Words || Ilhan Abdi
Say It Loud is a webseries that features a group of millennial African and Indigenous Australians who discuss and debate issues affecting the black Australian community. The series launched in 2017 with a three-episode pilot series spanning conversations on the fetishisation of black people in terms of interracial relationships, religion, and ‘Black Cool’. I spoke to one of the writers and content creators, Rebka Bayou, who is also a university student, about the show, representation in the media and being black in Australia.
IA: How did you get involved in Say It Loud, and can you tell us a bit about the show?
RB: Say It Loud is pretty much like a panel-based show. There’s six people, discussing issues about black people specifically in Australia. We did that because we just saw a gap in the market, a lack of our experiences being represented. I can relate to someone [who is black] in the UK, but it’s not the same. Culturally, Australia is different to the US and UK. And Australia is a very young country and multiculturalism is a very new thing here. We’re living in a new world where black people are in the media a lot, and they’re very much perceived a certain way, developing as a new community in this country with various perceptions out there. That was the reason why we created Say It Loud. We try our best to have a solution-based discussions.
IA: How did you choose to represent the multi-faceted African Australian experience in the show?
RB: We tried to cover the topics with episodes such as religion, we had Muslim panellists, people of a Christian background, different religions. One girl was really arguing for native, Indigenous religions. She was saying how it makes more sense for her to follow the native religions of Indigenous people in Australia. We tried to make the questions as broad as possible, and incorporated all perspectives. We also had panelists of different black backgrounds. We had some that are half-Indigenous, South-Sudanese, West Africans like Nigerian, Ghanaian. We tried to keep it as diverse as possible cause, there’s a big mix of what it means to be black; it’s more than one nationality.
IA: Has your understanding of the black Australian experience changed after, or while, working on the show?
RB: It’s a lot older than I thought it was. A lot of the panelists are 30+ and were born here, Kaya [Aboagye] and Shola [Diop] .. there’s a lot more people that are actually half-Indigenous as well. I learn a great deal, especially from Kaya, she is really into the connection between Indigenous and African Australians.
What I said about it being older, there are people who have been here since the 70s but they’ve been living out in the Inner West, like Newtown Redfern and stuff, so I’ve been kind of disconnected from them. They obviously have much different experiences to living out in the Greater West.
IA: So what has been your experience, here in Australia?
RB: A huge part of it is micro aggressions. Just yesterday me and Vanessa were out together. We went to the exhibit at the MCA, and we were entering [one of the free, lower level exhibits] this lady was like “Oh, this exhibit has heaps of Australian slang in it, if you need me to explain, just let me know.” We didn’t say anything, it was just like… I don’t think she would’ve said that to every person walking through the door, it was very clear why she said that to us. Those kind of things where you’re perceived as the foreigner in your own country of birth.
I definitely wouldn’t say it’s limited to the black experience, just the immigrant kid experience. With blackness, it’s a tricky one because the world has a very weird relationship with black people where they desire so many of the things we produce, the things that we do, so much, like music, anything related to contemporary culture now is pretty much related to black people; African Americans or Caribbeans pretty much. But they don’t seem to want to acknowledge us as human. They’ll say things to you that they wouldn’t say to anyone else. Like you wouldn’t touch a stranger’s hair, you wouldn’t do that, but when it comes to us you somehow feel entitled. The root of that is you don’t see us as people. That’s what the root is. That issue is so much more exaggerated in Australia because people are just so much less exposed. And there is a huge cognitive dissonance about what Australian identity is, like ‘No way, we’re so accepting’ and they just don’t want to acknowledge there’s a problem. Like if you look at the comments on my Guardian article, I’m just getting abused [Rebka wrote an article about racism towards people of African descent in Australia].
There’s heaps of verbal abuse. ‘You’re an ungrateful little shit’, ‘You should be glad to be here’, ‘We’re not racist’. All I was saying was: ‘these are the problems’. That’s all I was saying, and this idea that I should be grateful to be here, I was born here, I’m just as Australian as you! If you really thought I was Australian you wouldn’t be speaking to me like that. It’s definitely like we’re the exceptions to basic human decency pretty much, is what it is for blackness, especially in Australia.
IA: It’s pretty obvious that Australia’s years behind the rest of the Western world in terms of anti-blackness, and media diversity for all marginalised communities. Not much has changed in the past few years, save for a few progressive outlets having minorities be the face of their programmes, while everyone behind the scenes is white. A lot of POC have found it difficult to breakthrough or receive funding for their own projects. Do you think we should just build our own media or can we break through to mainstream media?
R: Well, I think that’s a double-edged sword really. On one hand, we are a minority. We’re not even 1% of the 22-23 million strong population, you know what I mean? So in order for people to understand our issues we have to appeal to the mainstream. We’re not gonna stop having these issues unless we talk to the everyday Australian, who is non-black, honestly. Those platforms are run by non-black people, and we definitely are prone to exploitation by them. I wrote that article for The Guardian, and it was actually a blog post originally, and The Guardian is this publication that’s really – and I’m really grateful for them publishing my article. But they’re a publication known for being progressive, especially in racial issues, especially in Australia, [because] publications like that are very rare. But I do feel like if I were to continue writing for them I would be tokenised very much, and I feel like that is a huge issue in Australia. People like Waleed Aly … um, I can’t mention anyone else, that’s really tragic. Even – I forgot that newsreaders name, on SBS…
IA: Lee Lin Chin?
RB: Yes. They’re very much tokenised, they’re very much used as the progressive card; “We can’t be racist we have Waleed on the show, and he’s a brown Muslim guy”. Even something as minor as having Waleed Aly, can still cause outrage among people. Like people refuse to watch The Project because there’s a Muslim guy on it, you know what I mean? It’s very difficult, with Australia, because people don’t want to be told they’re racist, they don’t want to be told that you’re wrong, and they really can’t adjust to a world where they’re not at the forefront. We can’t be expected to perform all the labour and be like “Please like us”. Back to what you were saying about having our own platforms, I think it’s great, but there’s issues like funding, getting across to a bigger audience. It’s definitely harder to push something that’s on a platform created by ourselves and doesn’t have the range that someone [who works at corporations like] the ABC or The Guardian does.
IA: Speaking of applying to a wider audience, how would you like non-black people – who want to watch the show, or already are watching – to engage with it in a respectful way?
RB: I honestly think, just listening to the show and trying to figure out how what people are saying applies to you as a person. So, there’s an episode on dating and interracial dating called Jungle Fever. You should think about how you perceive black people in romantic situations. Do you see them in a way that’s like … do you only see their skin colour? Or do you feel like you have to overlook their skin colour to find them attractive? Do you [think about] what would happen if I introduced a black person to my family, what would my parents say? Things like that, in terms of just working how it fits into your life, how anti blackness is performed by you and those around you, I think is a great way to interact with a show like Say It Loud as a non-black person.