Dear YA, I Am Not A Savage

This article was hand written first. I wrote down everything I wanted to say. It was a great moment to self reflect and well talk to myself. Which also describes how I’ve felt in specific situations. Talking to myself. No one actually listening. Like that one friend in a group who’s talking but no one is listening because they’re all paying attention to someone else who’s also talking to the whole group. It honestly feels like it’s just me and a collection of letters forming words that belong to a foreign language I was made to speak ‘properly’ in Primary School.

Before I go any further, I have a couple of things I need to share about myself. I am primarily Tongan and Torres Strait Islander. If I were to describe myself to you I’d say I’m a strong Black Polynesian teenage woman, who is very queer, living with chronic pain and loves she/her and they/them pronouns. I’d also say that I love to write a lot, and actively participate in my community through activism or volunteering. I’d continue on and tell people how I’ve been travelling around Australia, meeting more of my people, gaining more brothers and sisters. I’d tell you about the connection I have to land and sea, to country. The connection to stories told by my people, through music or wise words, as we sit around in a circle. I’d have so much to say about myself, so much to share, so much to discover and yet, I would never, ever, describe myself as a Savage.

The word Savage is a loaded gun, ready to fire. It is clearly linked to oppression and colonialism. Savage also has so many negative connotations and was a term used specifically for Indigenous/Native people. It was used to describe African, Polynesian & Indigenous people.

Labelling Indigenous Australians as savages was a way to dehumanise us, to put us in a different category other than humans. Savage literally means, uncivilised, ferocious, untamed, barbarous, enraged,  unpolished and rude; if used to describe people. As a noun, savage means an uncivilized human being, a fierce, brutal, or cruel person, a rude, boorish person or a member of a preliterate society. These definitions and meanings do not describe me, so why use it to describe and insult people of colour (PoC), especially Indigenous characters?

Savage was also used in association with primitive too. As if we were not capable of thinking, or learning, or doing anything as great or greater than the white man. Charles Darwin, a scientist with several publications to his name and someone you’ve definitely heard of in high school, had claimed that Indigenous Australians were part of a savage race. This was published in his name, these are his words, these are words belonging to a white man. We were compared to apes and were basically described as ‘ape like’. We weren’t considered human beings, we were seen as animals. In the embedded document below, it was believed that Aboriginal people were “primitive savages little removed from the apes”. How much more detail does one need to know that we weren’t human to our colonisers. We were massacred, labelled savages, were widely thought to be descendants of apes and so much more.

We have a traumatising history that begins over 200 years ago, from the beginning of the colonisation of our country. The trauma from everything we’ve suffered through still affects us, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indigenous people were seen as animals, as savages, we didn’t get treated like human beings. We were part of the flora and fauna until the 1967 referendum. It was in 1967 we were granted Australian citizenship, the right to vote in federal elections and the right to be included into the Census. However we weren’t considered as equal beings until the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. When authors and people in general use savage as an insult or a descriptor for people of colour (PoC) , I am reminded of how far my people have come in our country that has been westernised and structured to never benefit them. I am reminded how we were treated as animals and weren’t even considered Australian citizens on the country we have existed on for hundreds of thousands of years.

Due to being seen as savages and well, sub-humans, the Australian government had decided to get rid of us. They had declared we were a dying race and to quicken this process they decided to take children away who weren’t “full blood Aboriginal”. Half-caste was used to described children who were ‘half Aboriginal’. If you were half-caste you were taken away and put onto a mission where you had to deal with mistreatment and sexual abuse. The stealing of children was a policy in Australia until 1970. How sickening is it to know that we were treated so much like animals that our children were literally taken away from us to assimilate into white society. I talk about the term half-caste and the Stolen Generations in length in Anjulie’s Nevernight Article. If you want to learn a little more about the Stolen Generations, feel free to check out these clips here. These clips are from a documentary that I highly recommend, so feel free to buy it and watch it in full to get more context on the short clips.

