You can't own my voice

I was recently invited to a get together with a bunch of like minded people. The plan was to hang out and talk about stuff that mattered to us – you know, the soft and fluffy feelings stuff that you want to do with like-minded people, rather than a therapist.

There was a woman in particular who annoyed me in a way that I haven’t been annoyed in a long time; but it’s only now that I’m realising why. Let me paint the picture.

She was a much older, Caucasian Australian woman. She tells me that she has lived in Canberra her whole life and is enjoying a comfortable retirement.  She and I are seated next to each other as the pre-meeting mingling takes place. We introduce ourselves to one another and then this happens:

Her: So why do you come along to these get-togethers?

Me: Well, young Muslims are feeling increasingly ostracised, so I’m taking every opportunity to get involved in community events – put across our opinion and learn about the opinions of others. Find solutions blah blah.

Her: Muslims aren’t feeling ostracised.

Me: I’m sorry, what did you say?

Her: I don’t think Muslims feel ostracised. Muslims all feel like they belong.

Me: *Jaw hits the ground* I’m pretty sure I know how people with whom I share a common experience feel.

Her: Nah.

Me: K.


I’ve recently had the opportunity to speak at more events and be part of more panels discussing issues relating to Islam, radicalisation, racism, multiculturalism and youth affairs. Overwhelmingly, I’ve realised that a lot of old white folk want to own the voices and stories of young brown folk.

There’s a strange sensation associated with it, and I think I’ve figured out what it is.

These people are detracting from the core of the issues. By layering their narrow and privileged* world view on top of the voices of those who feel that there is a problem, they take away from the essence of the issue and take it to a comfortable, this-isn’t-society’s-problem-it’s-you-brown-kids problem. It’s delegitmising real, underlying causes of social disunity. And for no reason.

For example, if young Muslims aren’t feeling ostracised and being driven to the fringes of society, then an angry Muslim teenager is just being the way his culture makes him. He’s not retaliating to pressures. He’s just being a Muzzo.

By having our voices taken over by those who don’t actually understand us, we’re left defending our feelings instead of working through issues. Rather than my conversation with this woman being about how we can make young ethnic kids feel like they belong, it became about whether there’s even a problem at all!


But she’s not the only one. I keep seeing this everywhere. Academics telling me that their studies show that young people feel X way, even though, more broadly, we know that this is not the case. Government bodies providing solutions to problems without broader consultation -flinging around terms that make us feel even more isolated.

The fact is that there are very few platforms where minority issues can be heard. Even when a person from a minority group is given a voice, it can be associated with a huge amount of backlash (take poor Waleed Aly who’s constantly dealing with rubbish).

When a voice is given to the issues that minorities face, it’s far too often taken over by the voice of someone who’s not part of the group. And sure, it’s important that social issues are dealt with by all facets of society. But shouldn’t we, in the very least, ensure that the voices of those who are struggling with issues are heard? Shouldn’t we ensure that the most authentic iteration of these issues is presented so that we can actually work through the issues?

In case you’re unsure, the answer that that question is ‘yes’.

So if you are an old white person who has never had to walk in the shoes of a generation of post 9/11 Muslim youth who have spent a majority of their lives combating the broader social perception that they are terrorists about to spontaneously explode; please sit down. We can speak for ourselves.

*If you don’t think that white people have additional privileges, please read this ANU study on how many more jobs an ethnic person has to apply for to get the same number of interviews as a Caucasian sounding name, for example. Kthnx

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