interesting reading

Why Western attempts to moderate Islam are dangerous


The problem with the ban against Chris Brown

Clem Brown

GetUp! this past week launched a campaign to prevent Chris Brown from touring Australia. The petition, titled ‘No, Chris Brown. You’re Not Welcome In Australia’, asks the Minister for Immigration (Peter Dutton) to refuse Brown a visa. “If we stand by and do nothing while he performs around the country (even if we don’t have the faintest interest in Brown’s career or pop music in general), we are implicitly sending the message that if you brutally beat a woman, in a short amount of time you will be forgiven, or even celebrated.”

Chris Brown pictured leaving court in 2009 for assault charges against his former girlfriend Rihanna.

Under the terms of the Migration Act, anyone with a “substantial criminal record” (a prison sentence of 12 months or more, including a suspended sentence) can be refused a visa. Brown was sentenced to five years probation in 2009 for the punching and strangling assault of his then girlfriend Rihanna.

It appears the campaign was successful, with reports on Sunday that Brown has been issued a notice of intent to refuse his visa; he’ll now have a window of opportunity to challenge the notice, or withdraw his visa application.

Chris Brown pictured leaving court in 2009 for assault charges against his former girlfriend Rihanna.
Chris Brown pictured leaving court in 2009 for assault charges against his former girlfriend Rihanna. Photo: Getty

It’s a higher profile variation on a theme set by the previous campaigns led by “grassroots campaigning movement” Collective Shout against Brown, and rappers Tyler The Creator and Snoop Dogg.

“We haven’t spoken with Collective Shout,” GetUp Campaigns Director Kelsey Cooke told me via email, when asked about the similarities some commentators had noted between this petition and Collective Shout’s. “It’s an official GetUp campaign.”

(Collective Shout did not respond to my request for comment.)

Rapper Tyler the Creator's Australian tour was cancelled earlier this year after pressure from Collective Shout.

Rapper Tyler the Creator’s Australian tour was cancelled earlier this year after pressure from Collective Shout.

The notion common to both GetUp and Collective Shout’s campaigns is that denying visas to touring celebrities with either a history of domestic violence (Brown, boxer Floyd Mayweather) or whose lyrics can be read as misogynist (Brown, Tyler, Snoop) is a way to send a message about Australia’s stance against violence against women.

That would be admirable were it not for the fact that such campaigns seem almost entirely concerned with the alleged misogyny of rap and R&B. “Recording artists who glorify misogyny and degrade women for entertainment” were the exact words used by Collective Shout in an unsuccessful petition to then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison against “pimp rapper” Snoop Dogg in 2014, and yet death metal band Cannibal Corpse, whose songs include Addicted To Vaginal Skin and Entrails Ripped From A Virgin’s C—, have regularly toured Australia.

When questioned about this inconsistency by music site Tone Deaf, Collective Shout’s Director of Operations, Coralie Alison, claimed, “There are many additional campaigns that we could run if we had more resources”.

Similarly, where Collective Shout and Melinda Tankard Reist campaigned widely to have the music video for Kanye West’s Monster banned, there was no such level of effort put into having Maroon 5’s controversial (and equally as disturbing) clip for Animals torn from the airwaves; again, according to the Tone Deaf interview, Collective Shout “didn’t have capacity to run a campaign at the time”.

Where is the outcry over the misogyny of The Decemberists, appearing at Byron Bay Bluesfest early next year, whose lyrics frequently concern the rape and mistreatment of women? Or is it okay because they’re not rappers, and folk music isn’t seen to “incite violence against women”? If you’re going to decry the misogyny inherent in music, then apply the same lens to metal, country, pop, rock and alternative artists.

Make no mistake: Chris Brown is an entirely unpleasant man whose abuse of Rihanna remains abhorrent, as does his apparent unrepentance. But this desire to “send a message” to abusers must be consistent; as it stands – with Brown and Tyler having had their touring visas revoked while other artists are free to tour – these campaigns are inconsistent at best, racist at worst.

The use of immigration law to “send a message” is something any feminist should be profoundly uncomfortable with even in the face of Brown’s well-documented crimes. What feminist can comfortably campaign to Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton to revoke the visas of certain touring artists when he’s the same man steering Australia’s cruel immigration policies?

These campaigns suggest it is okay to turn a blind eye against Dutton and the Government’s hand in the abuses of women in detention so long as it means a few thousand concertgoers won’t be subjected to Chris Brown’s misogynist lyrics. There is also appalling irony in employing the language of Sovereign Borders and Border Force in these campaigns; witness the echoes of ‘No Way, You Will Not Make Australia Home’ in ‘No, Chris Brown. You’re Not Welcome In Australia’.

I asked GetUp whether they will be running similar campaigns to the ‘No, Chris Brown’ one for, say, the upcoming farewell tour by Black Sabbath; after all, Ozzy Osbourne has a history of domestic violence and once woke up in jail after attempting to strangle his wife, Sharon (in his words: “I regret trying to kill my wife”).
“Unfortunately there are plenty of terrible, violent men in the entertainment industry, but none with greater access and influence to our youth,” Cooke told me. “Consider this a campaign against any and all perpetrators of violence – with the hope that Chris Brown’s example will enforce the precedent of sticking to the character test guidelines in future.”

Whether or not the youth in question will get the message, or are just disappointed that the tour potentially isn’t going ahead, will remain to be seen. But it seems optimistic to suggest that the campaign against Brown will be read as a one-size-fits-all statement about violence against women, and not just against the one man.

“The point of the Chris Brown campaign is not, ultimately, Chris Brown,” Cooke said. “It has very little to do with the popstar, and everything to do with how seriously we take domestic violence, and what we as a culture are willing to turn a blind eye to.”

