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Trailblazing Women: Discussion on voice and identity

Angela Tran reports on the Sydney Writer's Festival event Trailblazing Women...

Resist the inevitability to reducing them to grief and trauma and therefore all I can do is write about them as characters with their complexities, their stories, their way of life” – Sara M Saleh. 

Challenges will occur in every faucet of life. Whether it be one’s values being tested or the way people’s speech is judged – life shows no mercy to no one.  

At the Sydney Writer’s Festival, Michael Mohammad Ahmad, the founder of the Sweatshop Literacy Movement and author of award-winning books such as ‘The Other Half’ and ‘The Lebs’, leads a thought-provoking and engaging discussion with three other panellists on the importance of voice, identity, the founder of Sweatshop Literacy Movement and author of award-winning books such as ‘The Other Half’ and ‘The Lebs’, leads a thought provocative and engaging discussion with three other panellists on the importance of voice, identity and representation.  

At ‘Trailblazing Women,’ interviewees Sara M Saleh, Winnie Dunn, and Shirley Le provide invaluable insights into their journeys as authors and the integrity they have retained during difficult and challenging times.   

Current News  

With dimmed lights and a hushed room, Mohammad (host) begins the discussion with the panellist’s views on the current war taking place between Palestine and Israel:   

Question: “The last few months have been very difficult in reference to the Israel and Palestine War; how are you feeling?”

Sara encapsulates her utter horror and pain in an eloquent manner, highlighting the “shared recognition [she has] with other Palestinians” and explains the extreme challenge of handling the traumas, stories and grief shared within her community.  As candid as she is, she states she will continue to support Palestine through her writing and platforms that she possesses. Her books have not been written to reflect the Palestinians who have passed; rather, they are vessels to keep the people’s stories, lifestyles, culture, and bravery alive. “We are here, and we will always be here” she says after stating she will not grieve for the Palestinians through the fight, she will fight with them.  

Le paints her answer with a photograph description of a “haunting image of a woman, nineteen-year-old, running and screaming, while her skin was scorched by napalm.” With dimmed lights and a hushed room, Mohammad (host) begins the discussion with the panellist’s views on the current war taking place between Palestine and Israel:   

By mentioning the 3 million death tolls that correlated with the Vietnam War and the onslaught of protests occurring throughout the country. Le extends empathy as she comments, “It is heartbreaking to see this history being repeated”. With a voice that broke due to her grievance of a loved one passing away during the war, she states that war should never be inflicted on anyone and that the pain it causes is insurmountable. Sympathy echoed in the room as people nodded in agreeance to her honest stance against the atrocities happening in Gaza.  

Finally, Winwinie Dunn ends this question with the disappointment of the South Pacific Nations for not supporting the call for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine. She speaks to the crowd and asks, “What steps are you taking to speak about what is happening now?” As ashamed as she is of the South Pacific and its actions, she wholeheartedly believes that “no court can free Palestine; only people can.”  

Coming to Voice  

The host references Bell Hooks and her concept of coming to voice. “The act of moving from silence to speech is a revolutionary movement.”

Le walks the audience through memory lane as she recounts her time at university.  “[I] was lost in terms of why I wanted to write and what I wanted to say through my writing”. Le mentions that most representations of Vietnamese people in books were in connection to the Vietnam War. She “didn’t know where to start [her writing purpose]”.  Only after attending the writers’ workshops did she have an epiphany: ” We do not have to step in the first-generation’s shoes.”  

In essence, she believed the Vietnamese community didn’t need to always follow the same path as the previous generation who endured tragedies and war-struck environments. Nor do future generations need to promote the idea of being a funny ethnic, where the portrayal of Vietnamese people online was used as a comedic sketch. There is rich culture with history in every person’s backstory and being “the butt of the joke [on] tv”, did not encapsulate that.  

Faced with the audience, she asks them to “take a step back and think to yourself on who you are laughing at and why you are laughing in the first place.” This rhetorical question struck a chord within the room before a round of applause broke out. The question and the delivery of Shirley Le’s speech resonated with many in the crowd and the other panellists.  

When Dunn spoke, she began by re-telling the first opening of her acceptance letter to Western Sydney University. Being the first person in her family to attend university, she brought the letter to her dad, to which he responded, “Okay? – but don’t ask me for anything”.  

