‘Reverse racism is not a thing’: Student slams backlash
ISABELLA Whāwhai Mason might still be a student at Melbourne University but her assignments are already getting her national attention.
Ms Mason, a 20-year-old student and dancer at the Victoria College of the Arts, has created a show that asks people to "process their positionality in a colonial state and in a world where whiteness is privileged".
Where We Stand, Ms Mason's "performance ritual", will finish its run tomorrow night but before it finishes up the uni student wants people to understand the message she is trying to convey.
Earlier today, Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge attacked Ms Mason's performance and said the University of Melbourne had "adopted identity politics".
Where We Stand begins with an acknowledgment of country before the performers invite anyone who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander into the theatre.
Following that, people of colour, indigenous people, and anyone who identifies as being from an Asian diaspora are also invited into the theatre.
Inside the theatre, the performers then create a "culturally safe and welcome experience where those sorts of people would usually feel ostracised," Ms Mason said.
Outside the theatre, the remaining group, made up entirely of white or people of European descent, are left in the foyer to watch a second show.
Performers there speak about the history of colonisation in Australia before talking about how their own "whiteness" has given them privilege.
Speaking to news.com.au, Ms Mason said Where We Stand aims to show people of European descent how their "whiteness informs how they benefit in society, no matter how conscious or unconscious they are of it".
Ms Mason said the white performers address how their "whiteness has afforded them basic niceties in society".
She says things like the nude colour of make up brands and how clothing has been tailored to white people are just some examples.
"White people are more likely to have their name pronounced correctly, they're more often represented in media, academia, theatre, they often see white people as active role models," Ms Mason said.
Ms Mason said her performance ritual is an important step in starting to have a conversation about racism in Australia and said "no one feels safe" discussing it.
"They don't want to be called offensive, or have what they're saying misconstrued. We have so much work to do but no one knows how to start," she said.
Since launching last week, Ms Mason has been accused of "race segregation", "playing the blame game" and "blatant reverse racism" but she insists that was never her intention.
"My intention was never to spite the audience and it's not about ostracising the audience in any way. I'm not playing the blame game," she said.
After speaking to the group of white people about their own privilege, the performers invite them into the theatre.
Before they enter, the group is asked to agree to "respect the sacredness of the space" and in order to do that, are invited to sign a piece of paper that says: "I acknowledge where I stand".
When equal representation in the theatre is lost - meaning when the number of white people outweigh all others - the performers stop what they're doing and the entire group sits and reflects.
Ms Mason said there has never been equal representation at any shows but said a lot of people have spoken to her about how much they needed the reflection portion of the show.
"I do not consider the ritual in the foyer to be any 'lesser' a part of the performance, however many audience members feel as though they 'missed out' on the 'real show' in the theatre," Ms Mason said.
Since the performances started last week, Ms Mason said the reaction has been "really beautiful for the most part" but some people have responded "very aggressively".
"It's supposed to be a tense and uncomfortable experience and it does make a lot of people feel very sad but it's a necessary conversation we need to have," she said.
The uni student has had people walk out of the performance and has had other people tell her they didn't like it.
The 20-year-old has also copped a lot of heat online.
Right wing political group Stand Up For Australia called the piece "blatant racism/apartheid".
"I'm presenting a hard truth and some people don't want to hear the truth but it's the Australia we live in right now. It's all factual. We don't make any accusation and it isn't inflammatory," she said.
Despite calls from the Institute of Public Affairs to cancel the performance, the University of Melbourne has backed Ms Mason and will continue backing her until the final show tomorrow night.
Speaking toThe Australian, Institute of Public Affairs director Bella D'Abrera called the performance "reverse segregation".
"If people are paying for tickets, and taxpayers are funding the Victorian College of the Arts, then they should be let in … or they should stop the performance," she told the publication.
In response to the taxpayer argument, Ms Mason said her detractors were forgetting she too has paid thousands for her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
"I am paying thousands for this course and I'm paying thousands to make this work," she said.
Ms Mason said she was "insulted" that people thought Where We Stand was reverse racism.
"The literal definition of racism refers to the discrimination against minorities. White people are not a minority here meaning reverse racism is not a thing," she said.
"Someone getting upset at me for not letting them into my university show for 10 minutes will never measure up to the systemic abuse, the death, the genocide that has happened here in Australia."