If that’s the case, why not a campaign against the transgressions our culture is apparently happy to turn a blind eye to?

Following the alleged assault of a woman in the crowd at Friday’s Hawthorn v Fremantle match, AFL Chief Gillon McLachlan decried the act as “completely unacceptable”. By that token, one might ask why Wayne Carey – who has faced a number of allegations of domestic violence – is employed as an expert commentator. Similarly, given the NRL’s stance on domestic violence, it’s confusing to see Shaun Kenny-Dowall – arrested and charged with ten offences against his former partner including six counts of common assault – still on the field.

When Kevin Andrews denied Snoop Dogg a visa in 2007, he remarked, “He doesn’t seem the sort of bloke we want in this country.” It’s time to turn the spotlight on the abuse and misogyny inherent “in this country” – in our own sports and entertainment industries – and realise that there’s nothing feminist in employing the rhetoric of border policing in the fight against misogyny.

Who Welcomes Who in Multicultural Australia?

2 Oct 2014

Who Welcomes Who in Multicultural Australia?

By Jordy Silverstein and Max Kaiser

Debates about which groups are welcome or unwelcome in a multicultural nation only reinforce racism and notions of white control, write Dr Jordy Silverstein and Max Kaiser.

As Tony Abbott makes further gains in the polls, and amidst more ‘terror’ raids in Melbourne this week and a violent racist attack on a woman on a train near Batman station, it’s increasingly clear that Islamophobia is seriously on the rise in Australia again.

In recent days, anecdotal evidence is emerging of some Muslim people being afraid to leave their houses and living in fear of attack and abuse when in public places.

As Melburnian Jews, who are currently in the middle of the period of the High Holy Days, we are attending synagogues and community institutions with heightened security concerns. Security guards are posted at the entrances and sermons speak of a community under attack. But while antisemitism is certainly on the rise (particularly in Europe), and not something which is to be ignored, everyday violent forms of antisemitism are not mainstream. The same cannot be currently said for Islamophobia.

You only need to glance at recent covers of the Herald Sun or Daily Telegraph, listen to talkback radio or tune in to a speech by Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison to realise that Islamophobia is so mainstream as to have become part of the norm of our political culture.

Unsurprisingly too, women’s bodies are forming a battleground, as members of the Government and the Palmer United Party pretend that the niqab and burka (which are not the same thing, despite what the ignorant rhetoric might suggest) are both a security threat and a threat to Muslim women’s independence.

As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak famously put it, this is a reproduction of the well-worn colonial trope of ‘white men saving brown women from brown men’.  The structure of the debate reinstates a discourse of embattled whiteness, struggling to control who is considered legitimate and how ‘Others’ should be allowed to fit within the nation.

This discourse is part of a broader history of Australian racism. Indeed, the construction of minorities as ‘Other’ – and as needing to be controlled, reduced or conditionally included – has structured much of Australian history, from the initial moments of colonisation onwards.

Our own history as Jews with family members who came to this country carrying some of the scars of the Holocaust bears this out. Even in the aftermath of the Holocaust, boats coming to Australia from Europe had quotas for how many Jews were allowed on them. Those who came were viewed with suspicion and urged to assimilate.

Today there exists a different international context, as Muslim lives are routinely seen in the West as barely grievable, and often unintelligible. Despite claims by some that antisemitism and Islamophobia are dissimilar, what’s common to both is the racialisation of religious and cultural practices. Also common is the accusation of dual loyalties, the insinuation of an insufficient loyalty to the nation. Difference, in this case religious difference, is made pernicious. Different world-views, traditions, cultures and practices are not seen as an opportunity to learn, but rather as a source of crisis.

Jews and Muslims (and others) in Australia have a common stake in defending the multiculturalism of our society, but we need to be suspicious of a multiculturalism whose primary aim is to shore up the unity of the nation-state.

The statement put out by the Victoria Police Multi-Faith Council seems to have this aim, asking us to “remember the things which have made this state great” and noting that “The security of the Victorian community is everyone’s responsibility.”

This attention to ‘security’ and ‘law and order’, and a foregrounding of the role of the police, does little to construct safety. As we have just been reminded by the ‘counter-terror’ raids and the shooting of Numan Haider, the police and the security state are key to the Government’s creation of fear and division.

An official multiculturalism states: have your difference, but don’t overstep the boundaries, and always remember that we will decide the basis on which to accept and consume your difference.

But how then can we make a real challenge to Islamophobia, and Australian racism more generally?

The left, so accustomed to debating the ‘worthiness’ and ‘genuineness’ and ‘legitimacy’ of asylum seekers coming to Australia over the past 15 years, in the name of anti-racism sometimes simply expounds alternate population management strategies.

At the anti-Islamophobia rally in City Square in Melbourne last Friday, one of the major chants of the rally – ‘Muslims are welcome, racists are not’ – made many uneasy.

Is this to become another moment where the substance of political struggle is a fight over which white people have the ability to ‘welcome’, ‘to decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’?

We hope that the ‘left’ response to the current wave of Islamophobia is able to exceed the limits of what Ghassan Hage called ‘rituals of white empowerment’: ‘seasonal festivals where White Australians renew the belief in their possession of the power to talk and make decisions about Third World-looking Australians’.

As Mohamad Tabaa has similarly pointed out, much of the rhetoric of tolerance and multiculturalism represents only the flip side of bigotry rather than a challenge to racism’s underlying logic.

The real issues of a multicultural society are buried and distorted by a government and political culture based on fantasies of white domination and control. Multi-ethnic coalitions, built against fear and racism, and rejecting the false homogenising unity of the nation-state, now seem more necessary than ever.

