Culture

#BuskingBecky Is Yet Another Instance Of The Silencing Of Indigenous Voices

#BuskingBecky And The Drowning Out Of First People's Voices

Photo credit: Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA Melbourne)

You’ve heard of #PermitPatty, #BBQBecky, #CornerstoneCaroline, and #PoolPatrolPatty — now it’s time to meet Australia’s own #BuskingBecky, AKA Melbourne busker Tanya George.

Tanya is a busker who spends her time in Naarm (Melbourne) and has been busy building a bit of a brand for herself. She models for clothing brand Ishka (which calls itself ethical while selling didgeridoos made in Indonesia). Tanya is also featured as one of the voices in a documentary with Beat Magazine and Melbourne City Council.

Tanya George’s social media presence increased significantly this week when a video emerged of her using her busking microphone to hurl abuse at people who were peacefully protesting Aboriginal Deaths in Custody on International Human Rights day, in Bourke Street, Melbourne.

Tanya George, now dubbed #BuskingBecky, apparently felt strongly about protesters existing on the same public street as her. In addition to yelling and swearing at them directly, she also took to social media to post a since-deleted video referring to the protestors as “rude” for interrupting her profitability. George says while she “gets it”, the Aboriginal protestors were “scaring off” those who might otherwise give her money.

I was privileged to speak with Latoya Aroha Hohepa Rule about the protest being held, and the social media discussions which took place over the past 48 hours. Latoya was speaking about the death in custody of her own brother Wayne at the Human Rights Day protest when #BuskingBecky decided to attempt to silence the protesters.

“[BuskingBecky’s] behaviour mirrors what we see occurring every day against Aboriginal peoples here in Australia. She further criminalised us and subjugated our voices and the voices of our loved ones just as the criminal justice system continues to do.” Latoya told me.

“The life of my brother Wayne, the fifteen other Aboriginal peoples who’ve died in custody and whose faces we held on our placards, and the over 400 other Aboriginal deaths in custody victims who’ve died at the hands of the state that we marched for – their lives matter, Becky! We hope to take our calls for justice to an international platform because clearly, people like Tanya George don’t want us to be heard here. And that continually breaks my heart.”

Indigenous people continue to be over-policed, over-incarcerated, and to die in the presence and custody of police.

This level of entitlement and disregard for the very serious pain and trauma being inflicted on First People through Deaths in Custody and human rights abuses is appalling — but sadly it is not uncommon. To stand on stolen land, your busking permit and microphone in hand, and demand that your ability to profit from singing should be prioritised. Prioritised over the rights of First People to peacefully protest an issue as serious as the lived reality of Indigenous men and women, not only being increasingly over policed and over incarcerated, but continuing to die while incarcerated. This is just one manifestation of white privilege.

To confidently swear over a microphone, in a busy and crowded public street during the day, is in itself a perfect example of her enacting and living her privilege as a white settler. This starkly contrasts with experiences raised by the very protesters she was swearing at. Indigenous people continue to be over-policed, over-incarcerated, and to die in the presence and custody of police.

The New ‘Woke’ #BuskingBecky

#BuskingBecky issued a statement last night. It was labelled as an apology, but loaded with dishonesty about the events, invocations of the angry black trope, and claims she didn’t know what the protest was about, despite videos clearly demonstrating otherwise. This cycle is as predictable as it is common.

Daily, we see a rise of the woke #BuskingBecky who feel entitled to literally, physically, and metaphorically speak over First People. Attempting to quiet our voices, our anger, and our calls for justice for the sake of their incomes, their comfort, and what they feel is their inherent right.

Daily, we experience people using their privilege against us, while simultaneously denying they hold privilege. Or, worse still, performing a fake allyship and speech acts to brand themselves, while actively working against our self-determination in order to pursue their own agenda.

These experiences became part of the hashtag which developed on Twitter, as various people joined to both stand in solidarity with those who were abused by #BuskingBecky, but also to highlight the very real verbal, colonial, and structural violence which continues to be part of our experiences as the First People of these lands.

On an individual level a #BuskingBecky may manifest as a Tanya George, but on a structural level settler privilege is demonstrated through the continued unequal application of the law. Politically is exhibited through Ministers such our current Envoy for Indigenous Affairs Tony Abbott existing in their positions at all.

When Abbott was Prime Minister he awarded himself the position of Minister for Indigenous Affairs (and Minister for women, remember that? #PutYourIronsOut) which resulted in the incredible contrast of him committing to spend a week every year in Indigenous communities, while he then simultaneously used his power to cut $534 million from Indigenous programs. Too often performative allyship conflicts with behaviours which in practice are actively designed to work against Indigenous self-determination.

Within all of these scenarios, it is First People who bear not only the initial abuse and misjustice, but who are then responsible for calling it out. First People who are burdened with “educating” the offender. First People who ultimately live with the negative consequences of the structural inequality and racism which birthed the behaviour in the first place.

So apart from being a heavy burden for Indigenous people, why should anyone else care?

Because genuine allyship is a powerful driver in social movements of change, and the behaviour and inevitable white tears of a #BuskingBecky damages opportunities for quality relationship and progress for both Indigenous and non-indigenous people. While we continue to live in a society which is rife with injustice, and in an era where we collectively need to act on global issues such as climate change, it is important that non-indigenous people walk with Indigenous peoples as we seek to address and have redressed significant harm being done to the First People of this land.

As was witnessed during this year’s Invasion Day rallies in Naarm/Melbourne where some 50,000 people, Indigenous and non-indigenous, took to the streets together to protest, collectively we can achieve so much — and be heard. But this requires non-indigenous people to join us in calling out racism, in calling for truth-telling, and to listen when our voices speak up in protest – rather than using your metaphoric and literal voice to try and drown us out.

Amy Thunig is a Gamilaroi woman, Associate Lecturer, PhD candidate, and writer for Indigenous X. She tweets at @AmyThunig

Editors note: A fundraiser has been set up as a result of these events.

“In a show of solidarity with the fact that ABORIGINAL LIVES MATTER, we ask that you support us in our fundraiser to get us to an international platform where we can talk on this very issue!” the GoFundMe reads.

“Aboriginal deaths in custody are a growing issue in Australia with over 400 more occurring since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. We need our voices heard. We refuse to be silenced. We refuse to be criminalised in the process of calling out for justice of our loved ones.

“We resist the deaths of our loved ones and the cries of those who seek to benefit off them.”