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When Priyanka Bromhead founded we are the mainstream, a volunteer led organization based in Australia, her goal was to create a safe(r) space for women across various cultures, races and spectrum to be challenged and grow to create strong cross- community solidarity.
“In my 15 years in the education system and later in an executive educational position, I’d never seen a Bla(c)k brown woman or gender diverse person in leadership. The final straw was when I attended a Women in Educational Leadership conference in Sydney and there were more men in the room than melanated women. I broached this in the final session and the all-White panel made some awkward comparisons and justifications. At that moment I decided, right, if these women will not move over and make space for people who look and sound and think and live like me, I’ll create my own space for us.”
Priyanka Bromhead is an eela thamizh anti-disciplinary artist, writer and educator who lives and works on unceded Darug land. Much of her career has been spent working with young people in South West and Western Sydney presenting decolonial perspectives across the English, History and Social Science curricula. As the daughter of Sri Lankan refugees, Priyanka’s writing chronicles the intersections of her identity, as well as her own observations of Western Sydney life, through poetry, prose and creative non-fiction.
Her dedication to resisting and dismantling White heteropatriarchy is seen in her grassroot efforts through we are the mainstream to bring about individual, intergenerational and collective healing by unpacking internalising White supremacy and understanding unconscious biases, while using individual privileges to combat community racism.
It wasn’t an easy platform to build, especially considering it goes against the expectations from mainstream society that creates ideas of polite explanations and justification to describe why this space was necessary.
“To this day there are still thamizh women, women of colour and White women alike who don’t grasp what it is we do and why we do it. They want us to sit down and patiently explain and justify the reasons behind an exclusive space that is driven by principles of transformative justice, solidarity and abolition instead of simply showing up for those who have been systematically excluded. The time for hand holding is over. Our message is not a palatable, polite or peaceful one. We are not a charity or a not-for-profit. We’re a justice collective looking for people interested in creating equity through solidarity partnerships. We’re here to disrupt and shift paradigms.”
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The message is not about diversity and inclusion that is regurgitated by many organizations to create a smoke screen of multicultural acceptance. Instead, we are the mainstream focuses on decolonization and intersectionality. Priyanka connected much of her work with the observations of her childhood experiences. Moving within a Christian thamizh circle, it became clear how colonial Christianity impacted the current displacement thamizh people experienced.
“Our coaching programs and our events is based on our philosophy that we need to rewire our practices and processes to all aspects of our lives to indigenise and follow feminine philosophies and ways of being. We have seen and experienced the world under colonial, masculine practices and they have done nothing but damage the earth, our Bhoomi, our communities and ourselves. Our coaching and training is there to shift these deep-seated ways of existing.”
It was a learning that Priyanka herself had to go through. Much of the work requires self-awareness and a deep understanding of how we are connected. It wasn’t just about her being a thamizh woman whose family came as refugees after being displaced, it went further to her understanding about how her experiences impacted First Nations people.
“As a displaced person whose ancestral lands are occupied, I stand in solidarity with First Nations People globally who have experienced and continue experiencing colonial violence. Acknowledging how my displacement has caused further displacement to First nations People here has been part of the way I have understood better how to show solidarity. Everything I have gained, and all my successes here have been on Stolen Land. One of the ways I “pay the rent” is by supporting local organizations and by making space for First Nations voices. I live on Darug land in Western Sydney (East Coast of ‘Australia’) so I financially support a few Darug-based organisations that are First Nations led and operated. If I’m invited to speak or share on a panel that will be mixed, i.e. not an all South Asian panel, I will ask who the First Nations women representatives are.”
The challenge to work on her own unconscious biases and unpack her internalized prejudices and translates into her belief that change is possible. It is work that requires self-awareness and accountability, far beyond the preaching of White feminism that says self-love, self-development and self-care are the only way to go.
“Once we realise, like Lilla Watson (First Nations woman, activist and visual artist) stated, that our liberation is bound together, that every individual is created by Imago Dei and that there is intrinsic worth and value to each person, we being to treat them with the dignity and care that they deserve. Our individual healing is so interconnected with community healing.”
Priyanka is currently the Community Engagement Lead on Aran Thangaratnam's production of Stay Woke, at Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Together with Thinesh Thillai, the two are curating, Short Eatz a series of bite sized, flavour-filled evening showcasing thamizh food, arts and culture as you've never seen it before, along with a podcast extrapolating the theme of thamizhness, queerness, anti-Blackness and interracial relationships. Head to Spotify playlist to tune into the playlist or the website to listen in on the conversation.
She can be found @wearethemainstream and @thelongstoryshortis
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