– See more at:

Alternatives to Alternatives: the Black Grrrls Riot Ignored
Alternatives to Alternatives: the Black Grrrls Riot Ignored

Gabby Bess
by Gabby Bess
AUG 3, 2015
Nineties nostalgia has transformed the Riot Grrrl movement from the alternative underground to a mainstream obsession. But just like before, black women are being left out.

NYU’s Riot Grrrl Collection, curated by Lisa Darms, is impressive by almost every measure. Spanning from 1989 to 1996, the archive contains diaryesque zines, documents, and ephemera from the movement, chronicling a huge part of history written by women–girls–that you can sort with your hands. Combing through carefully scanned pages of zines that were passed from teenage girl to teenage girl, documenting their lives as they lived them, feels like reading letters from long lost best friends. Every duh and sk8 brings on a thick wave of nostalgia. But the archive is also notable for a less inspiring reason: Amongst the hundreds of documents is only one issue of one zine that tells the story of one black riot grrrl. There are other zines, like Chop Suey Specs or Bamboo Girl, that critique Riot Grrrl from the perspective of Asian American girls within the scene, but it was striking to search through the listings and find only one zine by one black girl, Ramdasha Bikceem. Riot Grrrl’s Black Friend. Put in that position so often, I knew I had to find her.

Bikceem was introduced to Riot Grrrl after an older friend of hers moved from Bikceem’s home in New Jersey to Olympia, Washington; the friend became roommates with the soon-to-be drummer of Bikini Kill, Tobi Vail, and started mailing zines to Bikceem back east. Living in the New Jersey suburbs, Bikceem was already into punk (the members of the Bouncing Souls went to her school), and she couldn’t help but identify with these missives from the West Coast. “I was into punk music and I wanted to start a band and they were doing all the things I wanted to do,” she said over the phone. “They started to write me letters and then it just evolved into pen pal friendships with people.” Soon after reading zines like Girl Germ and Bikini Kill from her pen pals, she started a zine of her own when she was 15. Initially “just pictures of [her] friends and song lyrics,” GUNK was born.

When our preoccupation with 90s nostalgia aligned with the development of NYU’s Riot Grrrl Collection, a subsequent book of the same name, and a Kathleen Hanna biopic, the most tangible result was the revitalization of the Riot Grrrl movement’s visibility in the press. As it’s remembered, Riot Grrrl–born out a frustration with a society and a music scene that reinforced the idea that, as the “Riot Grrrl Manifesto” says, “Girl=Dumb, Girl=Bad, Girl=Weak”–was the culmination of DIY punk culture and third-wave feminism in the early part of the decade. The myth of Riot Grrrl is often told through first-person accounts from its foremothers (most notably that charismatic Bikini Kill frontwoman) who have to be up for the challenge of defining a fragmentary movement that didn’t really exist in one time or place. But for all the struggling to distill what Riot Grrrl was and remains in the past and present, there’s one thing that can be agreed on: Somewhere among the grafs remembering “revolution grrrl now!” the history of Riot Grrrl is inevitably written as “predominately white,” glossing over the contributions of black women and other women of color.

The typical Riot Grrrl, as outlined in an infamous 1992 Newsweek article that defined the movement for the mainstream, was ‘young, white, suburban and middle class.’
The typical Riot Grrrl, as outlined in an infamous 1992 Newsweek article that defined the movement for the mainstream, was “young, white, suburban and middle class,” and in her intro to The Riot Grrrl Collection, Le Tigre’s Johanna Fateman confirms this descriptor. It wasn’t all white she explains, but “how could girls–drawn from punk’s predominantly white demographic, who relied on that scene’s resources and aesthetics–forge a truly inclusive, revolutionary agenda?”

In contrast to this ironclad narrative of the white Riot Grrrl, black women did participate in the movement. Few and far between, maybe, but they participated nonetheless, and they deserve more than to be swept under a rug of whiteness. What’s more, despite Fateman’s apologetic assertions that punk and the punk aesthetic are white culture, there were black women who imbibed with the spirit of punk in their bones outside the Riot Grrrl movement as well. These women carved their own feminist pathways into the hardcore scene, precisely because they were rendered invisible by the Riot Grrrl movement.

Ramdasha Bikceem’s zine “GUNK” issue number 4

Multiple essays in GUNK attempt to articulate the double burden of being a black girl who has to deal with the white girls in the scene on top of being a girl who has to deal with the white boys who dominated the mosh pits at punk shows. Talking to Bikceem, I felt her frustration at having to be the Black One, both in dealing with racism at the time and in retrospect. At one point during our conversation, she sighed and said, “I just hesitate to talk about Riot Grrrl like this because I become a footnote all the time, for reference.” But Bikceem and GUNK are more than an obligatory example of “diversity in Riot Grrrl.” In her zine Bikceem illustrates the intersection of race and gender in Riot Grrrl so perfectly, as only an angsty teen girl could. An essay titled “I’m Laughing So Hard It Doesn’t Look Like I’m Laughing Anymore” in GUNK #4 distills the politics of being a black grrrl, often only seen as a skin tone:

White kids in general, regardless if they are punk or not, can get away with having green Mohawks and pierced lips ’cause no matter how much they deviated from the norms of society their whiteness always shows through. For instance, I’ll go out somewhere with my friends who all look equally as weird as me, but say we get hassled by the cops for skating or something. That cop is going to remember my face a lot clearer than say one of my white girlfriends. I can just hear him now… ‘Yeah there was this black girl w/pink [sic] hair and two other girls.’

