Meeting at the intersections

By Tabitha Lean (Budhin Mingaan)

I’m sick of imploring white women to be intersectional. I mean it, I’m done with it. I won’t beg for my humanity to be realised. I won’t plead for my life or the lives of my people to matter. I won’t because my liberation has never been, and will never be, found in white hands. I know this because the emancipatory pathway I seek can only be paved by my people. I also know that each time we lay a paver, white men and white women lift it from the sand and build their own fort with it.  

But the recent walks for justice got me thinking: what exactly does justice mean for white women in the colony? And can their brand of feminism ever be intersectional when our needs don’t ever seem to intersect at all? 

Hold up and hear me out here. You’re probably thinking to yourself: ‘is she really saying that a white woman doesn’t care about Black lives or the issues affecting Black fullas?’ Well yes, you’d be right, I am saying that. And I’m saying it to all white women, even those who have a Blak friend, a Blak kid or some proximity to mob. 

You see, the very same day women took to the streets to march for justice and protest against the sexual abuse and harassment of women in this country, spurred on by a recent wave of allegations of sexual assault centred around Canberra, my people were mourning. They were mourning the loss of their sons and daughters to the violent colonial frontier disguised as a ‘corrections’ system. In fact, we’ve been in a perpetual state of mourning for 233 years when the enslaving and incarcerating of my people began. The week women took to the streets, we had just bore witness to three more of our own being killed by the carceral state – three lives extinguished by a system designed to protect those white women from people like me.  

Did the lives and deaths of my people matter to those women?  Did women read about the lynching of my people and take to the streets?  

Frankly, no.  

And then I got to thinking, if the breath of my people being snuffed out by agents of the carceral state didn’t matter to those white women, I can only assume that the lives of women behind bars wouldn’t matter either. I know they didn’t matter because no one at those rallies talked about the sexual violation and assault of criminalised women behind bars. And when I took to Twitter to grumble about that, I had loads of women respond saying, ‘oh, they definitely mentioned the sexual violence experienced by criminalised women who are now in prison’…but, and this is an important distinction, not a single peep was said about the daily sexual assault and torture myself and all women in the ‘system’ endure at the hands of the state while in custody. Not a peep about the strip-searching of women and girls. Not a peep about the torture of women while in isolation cells. Not a peep about the women who haven’t held their children for months and months because of COVID-19 prison shutdowns. Not a peep about the gaslighting and coercive control by ‘corrections’ and parole systems every single day. Nothing. Zippo. Zilch.  

And before you come at me over this, it’s bloody true. While those same feminists marching for justice (their justice, or at least justice for sistas that look just like them), women all across this country were being sexually violated by the system. Blak bodies are being abused and Blak lives extinguished, Blak lands raped and pillaged and Blak waters polluted. But it took the sexual assault of women that looked like them to make them rise up! And don’t get me wrong, it was right that they got angry. I was angry. All I’m saying is, where the fuck is the anger for my criminalised sistas? Where is the anger towards the carceral state? Where are these feminists who are consistently calling for expanding the carceral net and extending the criminalisation of people when I am being assaulted by the state? 

No, the reckoning only came when their proximity to injustice was exiguous… and let’s face it, our Blak lives have never mattered unless given in service or sacrifice to the colony. That’s a fact. 

And, the colony includes white women, in fact, many of those women marching are complicit in the maintenance and furtherance of the colonial project. I mean, our needs never even intersect. While women were standing in the streets for women, I was worrying about my sistas, siblings and brothers in my community. While they were screaming for the rights of women, I was worrying for my transgender siblings who face appalling levels of violence. While they were marching with their placards, I was thinking of my disabled brothers, sisters and kin who face discrimination and violence on the daily. While they were crying, I was wiping the never-ending tears from my Elder’s eyes. While they went back to their homes patting themselves on the back for a job well done, my sleeves were still rolled up because our job is never done. While they went to sleep at night satisfied that they had caught the attention of their Prime Minister, I was left wondering whether he would ever care about my people.  

Whether white women are intersectional in their feminism or not, I don’t actually care. I’ll keep speaking back to them. I’ll keep raising my Blak voice. I’ll keep standing up, speaking up, speaking out and fighting for my people. Because I don’t need them. I don’t need them to see me, because when they do, I am nothing more than a token Blak brought in to ‘intersection’ up their brand of feminism, and I am no one’s token. I am nobody’s Blak accessory.

So stand aside, because we’re coming through. And we stand on the shoulders of giants and have the blood of all our grandmothers’ past coursing through our veins. The only people I want to meet at the intersection, is my own people, because we are unstoppable and will not only pave a pathway to freedom, we’ll clear the damned ground and lay our own foundations of truth, justice and liberty, you’ll see.

Tabitha Lean is a storyteller, poet, artist, abolition activist. Tabitha is a Gunditjmara woman, born and raised on Kaurna yerta. She is blessed to have her mother’s stories and the blood of all the women before her coursing through her veins. It is in their honour, that she centres their unique knowledge, and privileges their voice in all her work.

Follow her on Twitter or read more of her writing

YWCA Australia wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work, live and play and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We recognise First Nations people as the custodians of the lands, seas and skies, with more than 60,000 years of wisdom, connection and relationship in caring for Country.

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