The thing about coloured bodies, coloured faces, and coloured voices

It is no secret to most people of colour, queer, or other ways inclined, are in a constant battle for our freedoms. Obvious freedoms like walking down the street or going to the shops and not being sneered at, verbally abused, physically assaulted or in some cases have the light of your life extinguished; freedoms from the loud uproar, cruelty and injustice that make wonderful dreams and potential arduous to comprehend; and above all freedom to LIVE.  

How do coloured people exist within their bodies?

Sometimes we fight for freedoms that are less apparent. The freedom to exist passively within our bodies. This freedom is easier to understand by contrasting coloured bodies and their counter parts. The normative middle class, cis and white body does not need to be aware of itself. After all it is the original body and the original story or at least that is what it claims to be. This is the main reason why white bodies find the potency of their whiteness on all aspects of their lives and the lives of others hard to understand. They have long existed passively in those bodies and shielded by their skin colour from most dangers and could live freely.

On the other hand, coloured bodies are in a constant state of awareness of their bodies, how those bodies interact with the world and how the world reacts. Such interactions can sometimes be oppressive and dangerous mostly but at times can be constructive and wonderful. One thing they are not is PASSIVE. History is a great witness to many people of colour who for a moment existed passively in their bodies and paid the ultimate price. The awareness of coloured people within their coloured bodies was and continues to be a tool of survival that we all must perfect at some points in our lives. However, that old tool of survival became over time one of the most rewarding tools that people of colour use to connect with the natural world and its inhabitants.  An example of this is the connection to the natural world is how aboriginal communities around the world interacted with their surroundings; a relationship that centred around sustainability since their continuous existence depended on maintaining their environment prior, during and after colonial history.

The source of discomfort of my white counterparts

Consequently, I find the discomfort my white counterparts display when we talk about coloured bodies, with the greatest evidence being that white bodies cannot handle the awareness of their bodies for the duration of a conversation, let alone to have their bodies have considerable impact on their lives, their freedoms, and their aspirations.  The awareness that normative middle class, cis and white bodies dread might just be the bridge they must cross to overcome generations of missed connection and growth. Connection and growth that will enable them to connect with coloured bodies not as an identity but as a fellow human.

As long as coloured bodies, voices and even queerness are viewed as identity politics there can be no genuine congruence in society. Politics change with the times and cannot be relied upon to drive long lasting peace.  In reality, white supremacy, social exclusion and seasonal outrage still persist today because of the simple fact that the connection to coloured bodies is a wall that was never scaled.

An example of this disconnect is the idolisation of coloured bodies and coloured voices in performance and service. The notion of liking K-pop, jazz/soul, electronic or popular music by a coloured performer is viewed as ‘normal’ or even hailed as a sign of being progressive. If we consider even wanting to experience authentic Ethiopian cuisine at a family run restaurant without having that same family live next door, we start to see some of the realities of the unacknowledged progressive experience.  

People of colour in those moments are the exotic other; the objects of entertainment; the objects of servitude; the ones who are allowed to live and breathe by the virtuous white body. There is an inherent discomfort that comes from writing or reading these reflections because this is the society that was handed to us. That discomfort that comes from the awareness of white bodies becomes more relevant in the context of neighbourhood, schools, workplaces, educational institutes where normative bodies want to revert to existing passively within their bodies.  It is the white body’s greatest freedom and it’s the one it cannot part with. Unfortunately, it is the path to true multiculturalism and coherent society that does not abdicate the humanity of people of colour.

Concluding remarks

White bodies must walk the path of being aware of their bodies, connect with the world and their fellow human. We cannot take irreversible steps towards true inclusion and multiculturalism until coloured bodies, coloured faces, coloured voices are NOT viewed as the passing passions of identity politics while abdicating their humanity.

About Dr. Mohammad Taha

Dr Mohammad Taha (They/The) is the co-chair of the Victorian chapter of Queers in Science, a researcher at the Melbourne School of Engineering and a non-binary queer person of colour.

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