Aretha Brown is an Indigenous activist first and foremost.
When I went to school I came to the difficult conclusion that the place had not evolved for me or my mob. Rather, it was assumed as an Aboriginal woman that I was to make myself, my values and my history malleable under its weight. We do not acknowledge the wrongs of our past as a nation and as individuals in modern day Australia. This leaks into our school system, and bleeds into the curriculum regarding our joint history. I was left disregarded.
When we don’t give First Nations people recognition, in every aspect of our long linear history, there is no context today in which to exist. Denying my history not only denies my complexity, but also yours.
I don’t get the privilege to decide to be ‘into’ activism; I was born into politics and it’s a system that continues to define my mob. I am not a “social justice warrior” because I don’t think Indigenous affairs are a social issue. They are a human issue. If we continue to think of Indigenous affairs as a social problem – made up of statistics and numbers – everyone thinks they deserve to comment and have discussions that don’t involve them.
I am an activist because I know I am supposed to have control of every aspect of my life, and I don’t.
I have a responsibility until the day I die to unlearn things I am told to believe about my own mob. I was the first female Prime Minister of the National Indigenous Youth Parliament. It is my job to educate others without bias, and as simply as humanly possible. This is in order to create discussions. Without these important dialogues, we ALL remain silent.
Creating change is completely in one’s own hands. I do not hold the power to tell you what to think, but I do hold the power to help you understand. I want a modern day Indigenous lens to be used – by all Australians in every aspect of our life – as a means of scrutinising negative media products, portrayals, stories and stereotypes regarding Aboriginal people.
This takes no time or resources, just one’s own ability to question and unlearn things we know to be fictional or inaccurate regarding the mob.
The biggest role model in my life is my grandma, Aunty Janice Brown. She is a revered elder in her community in Sydney’s Western Suburbs and is a proud Gumbangarri Elder. She never got ANY of the opportunities that I get today, so everything I do I dedicate and owe to her and my mob.
After years of being left out of political discussions regarding my own existence and wellbeing I now have an ability to take a step back to really evaluate what is important and look at things holistically. My advice to myself is to look at what is the most important thing to me, and work towards that.
My mantra is ‘take no shit.’
What can you do? Sit down, shut up and just listen to Aboriginal people. It’s really very simple.
1. One copy of my tribe’s language book, the Gumbaynggirr Dictionary
2. My favourite James Baldwin books Dark Days, The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room
3. Two diaries: one for notes and speeches; one for sketches. Both with pictures of my Nan in the back
4. One copy of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu
5. One hard copy of Houria Bouteldja’s Whites, Jews and Us (foreword by Cornel West)
6. One leather jacket with a flag of choice, hand-stitched on front pocket
7. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race
8. One old Australian History book, strictly for comparison and scrutiny
9. One felt tip pen
10. One POSCA marker
11. One lipstick– might be an activist, still a teenage girl
12. One copy of Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s Talkin’ up to the white woman
I highly recommend all these works and essays. These are my absolute staples and have taught me so much.