Lost and without direction, Dunn decided to still attend university until she began working at the sweatshop to flourish her love for writing. After realising the lack of South Pacific Islanders in the media, she wrote ‘Dirt Poor Islander’ to reflect her culture and the people she believed should be understood.  

However, once she had written, her father reprimanded her, stating, “How could you do this to us? How could you show the world our stories and shame us through a book?!” Her reply was, “Because you told me never to ask you for anything.” Candid and brave, Dunn portrays the importance of inner strength. She relied on herself to make a name for her people and never be embarrassed by one’s own background. Dunn perfectly highlights how showing up for yourself will always push you to speak your truth and improve.  

Saleh ends this question with her love for slam poetry. Slam poetry was her very first platform, showing her younger self that her voice mattered. It was different from other interests in her life. On stage, she was able to express her thoughts clearly in a poetic manner, evoking her emotions to reach the audience, usually at the Bankstown Slam Poetry evenings. She believes that her voice comes from the language and art her people cultivate through the words that they speak and the stories that they tell.  

She passionately says, “As if your story was told about you, to you, and for you,” the perception that others give of “you” will never amount to the views and perceptions you see yourself as. “Our shared faith and literacy are the act of worship. Reading and writing have always been critical in being immensely liberating and transformative in our society”. Words have weight. Self-expression and love can only be effectively promoted through language and how one writes and speaks. But it is solidified when you fight for it.  

All three authors showcased the significance of being able to represent your culture with pride through their books. Songs for the Dead and the Living is an adventure that delves into the lives of Palestinian women and the struggles of immigration and home identity. Funny Ethnics is a synopsis of growing up in the Bankstown suburbs with the journey of learning to accept oneself as more than a single-sided coin. Dirt Poor Islanders is a detailed story that contains the complexities of identity and belonging.  

The discussion grappled with controversial and heavy topics; however, these three empowering women trailblazed, with the light still retained in their eyes.  


W’SUP news would like to thank the Sydney Writer’s Festival team for providing the opportunity to attend events media personnel and for hosting such incredible sessions. We hope to continue collaborating in the future and bring these important conversations to Western Sydney University. 

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An end to placement poverty? Students are left doubtful.

The government announces payments for placements, but students feel they are missing the mark. ...

In recent news, the federal government announced that students undergoing teaching, nursing, and social work placements may be eligible for weekly payments by July 2025. 

The government calculated that students could receive up to $319.50 a week.  

While the government expects the change to help, students say it’s not enough to ease the economic challenges they’re currently facing. 

What is placement poverty, and who does it impact? 

“Placement poverty” is a term first coined by Social Work students in April 2024, in reaction to the hardships of struggling financially whilst trying to maintain their placement experience. 

Students say the time spent on placements without income has pushed them close to or below the poverty line, which is defined as half the median household income, according to Poverty and Inequality Australia. As of 2022, it’s $489 a week for a single adult, and $1,027 a week for a couple with two children, as stated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 

Jasmine Taylor is a learning support officer and a teaching student at Western Sydney University. Even after taking an additional job in retail and receiving youth allowance entitlements, Jasmine says she is struggling to stay afloat: 

 “I was, up until a few weeks ago, working two jobs and accessing Centrelink and that still was barely covering my essentials…Everything is so expensive,” Jasmine said.  

Jasmine says the cost of living makes unpaid placements ‘impossible’ || Image by Ruby Ritchie

Like Jasmine, anyone studying teaching, social work or nursing must complete placements as a part of their qualifications. However, these placements are unpaid and span between 16-26 weeks.  

The $319.50 a week is equivalent to the single Austudy weekly rate. The payment will be means tested and available from July 1, 2025.   

 The government has stated that 68,000 higher education students and 5,000 VET students would be entitled to the payment, but it is only available to teaching, nursing and social work students.  

“This will give people who have signed up to do some of the most important jobs in this country a bit of extra help to get the qualifications they need…This is practical support for practical training,” said Federal Minister for Education, Jason Clare, in a media release.  

While she has yet to start her placement, Jasmine feels the payment amount is too little and believes that the Austudy entitlement is not a fair benchmark.  

“Yes, money is money, and a step forward is good. But this isn’t something that students should be subjected to, in terms of using their time, energy and resources to supplement the shortages they have in those industries,” Jasmine said.  

