Always Another Country – Sisonke Msimang
Always Another Country is a memoir written by Sisonke Msimang. Msimang is a South African writer, political analyst, and speaker in issues related to race, gender, and democracy. Born in exile, Sisonke is the daughter of freedom fighters, grew up in Zambia, Kenya, Canada, and Ethiopia. She moved to the United States for studies and made a long-awaited return to South Africa and her family after the abolishment of Apartheid and when Nelson Mandela took office afterward. Msimag’s memoir Always Another Country is a story of a young girl and her journey to womanhood, a journey that across the world from Africa to America, back to Africa, and then on to her new home in Australia (Text Publishing, n.d.).
Current trends of racism in Australia have been increasingly uncovered due to an emerging discourse that aims to focus on the emotional, educational, social, and economic disadvantages faced by Australia’s First Nations Peoples (Bodkin-Andrews & Carlson, 2014). Being a black woman in a white world, Sisonke had had to face multiple types of criticism based on the color of her skin. Living in Australia, the land of the First Nations Peoples, Sisonke writes about her experiences as a black woman in Australia. Racism in Australia dates back to the ill-treatment and forceful removal of the Indigenous people (also known as the original inhabitants of Australia) from their native land. The First Nation's Peoples are racialized as black (Mapendzahama & Kwansah-Aidoo, 2017).
Although modern-day Australia is culturally diverse and can be classified as a multi-racial country, Australian society continues to experience tensions between multicultural policies and the legacy of cultural dominance and Anglo privilege. This situation is similar to that of South Africa, the country having experienced racial division up to as recent in 1993. Anglo privilege in both countries is directly linked to racism through ideas of social dominance by a particular race (white). (Forrest, Blair & Dunn, 2020). Racism in the older days essentially embodies the rather narrow sociobiological understanding of race. This understanding resulted in the segregation of racial groups from each other and that some racial groups were somehow superior to others. However, modern-day racism in Australia also equates the concept of 'out groups'. These groups typically include Asian-Australians, Indigenous people. And Muslims (Dunn, Forrest, Burnley & McDonald, 2016).
The correlation between Australian racism and South African racism as made by Sisonke Msimang in her memoir Always Another country is explicitly explained when she writes: “They were worried about how I, an outspoken black woman, would cope. The stereotype of white South Africans who go to Australia because they are sceptical of black people running the country runs so deep that, in South Africa, telling a white person to ‘go to Australia’ is shorthand for telling them they are racist.” (Cottrell, 2018). In other words, White South Africans lack faith in their black counterparts when it comes to running a country or serious decision making. So much so, that White South Africans often resort to relocating to Australia and live with other White people in a country with a similar history of oppression of the Indigenous community. Black Africans in Australia, on the other hand, are conceived as non-white people who fail to conform to the dominant cultural and social norms. In such a context, it is inevitable to question the sense of belongingness (or the lack of it) of the African, Black community in Australia. The new African diaspora in Australia is a result of immigration (mostly skilled migrants), such as the case of Sisonke Msimang who moved to Australia after having married an Australia she had med in South Africa.
The African diaspora in Australia acknowledges their hybrid identity where the community at large bears both similarities as well as differences to their non-African Australian counterparts (Kwabsah-Aidoo & Mapedzhama, 2018). Experiences of racism, as Kwabsah-Aidoo & Mapedzhama point out, leads to an individuals’ loss of a sense of belonging. Racism produces a concept of the marginalized group being the 'other' group. This social exclusion reflects in behaviors where the notion of 'other' propagates a frame revealing a set of conditions and processes which encourage group-based inequality and discrimination. To further understand the various forms of racialism, it is first important to understand the concept of racism through a clear definition. However, racism takes multiple forms and can not clearly be defined due to the many varieties in the manner in which people potentially display racism if not through their behavior then through actions and underpinned meanings in certain contexts.
