Action 9: Accent

Find your accent, listen to it for 10 minutes


It's only on a White Planet that anyone has to protest Black Lives Matter. Before protest was on tote bags and t-shirts it was on (mother) tongues, in tears and in names that refused to be anglicised.

Protest manifests in many forms, often suffocated, screaming in silences and gaslighted into silence as being 'sensitive'. As the risk of desensitisation to racist acts increases, compassion fatigue sets in; black squares are further down social media feeds, and the visible anti-racist space is vacated, people that are visibly different carry all this and all that went before into the trauma of everyday racist encounters.

I'm drawn to practice that collectively codify this trauma, not to valorize my protest, or any particular type of protest, but to validate personal experiences of violations of my being: To locate in these practices what Arendt refers to as 'humanity in the form of fraternity' that is the 'great privilege of pariah people'. In this fraternity I think of people that have encountered themselves as 'other' by a racist gaze - objectified, stereotyped, subjected to prejudice and discrimination, and generally denied the same complexity as white counterparts. Now is the time 'greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror' (Walcott) not as a reflection of, or as competition for, the white gaze but to look within and between communities for solidarity.

Yusuf Ali Hayat is committed to social justice. He has worked in leadership roles for several international non-government organisations across social housing, social support and Emergency Relief. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of South Australia with a research focus on migrant narratives, transcultural aesthetics and intersubjectivity in art. As an artist, Yusuf’s work integrates photography, video, painting and architectural approaches to sculptural form. He has exhibited in Australia and overseas.

For a long time I thought melanin was a curse. This was entrenched in Indian ideas of beauty I grew up with before I was even fully aware of whiteness – politically or culturally. As I moved out of a predominantly migrant community I’ve learnt to engage differently with ‘whiteness’ as a dominant cultural position that classifies, organises and structures race as a category to signify ideas about value and what it means to be human.

I believe we have a discursive relationship with culture in that we make the culture that makes us. The challenge in engaging with these spaces are the concessions and compromises I make in adopting, adapting and co-opting the language and cultural registers of dominant cultural production so I might enter that discursive relationship. The position is always fraught because there is a psychological cost for operating between these spaces, of being both and neither. Of fluctuating between undermining whiteness and being complicit in it.

 The notion of ‘Coconut’ is caught up with essentialist cultural positions and a problematic obsession with origin and authenticity rather than sincere ethical positions. It can amplify similarities within, and differences between cultural positions that might impede how we negotiate difference. Action 9 of 11 is a series of paintings that contemplates modernism, the spiritual dimensions of Islamic geometry, my name, melanin, and my English ‘Coconut Syrup’ accent.