Students say government should increase payments to minimum wage:

Sabrine Yassine, the Welfare Officer of the National Union of Students (NUS), said whilst the union welcomes the payment as a significant step, the federal government should go further.  

“It’s such a great first move… government is listening to students in terms of what they want… it alleviates about 10 to 20 hours for students, that’s 10 to 20 hours they don’t need to work on a part time job,” Sabrine said.  

Sabrine says the government has taken a good first step || Image: Sabrine Yassine

When broken down, the proposed payment will total $8 an hour. The NUS urged the federal government to increase the payment to the national minimum wage, being $23.23 per hour or $882.80 per 38-hour week.  

“We have three clear asks…amend the Fair Work Act to make unpaid placements illegal, increase the payments to at least minimum wage, and pay all students who must undertake mandatory placements,” added Sabrine. 

Why can’t every student access this? 

One critique the government has faced is that medical, engineering, and psychology students won’t be entitled to the payments.  

In addition, the entitlement can only be accessed by domestic students, as Centrelink is only accessible to Australian citizens and permanent residents.  

“All students should be paid. All unpaid work should be illegal…I think international students are doing the same amount of work and unpaid hours as domestic students,” Sabrine said.  

The next steps:

The government has not yet revealed how they will conduct the means test for this payment but has said students can access the payment alongside other entitlements.  

Jasmine remains sceptical of the government’s payments but is hopeful for change.  

“I think the generation going into all of these industries is very aware of what they deserve, their rights, and what isn’t okay to experience. Unpaid placements are absolutely not okay,” Jasmine said.  

The payment to help ease placement poverty will not come into the hands of students until 2025, however, and there is hope that the government broadens the list of eligible courses that qualify, so many more in need can receive assistance.  

When Education Minister, Jason Clare, was asked by Radio National on whether more courses will be added, he neither confirmed nor denied:  

“That’s something we’d have to look at down the track.” 

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Scorching heat in Sydney’s “Burning West”

Find out why Western Sydney is becoming “The Burning West”, and how there’s a direct connection between urban heat islands and climate change....
(Credit: Sam te Kiefte | Unsplash)

In Fiji, “The Burning West” is a term used by many when referring to the western side of the island and its warmer areas and, in Australia, particularly during the recent summers in Western Sydney, that title is particularly relevant.

For scorching temperatures in 2024, often surpassing 35 degrees, have at times made it feel like Sydney’s west was burning, and many have cited that the urban heat islands (UHI), which are densely built urban areas that trap heat, and the lack of natural greenery have significantly worsened matters.

Coupled with the heat temperatures rapidly escalating due to climate change, it could all be described as a dangerous, perfect storm.

In a piece republished from The Conversation, UTS researchers have shared their analysis that demonstrates that Sydney’s west typically sizzles 5 degrees hotter than the East – and one of the factors is where the former is situated.

(Credit: Mi Pham | Unsplash)

Geographical location:

The western Sydney region is far from the coast, with the distance to the nearest beaches an average of 30-60 mins by car, and Bondi Beach 32.7km from Parramatta. With limited access to the coastal breeze (which acts as a natural air conditioner, cooling the eastern suburbs), Sydney’s west gets 400mm less rain – yearly – than its eastern counterpart.

Also, due to both geographical location and many housing estates in Western Sydney being situated in urbanised heat islands, areas such as Blacktown, Mt Druitt, Penrith, and Marsden Park (which are far from the ocean) have become higher in temperature during summer than local, rural bushland in Australia.

(Credit: Tom Rumble | Unsplash)

Urban development: dense Western Sydney:

Consulting senior urban planner, Samuel Austin, has said that in six months Marsden Park – situated 50km northwest of the Sydney CBD, and 46 mins from Bondi Beach by car – will be “the hottest place on earth”, and that the reason is urban development.

Urban heat islands develop in areas where there is a lack of green spaces – such as tree canopies and waterways – and when there are places of hard and sealed surfaces, such as bricks, concrete, asphalt, dark-coloured roofs and roads; it’s a dangerous algorithm, one that raises the temperature by 10-12 degrees, yet is the incorrect code that the NSW Government presently adopts when it comes to building housing estates in Sydney’s west, such as those in Marsden Park.

