CATH MOORE: Talk it Out
Cath Moore is a freelance writer and filmmaker.
Born in Guyana, Moore had a global upbringing - and spent part of her childhood in the USA before moving to Australia. Growing up in a single parent home and with her white mother, Moore was aware of a perceived difference but found inclusiveness within her own home.
As an adult, she continues to unpack this experience - and regularly explores the topic through her freelance work.
THE PIN. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and where you grew up?
CATH MOORE. I was born in Guyana - my father’s homeland- before we moved to Atlanta in the US, where my father still lives. When my parents split up mum and I moved back to Australia - her homeland - when I was about two years-old. I still have a black-and-white passport photo of me sitting on her lap; this little dark skinned kid with doe eyes looking slightly startled. That was an enduring expression throughout childhood.
Mum was an academic at the Australian National University and we lived in university housing. It was like being in a colour bubble - full of ethnically diverse kids from around the world whose parents also worked at the university. We shared cultural experiences in a very inclusive and safe environment. I’m very nostalgic about this time in my life.
Do you recall when you became aware of race and culture?
CM. At the time Canberra was ostensibly a white, middle class city. I was aware of a perceived difference that felt very isolating. Kids especially, would stare at me and mum. Being a single parent, only child, bi-racial family was unusual, but their gazes also felt punitive, as if we had unwittingly done something inappropriate. This ‘wrongness’ is a legacy that I’ve only just started to unpack as an adult and understand it in a wider socio-cultural context. Nonetheless, it made me feel very much like m mum and I were allies in a world that didn’t fully understand or accept us. I remember a kid riding past us on a bike who called me Sambo. Mum ran after him and verbally bit his head off, but I never fully understood that skin colour was the source of conflict - I thought for a very long time that even though my skin was a darker shade, I was still white like my mother.
How did it play out for you day-to-day as a young person, if at all?
CM. I was lucky in that the university community normalised ethnic diversity without us even realising it. We all went to the same school, so it was a bit like the United Nations crossing the street every morning. Only outside of this context did I received negative attention, or as I realise now, curiosity from other people.
You write a lot through the lens of bi-racial lived experience, has this impacted upon your own sense of self?
CM. Enormously. On varying levels of consciousness. As a kid I always felt like I had to fit in with the dominant Anglicised culture. I would defer to those who represented (and benefited from) this model, ostensibly as a defence mechanism. If I agreed and appeased, less attention would be paid to what made me different. And this is a very destructive mode of seeing the world and your place within it. For many people of bi-racial heritage, there’s a slow burn or a sudden awakening, where you decide not to be an apologist anymore. This has only happened recently for me and has been a really empowering process. I do position myself differently now, ask and expect different things from the world at large. More than anything, I’ve learnt not to assume the dominant paradigm (in any context) is also the most valuable or valid.
As a writer do you see it as a responsibility of yours to bring racial and cultural conversations to the table?
CM. Yes, more so than ever. In a landscape where race is utilised to further marginalise and demonise certain sectors of the community, the way in which we speak to and about these kind of denominators is incredibly important. I don’t think we’re taught in this country, to bring a critical eye to news we’re exposed to, or look at the agendas that influence how we receive information. We need to challenge our own bias and those that directly impact on our collective wellbeing. Disunity is harmful. Ignorance or a lack of perspective equally so. So yes, if I’m more aware and try to stimulate awareness about conversations that haven’t always been front and centre then I think that's a good thing.
Are there POC writers in Australia you're excited about?
CM. Absolutely. Through this personal awakening of mine, I’ve connected with some really engaging and illuminating people. I’m particularly interested in women of colour and their experiences working in the creative arts. I think Maxine Beneba Clarke’s writing has broken through into a mainstream arena and will hopefully have a ripple effect. I also think Yassmin Abdel-Magied is an incredibly important figure who’s not afraid to speak to her truth, one that is problematic for a lot of people in this country. I’m in love with Candy Bowers; she’s a flat out performative legend. I also know there’s a whole lot of inspiring POC writers I’m yet to have the pleasure of engaging with.
You have a child and step child, who are quite different in skin tone, do you think they'll face different challenges to each other and the ones experienced by you?
CM. My step-daughter is of Indian/German heritage and has a skin tone similar to my own. My biological son is German, Anglo-Irish & Afro-Caribbean. He has dirty blond hair and pale skin. I think they’re both living in a more diversified society than I did. She said recently that she had no Disney role models apart from Pocahontas growing up, so she’s aware of the Anglo gaze through which culture is reflected back to us. She’s also part of the digital generation who have access to social media and other platforms where diversity is engaged with more readily. When I was a kid, I always feared people asking why I was a different colour to my mum. I thought I’d never have that issue with my own children because they would have a similar skin tone to myself. Ironically, my son’s fair colouring means that I’m having the same conversations again. But not as many as I had anticipated. This time, I’m so eager to speak about our different shades. I talk about the wonders of heritage and genetics until at some point, the poor kid just nods his head to shut me up and runs back to the playground.
Do you think public dialogue on race, identity, and culture in Australia is improving?
CM. I think it’s becoming more prevalent. I think any kind of cultural shift takes a long passage of time to really evoke substantial change. What I think is important is that POC are provided with more space, visibility and voice within this dialogue, because it’s a conversation that needs to lose it’s tagline and just become more commonplace. I can see small shifts in representation. Some big retailers are embracing diversity in their approach to marketing for example. I think we have to be mindful of who is driving the dialogue and whether the agendas at play impede or promote change, because that’s the end goal here. Meaningful shifts in the way that POC are seen and heard.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, about being in the skin you're in, what would it be?
CM. Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror. You might be pleasantly surprised by who you find. Life is not about absolutes. Neither is colour, so how you feel about yourself will change as you do. Be kind. Be curious. And be grateful that wherever you go, your heritage comes for the ride.
This interview has been condensed and edited
Photo credit: Provided by Cath Moore