Emma Barnes
5 min readDec 5, 2020


I could have known.

Another person I thought I admired. An older person. Wise too, surely. A gay man. I thought that spelled lived experience. My naivety is terrifying.

And he was deaf to the chair’s violence when they cut off the only indigenous person to speak that day. He simply didn’t hear it. He called on the competence of the chair to cloak what happened. I can’t go back to his messages because it burns so hot — to realise my admiration was for another white liberal who doesn’t know how they participate and enable white supremacy.

I’m angry, yes. But I’m also terrified. My judgement was so bad, for so long. I sought out safety inside people because of their white power — their comfort inside this hegemony. For all that time I fawned to unconscious folk.

What did happen yesterday?

Well, to be droll, let’s go with Kat Maddox live tweeting the Mardi Gras AGM

I was “in a room” with 250 votes where 289 were needed to pass a motion. We passed none.

A great many of the opposing votes seemed attached to concrete, but a handful “crossed the floor” at times.

I’m still reeling from something obvious to those who’ve campaigned in this space for longer than me — that white liberals are broken, and they’re everywhere.

One such liberal asked me the other night, “What can we do?”. To which the answer is:

If you can’t sacrifice your safety, your money, or your status to help, then examine your participation. How do you do that?

Look at your privilege. Look at it closely. Listen to people who don’t have it. STOP READING WHITE MEDIA.


Ask questions about your participation in white supremacy. Really curious questions.

Here’s the kind of question you could ask:

“When Emma says private schools are a scourge, and I don’t like to hear that, what’s actually going on inside me? Why am I “defending”? Why am I not simply listening? Why can I not listen to that?”

You will find discomfort in the answers to questions like these.

I discovered many uncomfortable truths this way. I still do, though they are no longer uncomfortable. They are now my favourite part of being alive — being in unashamed connection to myself. One truth I discovered this way went down like this:

My mum’s a great cook. Her food was the hearth for what little love my family shared. And it was the hub of my safety. She learned from her mother. And her mother was an active colonialist in India, with the British army. Indian food was my mother’s strength, and my safety. It was an important part of my identity.

I was walking with a new friend who is a food journalist and an Indian-American woman and we were discussing the cultural appropriation of cuisine. I had a rant about how it felt to be morally shaded over a significant piece of my own identity and when I exhaled, she asked, “would you like some feedback on that?”. I thought, “well, no.” But I said, “well, yes”. And she spoke gracefully about her experience of watching her ancestors’ culture being stolen, defaced, used, and whitened. At each moment I felt a spring of defensive indignation but I kept listening, because I knew not to interrupt a brown woman when she is generous and brave enough to share her experience with me.

Another part of me made room for her to speak too. It was the part that recognises white man “credentials” — her status as a food journo with a respected book under her belt.

So I learned two things that day: one at the time, and one on reflection. At the time, I learned that my experience of my mother’s food was not the only experience that mattered. There were, in fact, people from whom that culture had been violently taken. And the ways in which I held that part of my identity need not come from a place of scarcity, for I had plenty of space to acknowledge those from whom my culture had been stolen. And then later, I learned that what allowed me to hear from my friend was not as woke as I had imagined. I let her into my chamber because she had jumped through white people hoops — a university education and a vocational expertise. Yet neither of those things were what brought value to her words. It was lived experience that reached me. But the credentials made me listen. That’s racist as fuck.

Since that day, I’ve been watching for the more subtle ways white supremacy operates inside me and in the world around me. AND. IT’S. EVERYWHERE.

It’s in the subtle difference yesterday in the way the chair cut off different speakers. When an indigenous man was speaking about police brutality, the speaker’s “TIME” came down like a truncheon. When a white liberal was speaking about the need for more corporate sponsorship, “That’s one minute” danced like an apologetic moth.

It’s in the abstraction to intellect that comfortable educated people try when a topic is fraught. Sometimes it is signalled by, “That’s interesting…,” sometimes by, “How curious that…,” or “let’s examine that…” The honest version is of course, “let’s move this to a safe space, where only the university-educated can participate, and the calmer the speaker is, the less they’ve suffered, the more status we will give them.” This is NEVER acknowledged as a racist move but IT IS RACIST AF. And yet it’s normal, acceptable, and congratulated.

Well Scott doesn’t get this. The irony of Mardi Gras, a march that began in response to police brutality, being dominated now by white gays who own property in Sydney and argue that the cops need their own float is lost on Scott. The casino is an acceptable corporate sponser. Qantas, who partners with the Orwellian Dept of Border Security to fly asylum-seeking queers back to their deaths, is an acceptable corporate sponsor.

Much is acceptable to folks who’ve made it onto the yacht. Anything that takes focus from the drowning queers in the water — namely the brown folks, the trans folks, and the disabled folks — also takes away the pang of knowing that you stepped on some heads to get on board. Shhhhhhh.



Emma Barnes

Autistic, trans, survivor, abolitionist @friedkrill on Twitstagram