In 2022, the NSW Government chose to abandon its former plan of banning dark roofs, despite statements from then-planning minister, Rob Stokes, that ending the previous method would be a positive step forward and “Have an enormous impact on the urban heat island effect” in Sydney’s west.

The sustainable planning agenda was approved by environmental groups, and would have made it mandatory for roofs of new houses to be lighter in colour, and thus lower urban heat temperatures for the people of Western Sydney.

Yet, it never came to fruition, and the government did not supply a plan B.

(Credit: Markus Spiske | Pexels)

What to do about a changing Western Sydney climate:

The Mayor of Blacktown, Stephen Bali, has said, “There is a change in the climate between eastern seaboard versus Western Sydney,” and fears temperatures will only escalate in the coming years if no government action is to be taken.

While the reprieve could come in a multitude of urban cooling fixes that, if implemented, would help those in western Sydney: such as changing dark roofing and opting for lighter colours, increasing foliage and native green space, as well as replacing pavements and roads with heat-reflective paint to minimise heat better, unless those changes are implemented soon, the effects of the climate crisis will continue to be felt and ultimately worsen, for both residents now and for generations to come.

Short of possible corporate and government sustainability accountability measures – such as Urban Greening – sustainable packaging, and green energy mandates (like installing thousands more wind turbines), the power sits with the people to act and apply pressure.

Each of us can take steps to try to combat rapid climate change, such as buying products based on their environmental impact, leading to the loss of revenue for unsustainable brands and driving the change to a fully sustainable economy.

(Credit: Tomek Baginski | Unsplash)

Thus, we need to do everything possible to try to alter the effects of climate change, and that means the NSW Government greenlighting and implementing sustainable planning agendas, such as making it mandatory to move to lighter-coloured roofing, as well as plant much more green spaces.

This could improve the hot conditions for residents in areas that are in urban heat islands today.

Authors: Raynesh Charan and Nataša Aster-Stater

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Interest rate hikes and the poor

Amidst the current cost-of-living crisis, read how interest rate hikes affect low-income individuals and vulnerable communities. ...

Interest rate hikes have long been a central monetary policy tool wielded by central banks to regulate economic activity and maintain stability. While these adjustments may seem impartial, a closer examination reveals that interest rate hikes can have a discriminatory impact and disproportionately affect low-income individuals and marginalised communities.

Interest Rate Hikes and The Double-Edged Sword.

Influenced by various economic factors, interest rates are pivotal in how much it costs to borrow money, and how much you earn from savings. While intended to curb inflation and stimulate responsible borrowing, the impact of interest rate hikes is not evenly distributed across society.

Low-income households, more likely to rely on credit for everyday expenses, often bear the brunt of these rate adjustments. As interest rates rise, the cost of servicing debts – from credit cards to mortgages, becomes a heavy financial burden. This can potentially lead to a cycle of financial stress and mounting debt.

One of the most evident manifestations of the discriminatory nature of interest rate hikes lies in the housing market. Low-income families often struggle to secure stable housing, and when interest rates go up, the homeownership can make this more challenging.

As mortgage rates increase, the affordability of homeownership becomes a barrier, widening the gap between those with access to homeownership and those forced into perpetual renting.

The result perpetuates housing inequality, with the poor being systematically excluded from the benefits of property ownership and wealth accumulation. On top of that, Australia suffers from a nationwide housing crisis, so some low-socioeconomic-status households risk losing their properties.

The Reserve Bank Board raised the cash rate ten times this year, which begs the question: was it necessary? And if so, was it ethical? Leader of the Greens party, Adam Bandt, says: “In the middle of a housing and rental crisis, there is a real risk the Reserve Bank is going to ruin lives and undermine our collective future with further rate rises.”

Access to Credit: A Catch-22

Interest rate hikes can also perpetuate the cycle of unequal access to credit. Financial institutions seeking to mitigate their risks in times of increased interest rates, become more stringent in their lending practices.

This exacerbates the difficulty vulnerable communities face in accessing credit, as lenders hesitate to extend loans to those with already limited financial resources. As such, people experiencing poverty are caught in a catch-22, where the mechanisms meant to encourage financial responsibility only reinforce economic barriers.