I am so sick of my people being depicted as savages, being seen as lesser human beings and not given the respect we deserve. We are still suffering from colonisation. We’re over-represented in prisons (we occupy 3% of the country but have 28% in prison), 95% of us are affected by suicide in our communities, 60% of Indigenous kids are behind non-Indigenous kids in Education, our mortality rates a ridiculously low and so much more. The continued colonisation of Australia still affects us to this day. We still experience the trauma. We still have to fight to protect OUR OWN COUNTRY, OUR OWN LAND. A perfect example of this is the Federal and Queensland government supporting the construction of the Carmichael mine on Aboriginal lands. I wrote an article about it (here). The government has given a mining company permission to build on Aboriginal lands. This is not okay, it will never be okay. This situation just reminds me that we will never be seen as equals, never be treated with respect and it will always be brought back to the fact that we are seen as savages. It hurts, how can it be 2017 and yet we aren’t seen as equals? We are still treated as outsiders in our own country. How are we still treated as essentially like savages?

If you’ve read this whole article, thank you. Thank you for not making me feel like someone who’s talking to themselves, but to an actual community who are keen to understand how hurtful savages is. Thanks for letting me know that my voice is important. Thank you for boosting it, thank you for sharing it, thank you for telling the world that we aren’t here anymore for books that degrade PoC with “savages”. I am not a savage, you aren’t either.

I’m tired of non-Indigenous and NBPoC saying they don’t find Carve the Mark or The Continent racist. That’s cool, good for you. But why don’t you use your platform to boost voices who are directly affected by these tropes and slurs. Carve the Mark is anti-Indigenous, stating that it isn’t racist in your non-Indigenous opinion doesn’t make it not racist. Just means you weren’t affected by it. Not seeing how degrading ‘Savages’ is, is ignorant and racist in itself. Just listen friends, see how much this affects us. See how much pain we have suffered and see how it is racist. Not showing compassion and empathy with those affected just shows your true character and what truly matters to you.

So Dear YA, I am not a Savage. I am not your token black girl either. You do not get to use savage without challenging and unpacking it. I will not sit down and be silent. I refuse to be silent. I also refuse to only be ‘heard’ and ‘seen’ and applauded for my voice when it comforts white people and then get dismissed or “well actually’d” by white people and non-Indigenous people when I critique their work. I will not waste #blackgirlmagic on people, especially white people, who refuse to listen. My #blackgirlmagic isn’t for educating people. I’m not going to assimilate, I’m going to resist. I will always resist. If you’re not with me, then where do you stand? Will you stand by and watch as we get degraded as savages? or will you rise with me, and challenge it?

Thanks for reading you mob, stay black, stay deadly.

7 thoughts on “Dear YA, I Am Not A Savage

  • Meleika! This was a wonderful post and a privilege to read. I'm going to tweet @ you too, but wanted to comment here before I forgot.

  • Thank you so much for putting the time and energy into this post with all of the links and resources. The burden shouldn't be on you to prove your humanity like this, and I'm sorry that so many people in my community (non-black/non-indigenous Asians) with large platforms/followings have chosen to speak over you instead of listening. I will do everything within my power to uplift your voice and hold my people accountable. I am going to write my own post addressing antiblack/anti-indigenous racism in the Asian community and will link to this post.

  • Hi… No you (and no-one else) is a savage, but reading this post was a bit of a revelation to me, I am a white Australian male approaching 50, so possibly someone people would expect to hold the views you are rising up against. This is why I wanted to post here, with the intent of foreshadowing some hope for the future.

    I have lived the majority of my life in Tasmania, but have lived and worked in a range of places in Australia including far North Queensland. I have worked with, respected, and called friend a lot of people along the way, from white and non-white communities. I know in relation to my generation I am a minority, and when I speak to my own parents the issues you raise are very clearly still an issue, BUT when I speak to my teen aged niece and nephew they are always angry at the bigotry and racism of the older generations.

    Why am I writing this, first to say that not all of us in the semi-older generations (I am resisting calling myself older 🙂 ) hold to the earlier generations views and bigotry, and more importantly, the younger generations are rising up with you more and more. I know this is a long journey though, and neither of us is likely to see a complete shift in community view in our lifetimes. I do however want to make sure you know that you have support, not all of white Australia is as you describe, and every generation is changing, becoming more aware, learning and respecting.

    I know there is a risk I will be viewed by readers as just another white Australian in denial, but I would hope I can be viewed instead as a man (colour blind) that looks forward to a future where we all look back at the use of terms like savage and recognise how far we have changed as a nation.


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