ACRAWSA AGM President’s Report

On March 7 the Australian Critical Race & Whiteness Studies Association held its annual general meeting. Full minutes of the meeting will be posted to the website and sent to all members in due course. The event was live-streamed and can be watched again on our Facebook page.

You can read ACRAWSA President, Alana Lentin’s report here.

I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting on Gadigal country today and that this is land is unceded sovereign territory stolen from its ongoing owners by a persistent colonial power. I would like to acknowledge that my existence here on Gadigal land is possible because of the colonial domination of this land. I hope that whatever work I do can be of benefit in the ultimate aim of decolonisation.

I was given the honour of becoming ACRAWSA President in June 2017, standing unopposed for the position. I was happy, although daunted, to be taking over from the association’s co-founder Aileen Moreton-Robinson who, while continuing to be supportive of our work, has moved on to focus most of her attention on the NIRAKAN network.

At the time the new executive committee started to work, ACRAWSA had not really been functioning as a scholarly association for several years. The last annual conference had taken place in Meanjin in 2014. Another effort to run a short conference had failed due to a lack of interest. Most drastically, the website had been hacked and had not been reconstructed resulting in the fact that people could no longer access the Critical Race and Whiteness Studies journal. Holly Randall-Moon, the previous editor of the journal – who should be thanked for her hard work – had handed over several peer reviewed articles but these unfortunately were never published (as journal editor Sam Schulz explains in her report).

Our first job was to rebuild the website and recruit a new team to run the journal. Sam Schulz, Nikkie Moodie, Greg Vass and Tristan Kennedy were chosen to be the new editorial committee. We also ran a competition to look for a new logo for the association, and the winner was Jacinta Fong who created our super logo.

At our first executive meeting in Naarm in September 2017, we decided it would be a good idea to use the website to run a blog, and Maria Elena Indelicato who had volunteered to edit it, was appointed as blog editor. 

We were honoured to receive the authority to use words in Kaurna language as titles for the different blog sections from the Kaurna Warra Karrpanthi, the leading group dedicated to Kaurna language revitalisation and maintenance process. ACRAWSA began on the lands of the Kaurna Nation, in what is now known as Adelaide. At the suggestion of the Indigenous academic leaders on our Executive and Editorial teams, we have sought guidance from the Kaurna Nation on the use of Kaurna language to acknowledge the Country the Association began on, to help anchor our work in place.

We are grateful to Tristan Kennedy for brokering this process and to Nikki Moodie for liaising with the KWK and for writing the beautiful statement explaining the choice of words and the reason for using them as headings which you can read on the website.

A major part of our activity since the end of 2017 when the blog launched has been the development of the website as a locus for engagement with the central concerns of the association which are 

‘to provide a network for established scholars, early career researchers, and students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and to promote scholarship and other activities which respect the existence of and continuing rights deriving from Indigenous sovereignties in Australia and elsewhere; and critically investigate and challenge racial privilege and the construction and maintenance of race and whiteness, both past and present.’

Marilena’s report provides further details.

We also developed our social media presence significantly. Going from 200 followers on Twitter in June 2017 to 1,400 currently. 

In July, we organised our first event, ‘Thinking Relationally about Race, Blackness and Indigeneity in Australia,’ with keynotes by Irene Watson and Alexander G. Weheliye. The event was very successful due to the quality of papers from a range of early and later career Aboriginal, Black and Brown scholars. In addition to all the speakers I would like to thank Nilmini Fernando, Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, Maria Giannacopoulos, Sujatha Fernandes and Yassir Morsi for so ably chairing the sessions. 

Another facet of our work has been representing the association via our engagement in events of concern to the scholarly community and the wider public. To that end, we have developed two open letters, one to the Australian Academy for the Humanities for its failure to include an Aboriginal scholar in a panel on ‘Cultural studies and Indigenous Issues.’ This resulted in the invitation to an Aboriginal scholar to speak at the event to commemorate twenty years of the Academy’s cultural studies section.