Policy Considerations and Different Approaches

Addressing the discriminatory nature of interest rate hikes requires a comprehensive approach that considers the unique challenges faced by vulnerable communities. Central banks and policymakers need to factor in the potential uneven impact on low-income households when formulating monetary policy.

Providing targeted support, such as financial literacy programs, affordable housing initiatives, and credit access programs, may help mitigate the adverse effects of interest rate hikes and empower vulnerable communities to navigate economic challenges.

Greens treasurer, Nick McKim, says: “Instead of getting rid of his existing power to set interest rates, the Treasurer should be using this power right now to help renters and mortgage holders by freezing interest rates.”

While central banks employ these measures to achieve macroeconomic stability, their implications for people experiencing poverty cannot be overlooked. Understanding how interest rate hikes disproportionately impact low-income individuals and marginalised communities is essential for developing inclusive monetary policies that promote financial well-being and equal opportunities for all.

As we navigate the intricate landscape of monetary policy, it is essential to recognise the broader societal impact of interest rate adjustments and work towards financial system that’s fairer for everyone.

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Interest rate hikes and the poor

Amidst the current cost-of-living crisis, read how interest rate hikes affect low-income individuals and vulnerable communities....

Interest rate hikes have long been a central monetary policy tool wielded by central banks to regulate economic activity and maintain stability. While these adjustments may seem impartial, a closer examination reveals that interest rate hikes can have a discriminatory impact and disproportionately affect low-income individuals and marginalised communities.

Interest Rate Hikes and The Double-Edged Sword.

Influenced by various economic factors, interest rates are pivotal in how much it costs to borrow money, and how much you earn from savings. While intended to curb inflation and stimulate responsible borrowing, the impact of interest rate hikes is not evenly distributed across society.

Low-income households, more likely to rely on credit for everyday expenses, often bear the brunt of these rate adjustments. As interest rates rise, the cost of servicing debts – from credit cards to mortgages, becomes a heavy financial burden. This can potentially lead to a cycle of financial stress and mounting debt.

One of the most evident manifestations of the discriminatory nature of interest rate hikes lies in the housing market. Low-income families often struggle to secure stable housing, and when interest rates go up, the homeownership can make this more challenging.

As mortgage rates increase, the affordability of homeownership becomes a barrier, widening the gap between those with access to homeownership and those forced into perpetual renting.

The result perpetuates housing inequality, with the poor being systematically excluded from the benefits of property ownership and wealth accumulation. On top of that, Australia suffers from a nationwide housing crisis, so some low-socioeconomic-status households risk losing their properties.

The Reserve Bank Board raised the cash rate ten times this year, which begs the question: was it necessary? And if so, was it ethical? Leader of the Greens party, Adam Bandt, says: “In the middle of a housing and rental crisis, there is a real risk the Reserve Bank is going to ruin lives and undermine our collective future with further rate rises.”

Access to Credit: A Catch-22

Interest rate hikes can also perpetuate the cycle of unequal access to credit. Financial institutions seeking to mitigate their risks in times of increased interest rates, become more stringent in their lending practices.

This exacerbates the difficulty vulnerable communities face in accessing credit, as lenders hesitate to extend loans to those with already limited financial resources. As such, people experiencing poverty are caught in a catch-22, where the mechanisms meant to encourage financial responsibility only reinforce economic barriers.

Policy Considerations and Different Approaches

Addressing the discriminatory nature of interest rate hikes requires a comprehensive approach that considers the unique challenges faced by vulnerable communities. Central banks and policymakers need to factor in the potential uneven impact on low-income households when formulating monetary policy.

Providing targeted support, such as financial literacy programs, affordable housing initiatives, and credit access programs, may help mitigate the adverse effects of interest rate hikes and empower vulnerable communities to navigate economic challenges.

Greens treasurer, Nick McKim, says: “Instead of getting rid of his existing power to set interest rates, the Treasurer should be using this power right now to help renters and mortgage holders by freezing interest rates.”

While central banks employ these measures to achieve macroeconomic stability, their implications for people experiencing poverty cannot be overlooked. Understanding how interest rate hikes disproportionately impact low-income individuals and marginalised communities is essential for developing inclusive monetary policies that promote financial well-being and equal opportunities for all.

As we navigate the intricate landscape of monetary policy, it is essential to recognise the broader societal impact of interest rate adjustments and work towards financial system that’s fairer for everyone.

