Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Identity crises and Redfern Now

I can't rave enough about the ABC TV's excellent series Redfern Now. It's good to see diversity on the small screen. Why has also struck a chord is the show's theme or tension between the image we may have ourselves and the image others expect us to carry. That tension is typically heavily felt by “ethnic” and Indigenous cultures in post colonial societies.

The program is set in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern - the first place to have urban Aboriginal community housing - a place known for its concentration of poverty and clashes with police (much of the old housing is being demolished as the suburb is gentrified with expensive higher density units).

The series is a real eye-opener for many Australians who aren't faced with the multiple stresses and issues that the characters do. It has a lot to say about the legacy of displacement, internalising negative messages and the psychology of oppression, the role of education and identity/belonging.

Take for example, the feisty Aboriginal elder, Coral (in episode two). She's involved in her community (volunteers at a soup kitchen), is something of a watchdog and is highly critical of what she sees.

She uses inflammatory language to describe Aboriginal youth in the neighbourhood - territorial and deeply suspicious of outsiders - as "oxygen thieves" and "numb nuts". She tells her visiting granddaughter that she must not get involved with black men (who she says find the idea of work "offensive", "once they take a shine to you, he's only after one thing... if you're lucky he'll p___-off, if you're unlucky he'll marry you"). Coral has internalised the language of the oppressor.

Coral's granddaughter, a university student, arrives in a taxi in Redfern and the cab driver quizzes her, "But you don't look Aboriginal" (Indigeneity is often contested by the dominate culture).
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