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DWAWG Personal Reflection Exercise

Dispatch by | Jordan Lacey

Decolonising Whiteness Academic Working Group Personal reflection exercise April 28, Term 2, 2029  

In 2029, given the total takeover of the University sector by corporate interests, the few white academics like myself who are still driven by altruistic interests find ourselves in this  Working Group at the doors of the newly formed BLAKFULLAS University, both literally and  metaphorically. 

It is difficult for this group – many of whom identify as White Australians – to navigate the transition from the empty acknowledgments of country to the real acknowledgment that it is now BLAKFULLAS who hold the institutional-intellectual ascendency, through the creation of a university that actually cares about thought, change and humanity (and non-humanity), a welcome shift in which an institution has come to focus on land and connection rather than money and exploitation. Our own Universities, many of which have resisted calls for Indigenous tenure have become little more than corporate research centres – whether the two events are connected or not, we don’t yet know. 

The tension of where and when to contact Elders was ongoing through the 2020s. As noted  by a Working Group member in this morning’s session, depending on the density of  concerned artists on any given Country, the response of the Elders varied from one of  openness to one of exhaustion. But somehow this new University changed all that by becoming a hub of enquiry – led and driven by Indigenous people. At least that’s the  perception, looking in from the outside. Because in the end, the onus now falls on this group  to decide what is the best way to step forward and respectfully collaborate. In their own  scholarly drive, BLAKFULLAS University has left that question open … 

Making tacit demands, like new feel-good colonialists, is a poor approach to genuine action, given the hollow behaviours of the last ten years. Knocking on the door with an  acknowledgement and a request for money to do something nice for blackfellas is not going  to cut it anymore. This new mood has been forged by Indigenous leaders this past decade. For instance, sports hero Adam Goodes’ national call for more effort in connecting with  Elders, while Professor Zena Cumpston’s instruction to whites to back off and figure it out themselves. This presented a challenge, which this Working Group must meet. 

For instance, as proposed in yesterday’s session, is it time for the creation of a sister Whitefella University that attempts to connect with the BLAKFULLAS University in a type of  constructive, symbiotic relationship? To build colleges devoted to reading the scholarly texts  and insights of Indigenous academics, as part of the process of white culture reforging their  own culture, which has now become destructive and redundant (exploitation is always a  short-lived enterprise). After all, we were all First Nations at one point. Why not  acknowledge this by trying to reconnect with those ancient resonances within? This seems a  worthy, if difficult, goal.

It is clear that in 2029 BLAKFULLAS University doesn’t need white assistance as it is producing scholars and artists in abundance who can do this work themselves.

So, rather  than whites becoming heroes in their own mind by working with Indigenous people – a patronising sentiment now redundant – whites have come to see that their challenge is to  rediscover their own internalised, deeply-repressed indigeneity, buried beneath hundreds  of years of capitalist-fuelled ancestral disruption. From our discussion today, it is clear that a  sister university would not be there to provide some type of self-satisfactory process,  fulfilling the ‘white-saviour’ complex – itself a guilt-led response to the horrors of colonialism – instead, it could fulfil the role of unpicking colonial assumptions within ourselves, to enable a meaningful connection with the land. Only then, once this is achieved, can the whitefella  meaningfully knock on the door of the BLAKFULLAS University and ask, ok, what now? 

In addition to the production of new artists and designers, the BLAKFULLAS University has begun to receive multiple Australian Research Council (ARC) grants that focus on land  management, thanks to the election of a government in the mid-2020s with an insightful, Indigenous Education Minister. Changes to the countryside have come astonishingly fast.  The Murray-Darling basin, for instance, is healing – a feat thought impossible only ten years  earlier. Rather than the land being a zone of exploitation, it once again has its voice and is  set on a path to healing and repair. The animals have returned and the land is more  productive than during its entire colonial history. Such are the mysteries to this Working  Group of the extraordinary scholarship emerging from behind the walls of the BLAKFULLAS University.  

In fact, we whitefellas now find ourselves in a very tricky situation (remembering it is our  problem to solve) as we have had to re-learn by sinking into the healed landscapes to  discover what relationship with Country might mean to us. The danger of neo-colonialism  lurks in such actions, and we would need to take steps to subvert this unwanted possibility. For instance, a Whitefella University could propagate the practice of Deep Listening. We  could properly pay practitioners such as Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann and Dr Vicki  Couzens, amongst others, who could act as guides for this practice. A whole course that  teaches whites how to put aside their egotistical need for control, and instead listen to one  another, and to the land, could emerge. This would be in stark contrast to those other  universities that encourage an individual voice to shout the loudest so that they might be  the heroes and win the grants. This is a system that worships narcissism, which of course, as we all agree, is not something we want to replicate.  

Instead, deep listening presents a new type of practice, that could quickly produce a new type of atmosphere on campus. One of mutual respect.

One where voices could be heard, and a respectful countenance could be reached. Slowly, and respectfully, through their reading of indigenous scholarship and the listening to Indigenous wisdoms, the Whitefella University could begin to experiment with small ceremonies and rituals, as a way to connect with each other and the land on which the University would stand. It could generate a natural outflowing from students who could more deeply connect with the experiences felt  during deep listening exposure. 

A note of caution that I know some older academics on this Working Group will raise, relates to the dangers of appropriation and renewed colonial exploitation. Even though this curriculum development might feel right, no one knows where these new practices might lead, or what engagement with them might mean. To live on a land with ancient rituals, while also trying to remove the colonial shackles of the self, by listening to the deeply  repressed Indigenous being within, would be a welcome development, even if it is a  provocative one. Indeed is the proposition of the ‘repressed Indigenous being’ an intensely  reductive and racist position that we must work through in order to get somewhere else or one to discard entirely to avoid re-treading the same colonialist path that is a dead-end for all? Perhaps, we could think of such action as a de-colonising of the self that attempts to  reach into our own historical depths, searching for our own repressed ancestral voices. Of course, I have no idea how these practices might unfold; and I acknowledge the danger of appropriation, even unwelcome mimicry, that such a recommendation might engender. But I cannot think of a better enterprise for a sister university, than charting a process of undoing the received assumptions of white colonial privilege… 

But perhaps it is here, in this co-location, that a new interface between the two Universities might be born. A new multi-racial, ritualistic entanglement with land, born in the ancient  knowledge and contemporary scholarship pouring out of the BLAKFULLAS University and  absorbed by the students of the Whitefella University. It is difficult to know where such  evolutions might lead, given the curiosity and experimentation we seek to encourage in our  students. No doubt such an interface would include unexpected creative growth, but also multiple cultural tensions.  

Such are my thoughts for the Working Group to consider. No doubt provocative, but I believe, necessary, if we are going to dissolve the colonialist within, in an effort to forge new white connection with the land. What better way to achieve this than stacking a sister university’s library shelves, and its students’ minds, with the outputs of BLAKFELLAS University scholarship?