This month Natasha Mashakada is back on Far From Africa to share her reflection on the African diaspora experience in Australia. Natasha is actively involved in activities promoting social justice and empowerment of the socially disadvantaged, marginalised and stigmatised. With Zambian and Zimbabwean origins with heritage from the Ndebele and Shona groups, her name Natasha means ‘Thank you’ in Bemba (Zambian language) and she also carries the Ndebele/Zulu name Mbali meaning ‘Flower’. In this article, Natasha, who was born in the United Kingdom, lived in Zimbabwe and has been living in Australia for more than 6 years, shares deep insights on the meaning of African Australian identity.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we work and call home. I would like to pay my respects to the Elders both past and present. I make this acknowledgement virtually as I believe this is important for all communities in Australia to do as they gather. In particular, the people of the African diaspora in Australia reading this, I make this general acknowledgement with you all.
Defining African Diaspora
I find the term ‘African diaspora’ has a variation of definitions which can be contested. The term itself emerged in the 1950’s which was based on internationally held racist ideologies of Black inferiority. As people of African descent, we are continually in the process of redefining our global notion of Blackness and refusing to perpetrate any concepts of Black inferiority. The term is undergoing significant changes towards a process of creating a globalised solidarity among people of African descent and building literature to examine the globalised Black experiences. Basically the term African Diaspora is a key symbol for the roots of Black identity and experiences on a global scale.
In the context of people of African descent in Australia, I particularly like the term as it acknowledges the cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity among Africans and the different paths and life experiences as migrants and/or as refugees or asylum seekers. So I reason to view this term as a means to empower Africans here in Australia by building a wider sense of community that is not defined by religion, culture and so forth.
The African Diaspora Experience
As people of the African diaspora in Australia, it means we are able to identify and sharpen our analysis of the challenges faced amongst the African diaspora in Australia. The African diaspora has and will always have a significant contribution towards social, political and economic changes in the systems that perpetrate oppression. We are collectively able to challenge the shortcomings and failures of the multicultural policies in Australia and even perhaps internationally that have undermined and denied our humanity. Further to that, this means that it requires decolonialization activity; which challenges the systems that continue to entrap, oppress, discriminate and marginalise people in society in policies and other institutions in society; therefore pinpointing a political intent.
This may seemingly feel quite overwhelming but in reality it means being conscious of the personal or perhaps even better the collective challenges impacting people of the African diaspora. It also urges us to interrogate the powerful Eurocentric fundamentalisms on other diasporic communities, particularly in Australia. We are encouraged to take action in capturing the untold experiences and/or reiterating the challenges and possible positive experiences in which the African diaspora in Australia and the global communities.
Being identified as an African-Australian is rarely used to reference to Africans by the wider society nor amongst Africans themselves. I believe that the term of identification for Africans living in Australia as ‘African-Australian’ will emerge as a norm in the discourse of identity and belonging in Australia. Some if not most Africans find the term challenging to assimilate as their national identity as the question of what is home can be a internal as well as external conflict as daily experiences and encounters challenge the sense of belonging and identity.
I hope that this would not create animosity but community. We are in an ever-changing environment and change is not only inevitable but essential. A new terminology of identification is not what is being argued here but essentially illuminating the issues surrounding identity, belonging, recognition and accommodation of cultural and linguistic differences in Australia, in particular focus to the African diaspora in Australia. It is also highlighting the colonial and neo-colonial imaginaries underpinning the current definitions of African diasporic identities.
I believe there is a need for more understanding of African diaspora cultures and identities in Australia. There is an acknowledgement of a battle experienced by the peoples of the African diaspora, including myself, in the configuration of our identity and belonging in Western world. The African diasporic experience should be acknowledged as complex and continually changing as other factors such as cultural and linguistic attributes and as well as country of origin and migration and settlement experiences encompass the diversity of African diaspora in Australia.
As people of the African diaspora in Australia, whether we identify or define ourselves on the basis of our country of origin and/or the language spoken, it is necessary that we are conscious of the current limitations embedded in the mainstream normative conceptions of Australian identity. It is not about replacing your cultural heritage to assimilate to Anglo-Australian norms and cultural values, but it is the need to challenge the current notion of citizenship and national identity in order to uncover the beliefs and values underlying the political and public discourses on race and anti-racism in Australia.
Thank you to Natasha for sharing her beautiful words and art work.