In a later passage, a journal of her experience at the first Riot Grrrl convention in D.C., Bikceem again notes this lack of awareness of intersectionality within the scene:

They had a workshop on racism and I heard it wasn’t too effective, but really how could it have been if it was filled up with mostly all white girls. One girl I spoke to after the meetings said the Asian girls were blaming all the white girls for racism and that she ‘just couldn’t handle that.’ Ever heard of the word Guilt???… The overall experience of the Riot Grrrl convention showed me a lot of different things and I’m sorry to say most of them were not very good ones… Don’t get me wrong I am totally for revolution grrrl now… but maybe it shouldn’t just be limited to white, middle-class, punk rock grrrls ‘cuz there’s no denyin’ [sic] that’s what it is.

It was disheartening to see how few of the stories in the annals of the Riot Grrrl Collection were by black women. The archive importantly preserves an alternative history of secret notes and public zines shared among girls–a narrative that never would have come from the perspective of power. But as I was looking at the history of Riot Grrrl in front of me I was left wondering: Where was the alternative to the alternative?

Sista Grrrl’s Riot in 1998. Courtesy of Honeychild Coleman

In the late 90s, hardcore musician Tamar-kali Brown was surveying the punk scene and wondering the same thing. Eventually she would found Sista Grrrl Riots, a string of one-night blowouts for and by black women who fronted bands or rocked solo. It was one black woman’s alternative to both the male-dominated punk scene and the white-dominated Riot Grrrl.

Tamar-kali Brown, or just Tamar-kali, as she’s been known throughout her decades-long career as a musician, has a Labret piercing and a shoulder’s worth of tattoos; for now, she wears her hair in long braids wrapped up in a scarf. According to her scandalously sparse Wikipedia page, she borrowed the hyphenated part of her name from the Hindu goddess of war and power. Needless to say, she’s very cool. So cool, in fact, that in 2006 she was chosen as the face of Afro-Punk, a documentary on contemporary black musicians in the punk scene. But back in 1997, New York’s black punk and hardcore scene existed in a bubble, without a film, a festival, or a lifestyle blog to bring together the disparate group of musicians that took part in “the other black experience.” Being a black woman in the scene was even more isolating. “I had been in the scene feeling like an island, dealing with all these boys and their penises,” Brown said. “Not personally, but just they way they insert them into life and into the air and the space around you.”

Somewhere among the grafs remembering ‘revolution grrrl now!’ the history of Riot Grrrl is inevitably written as ‘predominately white.’
A self-proclaimed “tough girl,” Brown had always had to deal with boys and their penises. For Brown–a black girl going to school in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, during a time when a 25-year-old black man named Yusef Hawkins was attacked and killed by a mob of up to 40 white kids while walking through the neighborhood–becoming a “tough girl” wasn’t so much of a choice. The crime was so close to home that the sister of Hawkins’s killer attended Brown’s school. Brown became the “tough girl” to prove that she could both hang with the boys and defend herself from them. From there, her taste in music mingled with her attitude. Brown had loved rock music from the moment she stole her dad’s Bad Company T-shirt, but her musical leanings became progressively harder in high school. She shaved her head bald, claimed straightedge, and was careful not portray herself as “fuckable.” Tough girls don’t get fucked–they fuck shit up.

Brown went off to college in 1991. That same year, inklings of Riot Grrrl were cropping up in New York, Olympia, and Washington, D.C., but Brown could only find herself unimpressed with the movement. “I was aligned philosophically in terms of understanding, but I still felt on the out because it was a white-dominate scene,” she said.

“Being in this urban jungle, I was a different type of girl,” she continued. “I was hearing what they were saying, but I was living in an environment where people were getting stabbed. Riot Grrrl felt like a bubblegum expression. I was bald, and I would get a lot of negative attention that bordered on violence, so I wasn’t in the world of [baby voice] ‘You just think I can’t play because I’m a girl!’

“I was just like, ‘I have to survive. I have to defend myself.’ Riot Grrrl felt really playful, and I wasn’t playing,” Brown said, again underscoring the friction between being forced to identify as black before being allowed to identify as a woman.

Where Bikceem, perhaps unknowingly, attempted to transform Riot Grrrl’s discourse on race from within, Brown was unconcerned with what these white girls were doing. If it’s any indication of what type of punk rock girl Brown was, if not a playful one, her favorite zine was Hothead Paisan: Adventures of a Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist.

Brown spent most of the 90s in New York identifying with the boys who were informed by black, alt-rock acts like Fishbone; she was hardly aware of any women like her in the punk scene. She was, indeed, an island, and she was about to become even more so as she thought about quitting the (almost) all-male band she fronted, Song of Seven. When she tried to break from the band, she noticed that “all those kids that dug what we were doing didn’t have interest in a woman as a solo artist, whereas if one of the guys [went solo] they could probably pull the same people.” With a new chip on her shoulder, it was then that she met one of the first black female musicians she could identify with, Honeychild Coleman.

Riot Grrrl felt really playful, and I wasn’t playing.
Coleman grew up as one of the few black girls in her suburban high school in Kentucky–the only black girl amongst her punk outcast friends who listened to Blondie and The Clash-and she had ideas of New York as being full of artists, punks, and weirdos like her after seeing the film The Smithereens. “I just knew that I had to move to New York and find other artists like me,” Coleman told me over coffee. “I knew I couldn’t be the only one. I was tired of being the only one.”

When I sat down to meet her, Coleman was wearing a Blondie shirt and colorful leggings that covered up the Cat in the Hat tattoo on her leg, which anyone who knows her uses as a descriptor. Across the table, I imagined her to be an enlarged version of her as high school student in the mid-80s, sans the Nona Hendrix hair, or even a version of my high school self. A fellow expat of white suburbia, I knew what she meant–what it felt like to always think that your people were nebulously “out there.”

