Over the past 10 months the world has finally begun to acknowledge the real life impacts of anti-blackness and how it is structurally baked into all of our systems. The murder of George Floyd in the middle of 2020 brought the Black Lives Movement to the forefront in practically every country across the globe.
On this continent, anti-blackness is evident in the over-policing and incarceration of Aboriginal people, with one of its most horrific consequences being deaths in custody. Our criminal justice system’s foundations were formed not just in the context of violent colonisation, but specifically to curb resistance by First Nations people.
So is it any wonder that when those same colonisers, who murdered and stole from the first people of this continent, plastered their names atop of land that already had custodians for more than 60,000 years, that this would cause hurt to First Nations people?
Changing the name of Boydtown, a historic whaling station on the South Coast of NSW, recognises the harm and pain the actions of this failed businessman and slave-trader had on First Nations and Pacific Islander people. The name of the national park it sits in should be changed too.
It would reckon with the reality of the colonisation of First Nations people and its ongoing impacts today. It sends a message that the people of NSW are no longer willing to excuse or gloss over Boyd’s legacy of cruelty and slavery.
It would sit comfortably with the actions of everyday people and organisations around the globe who have committed to changing the structures that uphold white supremacy, tearing down statues of slave traders and changing names in recognition of the pain they represent to the communities that have been directly marginalised for generations.
There are some who cry “cancel culture” in the face of these legitimate actions to right wrongs. Ironically, it’s those with huge platforms, like J.K. Rowling and Salman Rushdie, who cry cancel culture loudest and longest when they are held to account by groups that have been historically silenced such as the trans community and women.
To be truly cancelled means you face tangible consequences. Income loss, employment termination, shunned by the media, or loss of institutional power. And yet, Forbes reports that J.K. Rowling earned £60 million in 2019-20 alone.
“Cancel culture” is a term hurled at groups who experience oppression when they push back. Over the past year, calls for racial justice have been met with dismissal and ridicule by the wealthy and white. When perpetrators of white supremacy are finally facing accountability for their actions, they take to the biggest platforms they can find and get the kind of access and sympathetic coverage that racial justice campaigners could only dream of.
When regular people – the ones living in, and dealing with systems that haven’t been built for us – hold our leaders, commentators and celebrities to account, only then is it “cancel culture”.
But what do you call it when a former Young Queenslander of the Year expresses an opinion about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in an Anzac Day tweet? Yassmin Abdel-Magied was dragged through the mud by high profile commentators and even government cabinet ministers for this in 2017. She was harassed to the point where she had to leave the country. Now that truly is cancel culture.
Acknowledging the facts of colonisation and criticising those who hold institutional power isn’t cancelling. It’s creating space for voices that have been forced into silence for too long. It’s allowing people directly marginalised by those who hold onto institutional power to enter the conversation.
Changing the name of Boydtown and Ben Boyd National Park sends a signal from the grassroots to the decision makers that reckoning with our history is an opportunity. It opens up a space to tell a truer narrative about our past, and it creates an aspiration for who we want to be in the future.
Neha Madhok is national co-director of Democracy in Colour.
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