Lateral violence is described by Richard Frankland as the “organised, harmful behaviours that we do to each other collectively as part of an oppressed group: within our families, within our organisations and within our communities. When we are consistently oppressed we live with great fear and great anger and we often turn on those who are closest to us”.
We know what lateral violence is, we see it in our families, our home towns and places of work.
It’s a spectrum of behaviour that is unacceptable but has always found a way to trickle through the cracks.
The gossiping, bullying, sabotage, threats or verbal abuse is not always consistent or uniform in communities across the country.
I did, however, witness it in my community growing up. Like its definition, lateral violence makes no room for nuance, it doesn’t acknowledge context.
While deliberate bullying is frowned upon, unpacking these episodes at a community meeting or at your aunt’s kitchen table seems to make sense of the chaos, I understand that.
However, Indigenous communities are not the beneficiary of lateral violence.
This behaviour is rooted in colonialism.Our identity is fundamental to our way of life and the imposition of false and degrading stereotypes on our people throughout history has left our identity to, at times, lean into a severe conformity complex.
Versions of our identity have been constructed for us and weaponised against us time and time again.
Conformity was used to control us, and as absurd as it is, we impose our own set of expectations on one another.
I am a mixed-race woman. I am not white-passing, but I acknowledge the racial ambiguity of my appearance and how it is used against me, often pushing me away from my Indigeneity for the sake of the uncomfortable person.
I acknowledge that people treat me accordingly, and I acknowledge that I had the privilege of being raised on Country, accepted into my community with detailed insight into my family history.
My experience of lateral violence is significantly different to mob who were dealt another set of cards; mob finding their way home, mob who never made it home or mob that look and act in away that seems to spark this violence.
Everyone will identify with the term in their own way.
Growing up I may not have used the term lateral violence, I may not have had the words at all.When I think about these words and behaviours I think of expectation and conformity.
A box like all the other boxes into which our history, tradition and culture have been shoved, except this time, the people I love and know are the ones building the box.
As a young woman now living off Country and meeting new communities, I’ve found a sense of pride in my identity and individuality.
Perhaps it’s a matter offinding more boxes to fit into or dismantling the notion of being pigeonholed altogether.
Using social media to network, to express myself and my cultural identity has been an opportunity to find like-minded brothers and sisters, one that wasn’t afforded to the generations before us.
There is power in visibility, in finding women who look like you, brothers and sisters that think in the same way you do, who support you and often go on to invest in you as a friend or family.
Visibility also sets a precedent. In seeing Blak people, Blak interests, arts and opinions, an example is being set, an expectation of sorts.
Not only is there a status quo to adhere to in our communities, but our online community is strengthening too and it’s building its own rules.
Lateral violence is intangible, it’s a fuzzy term with fuzzy boundaries, not unlike an online community.
What happens when the community you choose to subscribe to imposes an identity and demands conformity of you as well?
What will happen if we do not adhere to these expectations?
There is no accountability, no community meeting or a kitchen table to unpack the details.
We need to talk about lateral violence on social media and give it new meaning, nuance.
We need to understand that influence and doubt can have an impact on our young people’s identity and their sense of self within their sense of culture.
We need to start a dialogue about accountability and ask each other if we are accountable to everyone we see online, if we are accountable to those who follow, like or subscribe to us online.
As the world changes around us, as identity evolves and Blakness takes its rightful fluid form, the definition of lateral violence and the way it’s inflicted on community must change as well.
By Darby Ingram