For Coleman, they were. After a stint in art school and then following a boyfriend to California, as one does, she moved to New York City to start her music career in the mid-90s. Describing herself (accurately) as musically somewhere between “PJ Harvey and Björk,” she started playing in the subway and dabbling as a DJ. “I was always doing it on my own,” said Coleman, “but I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t have a scene because I wasn’t a part of the music scene before and I didn’t know how to get in.” Like Brown, she was an island.

Unable to find any women doing what she wanted to do, she quickly fell in with a crew of boys, most notably DJ Olive, the maestro of Brooklyn’s illbient scene who would later collaborate with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Then, fortuitously, Coleman’s roommate brought Brown home for dinner. Upon meeting and finding out that they were both hustling punk musicians, Brown and Coleman were shocked that they had never met before, knowing so many men in bands in common. The two islands in a sea of penises had finally found each other. They quickly became inseparable, often skateboarding around Brooklyn together.

Fate seemed to snowball. The women that Brown had been searching for kept materializing now that she was looking. Soon after meeting Coleman, Brown met Maya Glick, who played “more traditional rock ‘n’ roll

To hear Brown describe first meeting Glick in the audience of one of her shows is like someone describing finding religion–or just another black woman that they could finally relate to. “A good friend of mine had started playing with this sister named Maya,” Brown said. “I remember when I went to go see her, she did a Betty Davis cover. I almost lost my mind because I found out about Betty Davis when I was 19, and this was before she became a thing. When Maya did ‘I. Miller Shoes’ I ran up to the stage and I started banging on the stage and I totally freaked her out. I was losing it. I was just like, ‘Oh my god, she’s so awesome.'”

From there, Brown knew that Honeychild Coleman and Maya Glick had to meet, so she arranged for them both to come to one of Brown’s shows. “But when I get there to load in my stuff for the show, there’s this beautiful girl on stage with a violin playing this haunting song and I’m just transfixed by her. I thought she was an angel. Then she put the violin down and starts playing the guitar! Meanwhile, Honeychild’s at the bar, and she’s just like, ‘That’s my friend Simi [Stone].’ I’m like ‘YOU KNOW HER?’

“After that show we were kicking it and just like, what the fuck,” Brown continued. “We need to start doing shows together on some sista girl shit.”

So they did. On Friday, February 14, 1997, Tamar-kali Brown, Maya Glick, Simi Stone, and Honeychild Coleman threw a fucking riot. For the first time, the four women and their respective bands would put on a night of performances–a Sista Grrrl Riot. Since a riot needs rioters, the four of them excitedly staged a photo shoot and printed an official flyer announcing the bacchanalia, according to Brown. “The first one was crazy,” Brown said of the flyer. “It was a lipstick heart with our silhouettes in it, like Charlie’s Angels, and we had weapons. I brought my father’s machetes and BB guns for our shoot.” But unlike the flyer’s silhouetted BB guns and machetes would suggest, the riot’s real ammunitions were electric violins, bass guitars, and the raging voices of women who were lifelong punk outsiders. On this momentous night at Brownies, a now-defunct rock club on Avenue A, these four women had found their place, playing to a packed crowd who could finally see versions of themselves onstage.

If you bore passing witness to this night, you might have casually referred to Brown, Glick, Stone, and Coleman as Riot Grrrls, if you didn’t know any better. They were girls. They were angry. They were tired of playing shitty gigs and taking a backseat to the boys. But these women would scoff at the thought of designating themselves “Riot Grrrls,” or just plain correct you. “You had Riot Grrrl,” Brown explained, “and this was a Sista Grrrl’s Riot.” That distinction was crucial.

Flyer for the first Sista Grrrls Riot. Courtesy of Honeychild Coleman

when I sat down to talk with the co-president of the Black Rock Coalition, LaRonda Davis, she reiterated the importance of sheer visibility, not just for black women in punk music, but for black women, period. “I never looked at a magazine and thought that that was what I was supposed to look like,” Davis said. “On one hand, it’s actually kind of liberating to not be what this standard of womanhood is. That standard put a lot of women in boxes, and they spend their li[ves] trying to get out of the box. Black women were never allowed in the box. I wasn’t looking at TV saying, ‘Oh, that represents me.’ I wasn’t listening to music telling about my experience. I had experiences that told me I wasn’t concerned with these things that the happy songs were about.”

On one hand, it’s actually kind of liberating to not be what this standard of womanhood is, Davis said. That standard put a lot of women in boxes. Black women were never allowed in the box.
The Riot Grrrl box may have been decidedly off-limits in the eyes of Brown and other black women who couldn’t see themselves in the movement, but as Davis points out, these women shirked boxes, created their own wave, and reclaimed rock for black women. After all, rock music is black music. While the Sista Grrrls didn’t see themselves in Riot Grrrl or in the men they had been playing with in bands, they saw themselves in each other. “I got what Riot Grrrl was about. I didn’t think it was exclusive, but it didn’t feel inclusive to me,” said Brown. “I didn’t see myself or my story, and so that’s why Sista Grrrl came about later on–out of other women of color that I knew who were punk rock and navigated that scene and had similar feelings about it. Sista Grrrl was my response to Riot Grrrl because it just felt super white.”

After that first riot in 1997, Brown, Coleman, Stone, and Glick and their bevy of bands threw riots every couple of months, bringing out other female musicians as openers, making it one big grrrl party, inclusive of all women of color who needed a stage. The Slits’s Ari Up even opened one of the riots as a Sista Grrrl ally.