In a study conducted by Kwabsah-Aidoo & Mapedzhama (2018) to understand the types of racism African Australians have experienced throughout their stay in the country, one interviewer reveals having constantly been asked for where they were from. Although this may seem like a harmless question to many, to an African and especially a migrant who wishes to 'fit in' in the Australian society, having to constantly answer questions of where they were from is indirectly a constant reminder of the fact they are in fact not from Australia. Constantly being asked about where one is from creates a sense of doubt within the person where the person undergoes a phenomenological process that makes them appear directly to themselves. Although he question may stem from sheer curiosity at times, the question of ‘where are you from’ can also be seen as a classic symbol of white racism. This concept can also be directly linked to Sisonke Msimang’s case wherein she was born in Apartheid South Africa and lived her life as a refugee in various parts of the world. For someone of such a background having to answer a question such as where they were from, has the potential to trigger many unwanted memories and realizations. However, this feeling was different for Msimang when she decided to leave South Africa to be closer to her husband’s family in Australia.
For a very long time, Msimang help very dear to her heart the idea of ‘home’ and belongingness towards South Africa, where her parents grew up and rightfully called home. After having experienced a combination of experiences from her mother’s death to losing her job, and experiencing random violence, Msimang reveals in an interview with Cottrell (2018) that it was then when she had finally given up the idea of associating geography with belonging. Msimang’s take on the prevailing racism in a country such as Australia whose history is knee-deep in racism against the Ingenious people is that when one moves to Australia on free will, one then becomes complicit in the history of the country and what the state has done or continues to do to people. Hence, it is all the more important to be aware of the country's history, how are places a black African within the Australian society and how an African then navigates the oath to fitting in as the 'other'.
After relocating to Australia, Msimang still held on to her South African passport even though her children and husband were wholly Australian both in their passport as well as in their accents. However, Msimang could connect to both cultures. Acknowledging that she now lived in two cultures and that her everyday life straddled between two worlds, one part of her still holding dear her South African roots while the other recognizing her Australian reality. This sense of belonging is referred to as ‘belonging-as-negotiation’ by Kwabsah-Aidoo & Mapedzhama (2018 wherein an individual recognizes and relates to two cultures and realizes they she/he belongs to both – one is the culture where the individual is born (which is South Africa for Msimang), and the other is the culture where the individual resides (Australia). However, this notion changes with when she has children and when her children call Australia home, and when her entire family refers to the country as their home, she grows into it.
Sisonke Msimang’s account of racism, belongingness, and being the 'other' in Australia traces back to the injustices faced by the First Nation's African and the conditions they continue to face. Although Australia is among the most culturally diverse countries in the world, it has a large number of skilled migrant workers from various countries and represents diverse ethnicities. In her memoir Always Another Country, Sisonke reflects on her experiences of being born in exile and how she lived between various countries. Being born to freedom fighter parents, she spent her life in Zambia, Kenya, Canada, and Ethiopia before moving to the U.S for studies and then on to Australia to live with her husband. Her struggle for belongingness and her association with South Africa as ‘home’ grew to be complex after a series of unfortunate events after which she finally decides to move to Australia for good because geography and belonging are not entwined.
Bodkin-Andrews, G. & Carlsom, B. (2014). The legacy of racism and Indigenous Australian identity within education. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1-21.
Cottrell, A. (2018). ‘I feel like there’s a different way of talking about race’. Retrieved from https://www.killyourdarlings.com.au/article/conversation-with-sisonke-msimang/
Forrest, J., Blair, K. & Dunn, K. (2020). Racist attitudes, out?groups and the Australian experience. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 1-16
Mapendzahama, V. & Kwansah-Aidoo, K. (2017). Blackness as burden? The lives experience of black African in Australia. SAGE Open, 1-12.
Mapendzahama, V. & Kwansah-Aidoo, K. (2018). Black bodies in/out of place? Afrocentric perspectives and/on racialised belonging in Australia. Australasian Review of African Studies, 39(2), 95-121.
Text Publishing. (n.d.). Always another country: A memoir of exile and home. Retrieved from https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/always-another-country-a-memoir-of-exile-and-home
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