Love in a Colonial Economy

Kate Daglas is a 19 year-old Gunditjmara woman currently pursuing a future in child psychology. She would like to acknowledge the encouragement and support of her community and mentors in developing her work.

I have an ideal of love. To me, it is both unconditional and reciprocal. Any competent adult should be capable of showing, giving and receiving unconditional love, yet this seems to not be the case. How is it that I have come to believe such things? This question has many layers for me. The effects of abuse and betrayal have led me to believe in something, yet nothing. A non-physical construct that glues us all together, and I don’t feel it, I see it but don’t understand it. There is something about the economies and politics of love within a colony that makes it so unequal, abusive and neglectful. You are either the occupier or occupied.

The first relationship of every person within a colony is an abusive one: they’re born into this nation without the option to decide whether they are a citizen or not. This initial relationship of victim/abuser – or rather, colonised/coloniser – which we’re forced into pushes us to accept a relationship of this kind, as well as the other inequalities of a colony that are reflected in our personal relationships.

We see this in wider society through the lens of oppressed PoC and the flourishing white man. Why is there such an inequality between the two? If you research the common signs of an abusive relationship – use of fear, humiliation and guilt to control another – you will find that it is reflected within the relationships between white people and PoC. It seems that the patterns for personal relationships within a colony are being dictated by the economies and politics of colonial relationships. There is an intergenerational inequality between parent and child where the parent has failed to love beyond their own self-interests: whether work, romantic relationships or drug addiction. My relationship with my mother is a victim/abuser relationship – there is no equal input. I care, she doesn’t.

True unconditional love is the opposite of self-interest, yet the shadow cast on adulthood is self-interest. It means that to be an adult, one must be able to show, give and receive true unconditional love.

I know I deserve that love from somebody; I know that I am denied it within my current relationships. However, I carry a guilty sense that I am also currently denying someone else this love, reproducing the same inequity that has happened to me throughout all of my relationships. I cannot love. I can really, really like, but I cannot love. I can say ‘I love you’, but I know that I don’t mean it. For a very long time this has stunted my personal growth and ruined my connections with other people.

More recently, I believe I may have found the missing piece to the puzzle.

My grandmother, as a child, was taken from her home and placed into a white institution riddled with every kind of abuse. She was torn from her culture and the people who were supposed to provide love and care for her. At 16, she was made to leave this institution and fend for herself. She never got the chance to be a child and so her time to grow and foster an understanding of love was completely lost.

When I was young, I was never taught about my culture, land or people. Even though I lived on my land for a period of time in my childhood, I wasn’t aware that I lived on it. I was frightened of the dreaming stories I was told about spirits, shapeshifters and others I don’t wish to name. Imagine being a child trying to learn about their culture and only hearing stories of fear when questions were asked. I was scared, I didn’t want to learn about my culture anymore.

I have only recently realised that my grandmother didn’t teach my mother or myself about our culture because she didn’t even have an understanding of her own.

How can we give knowledge, or love, without receiving it from the beginning? Instead of learning about her culture, my grandmother did the complete opposite – contact with her culture is a reminder of her trauma, as the negative associations of childhood and culture have woven together. A toxic cycle emerges. The colonisation of our land and removal of our children has stunted personal growth of our people for generations to come.

I notice these patterns. The neglect and unequal politics of love in a colony have necessitated my ability to observe objectively. I have the ability to step outside of myself and look back in; I have academic distance. I adopt these Aboriginal habits of thinking. So this family who I thought gave nothing to me, actually gave me the ability to know myself. I am who I am today because of these traits, and because I have the ability to look beyond the now. Although I have been denied reciprocal care in my own life, I know that my purpose in a colonial economy is to heal, and to love unconditionally.