Brown attributes the rapt attendance at the riots to the fact that her “breasts used to fly out all the time”–unfortunately, Brown notes, some men were only there for the spectacle–but Coleman isn’t so glib about the impact the Sista Grrrl Riots had. “The thing that was really kind of heartbreaking and awesome was that none of us had ever played to so many black people in one room in our lives until we threw that first riot,” said Coleman. That night, they could just play music, for once. As women, as black women, and, most of all, as unapologetic punk rock musicians. “Wow,” Coleman remembered thinking as she stared out into the crowd, “This is a whole different game.”

fortress australia

Border Force fiasco: Operation Fortitude cancelled as protest shuts down Melbourne streets

August 28, 2015

Protesters force Border Force off Melbourne’s streets

Operation Fortitude plan for Australian Border Force to check visas on Mellbourne’s streets this weekend called off after flash protests halted city traffic in central Melbourne. (Vision courtesy ABC News24)

A widespread community backlash has led to Victoria’s chief police officer cancelling a controversial operation that would have seen people questioned about their visa credentials on Melbourne’s streets.

On Friday afternoon, just hours before Operation Fortitude was set to commence in central Melbourne, Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton called off the plans for a wide-scale police initiative that was meant to target anti-social behaviour over two consecutive nights.

Protests at
Flinders Street
Station.Protests at Flinders Street Station. Photo: Joe Armao

Operation Fortitude was first announced by the Department of Immigration on Friday morning. A press release said officers from the federal government’s new Australian Border Force agency would be stationed around Melbourne’s city checking “any individual we cross paths with”.

The press release sparked a fierce backlash on social media and later in protests that shut down one of the city’s busiest intersections, over concerns that police and Border Force officers would use racial profiling to stop and search people for possible immigration fraud.

“If you commit visa fraud you should know it’s only a matter of time before you’re caught out,” the initial Border Force statement said.

Protesters rally against the Australian Border Force in Melbourne last week over the aborted joint operation in the CBD.Protesters rally against the Australian Border Force in Melbourne last week over the aborted joint operation in the CBD. Photo: Joe Armao

Around the same time, Victoria Police issued a statement expressing its support for the operation, which was also set to involve transport inspectors, the Sheriff’s office and the Taxi Directorate.

However, Fairfax Media understands that after Chief Commissioner Ashton learned of the “specifics” of Border Force’s role in the operation, he withdrew his support, effectively aborting the entire plan.

Late on Friday afternoon, the Chief Commissioner’s office issued a “please explain” to Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg. Commissioner Quaedvlieg conceded the press release issued by his agency was “clumsily worded” and mischaracterised the paramilitary agency’s role in the operation.

Protesters took to Melbourne's CBD streets.Protesters took to Melbourne’s CBD streets. Photo: Joe Armao

The statement, largely attributed to Don Smith, Border Force’s Regional Commander for Victoria and Tasmania, was widely interpreted to mean officers would stop people for random visa checks. The agency later clarified that it would check the visas of people “referred to us” by police and other agencies involved in the operation.

However, the incident has left the state government and other groups seeking an explanation from the Abbott government.

Victorian Police Minister Wade Noonan said the operation was supposed to be a standard police one, but was cancelled after the “unfortunate and inappropriate characterisation by the Australian Border Force”.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg.Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg. Photo: Andrew Meares

Other senior members of the Andrews state government were shocked to learn of Border Force’s planned role.

It is unusual for Mr Noonan or the Premier’s office to receive detailed briefings on major police operations ahead of time unless it is a highly sensitive security issue.

A statement from Victoria Police said the force decided to cancel the operation after the “high level” of community interest and concern.

Victoria's Chief Commissoner of Police Graham Ashton.Victoria’s Chief Commissoner of Police Graham Ashton. Photo: Penny Stephens

About 300 protesters gathered at Flinders Street Station before 2pm, the scheduled time for a press conference about the operation.

After the demonstrators blocked an intersection and security concerns grew, the press conference was cancelled.

Border Force was established in July and reflects the federal government’s tougher line on national security. It combined Customs and Immigration functions into one unit. This week the agency attracted attention over the rollout of its new branding, including uniforms, which reportedly cost $10 million.

The Australian Border Force logo.The Australian Border Force logo.

Border Force officers have more powers than former department officials, including the power to detain offenders, carry guns, and gather intelligence. They can enforce migration laws, including the power to compel a person to produce documents such as visas and tax file numbers to check whether they are an unlawful non-citizen.

Mr Quaedvlieg said Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, a former policeman, was not involved in the issuing the press release. A spokesman for Mr Dutton said “ministers don’t direct operational matters”. He did not respond to questions over whether he knew of the operation in advance.

Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said Mr Dutton should “come out of hiding” to explain “the shambles that has seen a cross agency operation compromised and a key government agency left red-faced”.

Protesters stop traffic outside Flinders Street during action against Operation Border Force.Protesters stop traffic outside Flinders Street during action against Operation Border Force. Photo: Joe Armao

The Australian Border Force did not respond to questions posed by Fairfax Media including how much was spent on the operation.

Fights break out as rival protests clash over Bendigo mosque

United Patriots Front protesters break through barricades in the regional Victorian city before police restore order using capsicum spray

Anti-racism protesters rally in opposition to an anti-Islam rally in Bendigo, Victoria, on Saturday.
Anti-racism protesters rally in opposition to an anti-Islam rally in Bendigo, Victoria, on Saturday. Photograph: Luke Costin/AAP

Ugly scenes erupted between rival protesters at an event to condemn the construction of a mosque in Bendigo.

About 300 people opposed to the mosque broke through police barricades and started punching anti-racism protesters on the steps of the Bendigo town hall on Saturday afternoon. An Australian flag was burnt at the end of the protest.

Mounted police intervened and were able to restore order after spraying the crowd with capsicum spray.