The second open letter, signed by 200 people, is to the editors of the Monash Bioethics Review due to their publication of an article entitled ‘Defending Eugenics.’ This article was also republished by both the Allegra anthropology blog and by the Media Diversified website. However, the editors of the review failed to acknowledge our protest or respond. 

We have also been involved in the lively discussions in response to the Ramsay Centre BA in Western Civilisation. We published a symposium on the blog and I participated at a public meeting at the University of Sydney. I anticipate that this issue is going to be at the forefront of our efforts as critical race scholars for some time in the future.

We are sometimes asked to be involved in a supporting role in events organised by others on issues of concern to ACRAWSA. At times this has led to criticism – for example on the choice of speakers – and we as an association have to think carefully about how we represent ACRAWSA’s role in these events. 

Lastly, I would like to make a few remarks about the future of the association. 

I feel very strongly that Australia needs ACRAWSA. There are many race critical voices around the country doing important work, and the association is the only vehicle that is able to truly represent the diversity of this work while centering the aim of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty.

Nonetheless, I feel that ACRAWSA carries the weight of its past on its shoulders and that we suffer from views of the association that no longer adequately represent what it aims to do. As a recent arrival to Australia, I feel that the over-bearing whiteness of this society has made it difficult for people to feel comfortable participating in an association that explicitly seeks to stand apart from hegemonic whiteness. There is not yet the confidence that is required to fully embrace an association that places critical race scholarship at its heart. We constantly hear that people are fed up with white dominance in academia and public life in general, but I don’t feel that we are trusted yet as an association to provide an adequate alternative.

I think that one reason for this is the centering of whiteness studies within ACRAWSA itself. For a long time, after its initial beginnings, ACRAWSA became a site for the exploration of whiteness and colonial domination by white scholars in a way that could be read as exclusionary by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members and others. I don’t think this was intentional, but from my albeit partial reading of the association’s history, I feel that this may have been detrimental to its aims.

An allied problem is that I myself am not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and I think the association would be better served by being run by someone who is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Thus, I have seen my role since the beginning as that of ‘caretaker’. The facts are that there was no one willing or able to take over the association in 2017 but there were many people who cared about it enough and wanted to see it go on.

Having said that, ACRAWSA is only worth preserving if there is persistent and genuine interest in preserving it. I would like to go on leading the association until the end of my term at the end of 2019. I would then like to be able to hand over to a team of committed critical race scholars who can take it into the future. What we as the executive committee really need to know now is a) whether there is a desire for the association to continue and b) whether you are willing to be involved and help us to make it the brilliant association I know it has the potential to be, a real hub for critical race scholarship, community building and public intellectual engagement in Australia. 

If you are with us, there are a number of potential plans for the rest of the year.

  1. ACRAWSA has been asked to propose an event for the annual social sciences week and we would welcome your input on what this could look like.
  2. I have been offered the possibility by Macquarie University to participate in their internship programme, through which a postgraduate student(s) can be attached to a specific ACRAWSA led research project. Please let us know that you think we could do!
  3. I would like to see us publish some reports and/or audits on the state of research finding on issues related to our field. One concern is the amount of funding that is ear-marked for projects on ‘countering violent extremism’ often by researchers with little/no association to the Muslim community. Perhaps there are other issue that our members would like to see investigated and we would welcome involvement from researchers/research teams to carry out this work (perhaps with the help of a Macquarie University student intern).
  4. Annual conference: it is high time we organised a conference, and I would like us to do this by the end of the year. However, we need commitment from you, so I am calling for suggestions and volunteers – what do you want to see happen and what can you do to help?

I would like to thank everyone who has been such a support to me over the last year and a half, especially Sharlene who has the best overview of the association’s past and the practical knowledge that keeps it going. I would also like to thank Yassir for his role as Vice President and wish him well in the future as he unfortunately steps down. Lastly, I’d like to thank Fiona for her role as postgraduate officer and look forward to our continued work together. I am excited about the possibilities for the future as we elect new members onto the committee and I hope that, together, we can build the critical race studies association that we all need and deserve!

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