On Indigenous hip-hop, self-care and being an under-recognised asset

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Renee Williamson: “I’m a bit of a mixed bag.” Photograph: Rhianna Malezer

Renee Williamson takes over the @IndigenousX Twitter account to talk about health and wellbeing, music, politics and self determination

Tell us about who you are, where you are from, and what you do.

I am a proud Murri woman who follows her mother’s line back to the nations of the Gulf country of North West Queensland. My father is a Butchulla/Gubbi Gubbi man. I also have strong family and cultural ties to the Gamilaroi of North West NSW through my stepfather’s family. Given the legacy of history, dispossession, and removal in this country, I choose to identify in a collective manner as an Indigenous woman.

I have a history of work experience and volunteer roles across areas of law, Indigenous programs, youth, reconciliation and the arts. I am passionate about Indigenous self-determination, the recognition of Indigenous rights and culture, the recognition of Indigenous excellence, the recognition and protection of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property, hip-hop (and music in general), and true reconciliation.

At the moment, I have taken a time out from my studies and work to focus on my health and well-being. It’s been a steep learning curve for someone that’s been non-stop, and who has always taken on a lot, to slow down and just be. And I now appreciate the value of self-care and letting go so much more.

One thing that is helping me to heal, and get back to “me”, has been recently taking over as co-presenter of the Indij hiphop Show on Koori Radio.

What do you plan to focus on during your week as host of @IndigenousX?

I’ll be sharing my love of hip-hop and why it’s been so important to me. We have some great Indigenous hip-hop artists and musos out there. And I love being able to share and talk about their work.

But really, I’m a bit of a mixed bag so I’ll cover a lot of topics during the week. Mental health. Wellbeing. Politics. Self determination. Current news items and events.

What issues are you most passionate about and why?

Paternalism, racism and exploitation in the arts! The racism and paternalism in the music industry/scenes with regards to Indigenous artists and content. It’s slowly getting better, but it still has a long way to go. Especially with regards to really acknowledging the issues as a start to creating real change, as opposed to paternalistic window dressing measures.

Also exploitation in our communities from hip-hop workshop providers has to stop! There are a number of providers that are operating under “business blackface”. That is they use Indigenous symbology and present themselves in a way that gives them the appearance of an Indigenous organisation. But they are not. They have minimal, if any, Indigenous ownership, staff and governance. They can also have questionable professional qualifications and often have a lack of understanding and best practice with regards to Indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights.

Also there’s this assumption that any Indigenous young person automatically loves hip-hop, or anything involving youth should have a hip-hop element. This sells our kids, and the art forms of hip-hop short. Yes, hip-hop can be a powerful medium for our peoples, but there are also those that are using it in an exploitative manner. These organisations are recording our stories and using them for their own benefit, financial and otherwise. Unfortunately these practices are not just restricted to hip-hop. It is still happening right through the arts.

I’m passionate about self determination, full stop. Across everything! Self determination is a term that has become really misrepresented, misunderstood and demonised. And self determination is not just an Indigenous issue. Everyone has the right to self determination. But as Indigenous peoples, we have had that right taken away and denied. We have had to fight for it – that is racism! It is oppression. It is an ongoing impact of colonisation and dispossession. Privilege is never having to even consider, let alone fight for, your self determination. Because it is a given.

Who are your role models, and why?

It’s a cliché, but my mum! She’s had an interesting life. And she’s been there for a lot of the things that others get the profile and the glory for. Like many black women, she’s selflessly done the hard yards to do the right thing by her kids and grandkids. She’s definitely responsible for my passion, drive, and sense of self.

I am very blessed to have an amazing partner. Both he and my son make me want to be the best person I could possibly be. The support that my partner has shown me, particularly during my recent health issues, has been amazing. One minute we can have deep intellectual conversations, and the next we carry on like idiots. We are a true partnership.

I also have an amazing circle of people around me – family, friends, colleagues etc. I am honestly so humbled to call many of them friends. I admire different things with each of them, and learn so much from them all.

What are your hopes for the future?

My dream is a place where my peoples have their rightful place and recognition in this country. Where we once again have strong, resilient, and thriving communities, culture, land and identity. This cannot happen without self determination. It cannot happen without the recognition and assertion of rights. It can also not happen without Australia recognising that righting these wrongs, and doing the right thing, is an Australian issue. We are not the ones that need to “get over it”. We are not “the problem”. Our value and success is not in assimilating into your way of “life”. We are Australia’s most under-recognised and valuable assets. We are this country!

Source: http://www.theguardian.com