United Patriots Front spokesman Blair Cottrell, who was affected by the capsicum spray, said residents did not want the mosque.

Anti-racism leader Ezekiel Ox denounced the presence of the police, labelling them “genocidal maniacs”.

Greater Bendigo’s mayor, Peter Cox, said it was disappointing that people from outside Bendigo felt the need to visit the city and cause trouble.

“It certainly doesn’t put Bendigo in the best situation,” Cox said. “We are a welcoming, giving and thoughtful city.”

He said the police did a great job of keeping the groups separated.

Several roads in central Bendigo were closed from 6pm on Friday, with further blockades around Hargreaves Mall on Saturday.

Victoria police spokeswoman Clair White said there were no arrests made and the capsicum spray was used to break up minor scuffles.

The local council gave the green light for the opening of the regional city’s first mosque in mid-2014, a decision later upheld by the Victorian civil and administrative tribunal.

But opponents claim there is no need for the mosque, which will include two prayer rooms, a shop and a community sports hall.

They argue it will cause traffic and social issues including the “Islamification of Bendigo” and a drop in house prices.

One comment on the “stop the mosque in Bendigo” Facebook site suggested it could lead to the poster not being able to cook bacon.

The rally ended but a strong police presence remained in the town on Saturday evening.

reclaim what


Medics’ Statement on July 18 anti-racist/fascist Demonstration
July 18, 2015

Today, antifascist protesters converged upon Spring Street in Melbourne near the Parliament of Victoria. They went there to counter racist rallies being held by Reclaim Australia and the fascist United Patriots Front.

As usual Victoria Police was also in attendance, and in the days leading to the protest it had promised a large presence and random weapons checks in response to rumours of fascists bringing weapons and intending violence.

Victoria Police’s goal for the day was to facilitate Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front holding their rallies out the front of Parliament House. In order to achieve this mounted officers and members of the Public Order Response Team (PORT) complemented uniformed officers on the streets, and OC (Pepper) spray was deployed against counter-protesters.

Amongst those affected by the OC Spray was a casualty who began to experience respiratory distress, a not uncommon side-effect of OC spray and other such “less-than-lethal” chemical weapons. In the course of attending to this casualty and decontaminating others who had been affected, members of the Melbourne Street Medic Collective (including one pregnant woman) were attacked by police with OC Spray and kettled in a small space at the top of Little Bourke Street.

Footage of the incident will be reviewed as it becomes available but at this point there seem to be only two explanations for the deployment of chemical weapons against the Street Medics: some witness reports have indicated that Victoria Police officers were spraying the crowd indiscriminately and did not check who they were attacking until after the fact. Others have said that police ignored the shouts of the crowd advising them that someone was receiving medical attention and with the decision to spray all medics this action should be seen as a deliberate attack upon medical personnel and their treatment space.

As one of our medics has since remarked:

“Possibly more than 100 people needed to be treated today as police indiscriminately fired pepper spray into the crowd, including onto an injured man who was struggling to breathe, was losing consciousness, and was awaiting an ambulance. They also sprayed the medics treating him. Someone had a seizure, two were taken to hospital and a few were sent home (by us as medics) due to the after-effects of the pepper spray (namely hypothermia-like symptoms of shaking and an inability to normalise body temperature). It was absolute fucking carnage and it was completely unnecessary and provocative. The racists didn’t cop any of the pepper spray at all as far as I know, and they got a three-line police escort away from the area.”

Victoria Police should rightfully be condemned for the deployment of chemical weapons, the targeting of medical personnel, casualties and medical treatment spaces with such weapons and, most of all, doing this in order to facilitate a public rally of racists and overt fascists and neo-nazis. Any assessment of the actions of antifascist protesters will conclude that they were inherently defensive: against threats of violence and the use of weapons by fascists and nazis as part of the United Patriots Front, and against the violence of racism and systematic oppression on the parts of Reclaim Australia, the United Patriots Front and Victoria Police…


A few thoughts after the “Reclaim Australia” rally and counter-rally

Photo from Perth counter rally, stolen from @zebparkes,

I can’t be arsed putting together anything intelligent on “Reclaim Australia”, but there are a couple of brief comments I wanted to make.

1. Islam is not a race – and you are still a racist!

A message to the “reclaimers”: you are a pack of utter racists. You might think you’re being really clever with the whole “Islam is not a race” line, well it’s time for a sixty-five year old news flash: there is no such thing as biological ‘race’.

The category of ‘race’ is socially constructed; it is the product of a system of domination. ‘Race’ is constructed in order to define the out group. The creation and maintenance of a social system of domination and oppression that targets this outgroup is racism.

It doesn’t really matter if you are building a system of oppression that defines the outgroup by religion rather than skin colour, the essential element of racism is the construction of a system of oppression that targets an entire segment of the working class for villification and discrimination. Religion or skin colour, the dynamic is the same; “Reclaim Australia” is a racist project.

It is worth noting that without a relationship of power and domination, someone using a racial slur is not being racist, merely rude. The indigenous teenager who calls you a white c-nt is not creating or maintaining a hierachy of which you are the victim, she’s just being coarse (and in view of history, understandably so).

Related:Theodore W. Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race”, a presentation by Jeffrey Perry.

The sad fact is that the vast majority of Australians still think biological race exists. The majority now think it is bad to discriminate on the basis of race, but if race really does exist (in the world of “commonsense”) and “religion is not a race”, then the likes of Pauline Hanson and Shermon Burgess can continue claiming they’ve escaped being racists on a technicality.

