and turn themselves into different shapes, the way they change the rules on us. So, always remember, my girl, colonisation is not the shark; it is the water. Your voice may wobble under the burden of words unsaid. You might tremble and shake. So, sit there, sit strong ways, remember you are battlefields apart, smile as if everything is fine, and laugh like you are not drowning in their waters. Freedom will begin when you loosen their grip from your throat. Come home to Country. Rest those feet in cool waters, lay your head on the leaves under the ancient gneering, spread the puuyuupkil on your wound and be still, and listen, for the ancestors will send messages through the wind that will rustle the leaves of the trees. Those winds of words will fan a flame that will either light a way or burn a path depending on what stands before you. Go well, my girl, go well.”
I wish you well because that is what I was taught to do. Know that I walk with my head held high, and the strength of my ancestors beside me. You may pierce my heart with your words, but my people guard my spirit, and you’ll never get to touch that.
Tabitha Lean is a Gunditjmara woman living on Kaurna country. As a First Nation woman I am blessed to have my mother’s stories and the blood of all the women before me coursing through my veins. It is in their honour, that I centre their unique knowledge, voices and stories in all my work.