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Blak and white thinking: What is my place in the 2023 referendum?

Ruby Ritchie explores the meaning of Blak identity in the context of the Voice to Parliament Referendum. ...
Invasion Day 2020, Melbourne || Photos by Johan Mouchet via Pexels

“Questions of identity thus run far deeper than skin colour. And that identity crisis is not born out of a lack of love from Blackfullas. It is a product of proximity to whiteness” – Chelsea Watego, Another Day in the Colony.

I can’t remember it ever being announced that I was Blak, other than knowing my dad told me when I was little; just like I accepted that the sky is blue, I also accepted that I was Koori. What I was made to understand by white people, though, was that I wasn’t like ‘other’ Blak people. I was a fair-skinned and red-haired kid, growing up in a family and community that looked the same.

My first relationships with Aboriginal people was at University when I met friends at the Badanami Centre. Our family didn’t know much of our history beyond my great-grandfather, our family name ‘Ritchie’ even being called into question by a lack of paper trail.

There existed a lot of trauma around our heritage, with my grandfather punished for his father being Blak. Self-loathing, internalised racism and an ill-formed sense of identity persevered throughout the generations of my family.

My school friends felt comfortable being racist, and even after identifying myself, would call me slurs as a ‘joke’, whilst other people would simply say, ‘You aren’t Aboriginal.’ I would awkwardly laugh it off and pretend I was not hurt, attributing it to ignorance and suppressing the doubt I began to feel.

Yet after the government released the Voice proposal, my white friends suddenly became more vocal about First Nations issues. They would post colourful social media graphics with statistics about youth incarceration or Indigenous deaths in custody in pretty, frilly font and a caption with the hashtag #voteyes.

It was unbelievably grating. I felt like I wasn’t Blak enough to contribute to the discussion. Yet, white people could get on a social media soapbox to preach about Blak issues remaining secure in their racial identity.

Even though I had concerns about the Voice proposal, I would tell myself that my future wasn’t directly impacted, so I shouldn’t count in the discussion. Gnawing away at these thoughts was an overwhelming question of why? Why do I feel I don’t have a place in the discussion?

In November 2022, I met Mark Dreyfus KC, the Attorney General of Australia, who came to speak to the University. There, I dared to ask a powerful figure about First Nations issues for the first time. Asking those questions made me realise why I never felt entitled to contribute to conversations about Blak issues in the first place; the ‘white trespasser complex’.

When non-Indigenous people have told me that I am not ‘really Aboriginal’, I felt like a white trespasser in a conversation with First Nations peoples. When you are a trespasser in a community, how could you possibly have a right to speak about changes to that community?

You feel like an alien stranded between two nations, able to understand what language each group is speaking but unable to respond to either group. Blak and white, racialised and privileged, included but simultaneously othered; these binaries encompass the struggles that come with Blak identity and leave you stranded out of the conversation.

However, it was never Blak peoples that excluded me, I have never felt so supported by a community before I met my Blak brothers and sisters in Badanami. It was always white people who enforced this complex.

Having understood this complex, I enrolled in a unit called Law and Public Policy: The Voice to Parliament Referendum. The unit involved students engaging with local communities surrounding the factual background of the Voice. I opted to write an article on W’SUP called ‘Vote with Care; A Guide to the Voice to Parliament; It was an article that empowered me as an Aboriginal woman, as I finally got to spread awareness about issues that affect Blak people without feeling fraudulent.

As new insights are revealed about the Voice to Parliament referendum, I remain confident in my stance. If you were to ask me my view a few months ago, however, I would have told you that I was unsure whether I deserved to have my voice heard. Now I know that no matter the stance taken, we must endeavour to listen to all First Nations peoples’ perspectives.

Questioning your racial identity as a First Nations person can be a lifelong struggle, but it does not make you any less entitled to contribute to Blak conversations; if anything, you add a new perspective. Actively concealing your opinion for fear of not ‘being Blak enough’ goes against the purpose of the referendum.

No definitive standard of ‘blakness’ is required to share your opinion about issues affecting you, your kin, and your community. It is the inclusion of First Nations voices that is essential in this referendum proposal. So don’t fret; understanding your racial identity isn’t always blak or white, and it does not make you a trespasser in community conversations. Blak identity runs much deeper than a referendum.