Islamophobic racism is hardly the exclusive preserve of working class fascists like Shermon Burgess. The real work in constructing Islam as the “other” has been done by the state. The raft of “anti-terror” legislation, public propaganda, and fear mongering rhetoric that has emmanated from the top of the political hierachy has created the space in which fascists like Shermon Burgess are now operating.

See also: First Dog on the Moon, ‘A racist carrot reclaims Australia’, The Guardian.

2. If you equate abusing racists with racism you are a f-cking muppet

In the aftermath of the “Reclaim Australia” rallies it’s been pretty clear that the “I’m not racist but…” crowd aren’t the only ones who haven’t got the faintest idea of what actually constitutes racism. Take this choice quote is from Brad Chilcott, director of Welcome to Australia, in The Guardian yesterday:

Fighting hatred with hatred at Reclaim Australia rallies is a failure of progressive politics

What’s less obvious is what “progressives” were hoping to achieve this Easter by opposing naked hatred and foul abuse with public expressions of the same hatred and abuse.

If the counter demonstrations in Melbourne were nothing more than “public expressions of the same hatred and abuse”1 as “Reclaim Australia”, then racism is little more than foul language and a bad attitude.

To the likes of Chilcott racism is simply a vulgar attitude held in sections of the working class. His is the kind of analysis that assumes public policy in Australia is so racist because the Australian working class is so racist, our political leaders have not created racism, merely pandered to it and failed to “show leadership”. His role as a liberal anti-racist is to promote “diversity, compassion, generosity”2 amongst those unenlightened working class types. When that is your analysis, of course getting in the streets and shouting at racists is as bad as racism itself.

Chilcott is utterly wrong, he confuses the symptoms of racism with racism itself. “Hatred” and “foul abuse” are not racism itself, they are public expressions of racism. The public expression of racism creates, re-creates and reinforces the system of racism, but the system itself is more than this. Racism is a social structure of domination: one part of the working class is segmented off from the whole and subjected to greater oppression; the remainder of the class are co-opted into the process of racist oppression and are bought off with a position of relative privilege.

If you cannot criticise the structure of racism, and the system that creates and re-creates it, how can you attack racism? Obviously you can’t; if you cannot see the problem you cannot be effective in combatting it (except by pure chance). Chilcott is worse than ineffective, in failing to see what racism is he reacts against forces that actually have the potential to combat racism.

3. “Reclaim Australia” is fascist

Let’s call a spade a spade. “Reclaim Australia” is fascist, and I am not saying that simply because it has drawn the participation of an array of far right and overtly neo-Nazi supporters.

Fascism “is as a particular form of mass movement, possessing a core set of ideas, and in which the ideology and movement interact. … [It is] a specific form of reactionary mass movement” which is “racist, nationalist, and militarist”3. “Reclaim Australia” fits the fascist bill on all counts:

  • racist, in it’s demonisation and attacks on muslims and Islam, and its attempts to construct muslims as an other counterposed to “Australia” and “Australians”;
  • nationalist, with it’s overt flag-draped appeals to “Aussie pride”, continual talk of ‘patriotism’, and the casting of its campaign as ‘Islam vs Australia’;
  • militarist, in its continual appeals to the ANZAC myth, valorisation of the ADF, etc. It was telling at Melbourne rally just how many of the assembled bigots claimed they had “fought them” (meaning Muslims) “over there” (meaning in the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afganistan).

The organisers of the “Reclaim Australia” rallies certainly intended them to be the launching point for a far right movement. The anti-Islam conspiracy theories of “Reclaim Australia” are its core set of ideas, and I think we are seeing an interaction between the people gathering around the “Reclaim Australia” banner and these ideas.

Further Reading: Dave Renton, Fascism: Theory and Practice.

4. Racism and fascism have a public space agenda

Public space matters, and a heck of a lot of societal control and power is bound up in who is allowed in public space, how they are legally or societally required to act, dress, and so on. Fascism seeks to dominate public spaces and to drive opponents, targetted groups, and rival politics out of public space.

This is a half developed thought on my part, but a sizeable chunk of the historical experience of racism seems bound up in public space. Segregation for example, whether in Australia or the United States, had a heck of a lot to do with who was allowed where in public, and how they were required to act.

A good deal of a lot of the “Reclaim Australia” rhetoric is also basically about public space. Outlawing “the Burqa or any variant thereof”4 is essentially an attempt to control how people look in public. The conspiratorial rubbish around halal certification boils down to an attempt to determine what can or can’t appear on the packaging of goods sold in public.

Public rallies by racists and fascists are attempts to control or change who feels safe and comfortable in public space. At present (thankfully) it is socially unacceptable (mostly) to make overt statements of outright racism publically; the public expression of racism often results in some form of social sanction. The far right is attempting to reverse this situation. By rallying in public they are seeking to embolden racists, and bring racism directly into public space. The results of this will be reaped in a increased harvest of racist abuse and attacks directed at muslims.

More than anything else, the public space agenda of racism and fascism is the reason racism must be fought directly and in public, not behind closed doors on some farm in the hills.

A vocal and determined counter-rally is both a general rejection of racism, and a direct action to disrupt a specific attempt by racists to build an overtly racist movement in the public sphere.

Final thoughts

Bringing all this crap together… The last time the so-called “Australian Defense League” tried to have a rally in Melbourne thirty people attended. Four years later and with four months of preparation (and a significant rebranding), the far right managed to assemble a few hundred in Melbourne and Sydney, and concerningly large numbers in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Perth. They are seeking to build a far right movement on a base of anti-Muslim racism, and their rallies are clear attempts to embolden racists, intimidate Muslims, and build a milleu in which the far right can recruit and propagandize. The qualms of liberal anti-racists and social democrats should be dismissed, because when fascists rally on the streets they need to be smashed back into the sewers they rose out of.

And see again…