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"We all need to be allies"

It's been a tough year, writes theatre maker Suz Mawer. But we can use the time on our hands to positive ends.

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Category: Conversation
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Post-Covid 19, There is work to be done

Date: 5 Jun 2020

It’s been a tough year, and it’s only June. I’ve had quite a bit to think about and reflect on.

The core of these thoughts have been around identity and my place in the world. What it is, what it was, what I want it to be.

Covid 19 put pause to employment for me, as it did and has to many others around the world. For me this meant the first time since I was 15 years old that I wasn’t juggling three-five jobs concurrently.

I was forced to stop.

And I didn’t know what to do.

I didn’t know who I was.

I started examining what made me angry, what gave me pleasure. I found myself reluctant to create in a world that undervalued the cost of creating art and entertainment.

Who was I if I wasn’t defined by my employment?

According to a very thoughtful neighbour, I was now a ‘bum’.

What was left for society to judge me by?

My final piece of work as an actor pre-Covid was released, and a friend of many years confused another actor of colour for me on the show – despite the fact that this actor was from a vastly different cultural background and had a significantly different hair style.

Then, an indigenous Australian sacred site was destroyed in Juukan Gorge… during National Reconciliation Week.

And African American George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.

And there is a continual stream on media and internet about the poor treatment of people of colour, women and trans people in Australia and around the world.

I have for the most part remained silent on social media on this. I do this with reason. Right now, I have no energy to debate or educate people.

I am tired.

For 43 years I have existed as a woman of colour.

I have been made aware of my difference.

I have had to ‘behave’ when my industry has been less than understanding of their privilege.

Like the time a director for a television commercial thought it appropriate to let us know that the only reason he was auditioning us was because diversity was ‘in’. And in his opinion it was political correctness gone mad.

Or the artistic director who announced that they had to search for actors overseas because the talent wasn’t here among actors of colour.

Or the casting director – not a person of colour – who when reading against me as an Indian character thought it appropriate to use what she considered an Indian accent.

Or the theatre director – not a person of colour – who excitedly told me that his production would ‘only feature one white guy’ and seemed to have no other rationale besides it was fashionable.

And now I see media companies and casting directors and just about anyone with a social media account blacking out their profile pictures and promising to do better.

I hope they do.

I think we could all educate ourselves better on our biases and correct them.

We all need to be allies.

We all need to put in the work, and there is a tonne of work to be done.

Let’s start with ourselves.

Please don’t let this be a marketing campaign.

Please don’t let this be about doing something to be in fashion. Let it be about the long, hard path of continual positive change.

Please let us all have a long hard look at ourselves and challenge ourselves to be our better, more tolerant and enlightened selves every day.

I am more than my jobs. I am more than the colour of my skin. I am more than the culture that was taken from me.

We are all more than the labels that are used to define us.

Let’s be defined by our strength of character, by our compassion, and by our courage to strive to be our best selves and make the lives of others better.

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