Publication Details

Slater, L. (2017). A Meditation on Discomfort. Australian Feminist Studies, 32 (93), 335-343.


To borrow from Irene Watson, this is a meditation on discomfort (2007). I begin at a cultural tourism site in northeast Arnhem Land, where Yolηu women were teaching Napaki (non-Indigenous) women about their kinship systems and responsibilities. The tourists were eager to learn: at times insistent and demanding. There was something too familiar about the scene: the settler women's clawing desire for 'Aboriginal culture', only just keeping at bay the anxiety evoked by Aboriginal autonomy and political will. My concern is that in this historical moment there is a retreat, a wariness to disclose what it feels like to be the beneficiaries of living in a colonised country. It is shaming to discuss these awkward, if not ugly, emotions, and much easier to dismiss these as personal failings, sweep them aside, or to hide behind empathy for so-called vulnerable people or an enthusiasm for 'culture'. Consequently those committed to social justice could fail to understand contemporary Australia, and also disregard an alternative feminist political practice. In this article, I reflect upon what might enable 'good white people' to stay in places of discomfort and be responsive and answerable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [Watson, Irene. 2007. "Aboriginal Sovereignties: Past, Present and Future (Im)Possibilities." In Our Patch, edited by Suvendrini Perera, 23-44. Curtin, WA: Network Books].

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