Healing, Talking Krit

Sitting in a boardroom of 10 people, as the only non-white Australian, discussing how to promote a new documentary on white privilege…

Krit: I’ve got a few ideas! I’ve thought about these short skits we could do that aren’t too confrontational – keep it light and humorous but give a brief glimpse into how white privilege operates in the Australian context. I’ve also got a colleague at a university who’s happy to give us access to her students for a screening followed by interviews. I’d be keen to do some promo on radio too.

Boardroom: Ok…well thank you…this is quite a heavy topic so approaching it we have to be sure that if we make any statements, through content or in general publicity, it has to be by someone who’s qualified.

Krit: Well besides my Master’s degree in Education that focused on diversity and 10 years experience working in equity, I’m a brown face who comes up against the subject matter on a daily basis. What further qualification do I need?

Boardroom: Yeah…this is really tricky…it might just be safer not to go down that road because we wouldn’t want you to say something that could backfire on you.

Krit: Oh don’t worry, I’m ready. If you’re concerned with being controversial, the documentary is on white privilege – it’s already controversial! We’re airing it anyway so why shy away from it?

Boardroom: *Silence*

Krit: Can I ask how many people in here have watched it?

Boardroom: *1 Person Raises Their Hand* I saw the first ten minutes.

Krit: Really?! How are you gonna call this meeting and none of you have even watched it? You can’t even speak to it yet you’re questioning my suitability. This is pointless!

Boardroom: Well let’s all just keep thinking about it some more and send your ideas through.

You can guess where that led! The middle of f.cken nowhere. 9 white people sitting around a table in a boardroom, telling the only person of colour they’re not fit to comment on white privilege! Da fuq?! This shoulda been a scene in the damn documentary! Shit would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. These people had absolutely no clue that there was something amiss with what went down. It wasn’t even a blip on their radar yet it’s stuck with me as one of the defining moments of my time in Sydney.

Sometimes it takes stepping away from a bad situation to realise just how detrimental it is. That’s where I’m at right now and why I’m finally inspired to write again [apologies for the absence but this piece should explain why]. Having recently relocated to LA and being so far removed from Australia for a decent amount of time has given me the chance to really reflect. I always knew Sydney wasn’t a good fit for me and I never made that a secret but I’m only just becoming aware of the extent of the damage it’s had on my whole state of being.

Back in 2014, after three months of living in Sydney, I wrote the following:

“Aye?  But you’re living the life!”  What does that even mean?!  We only need to look at the recent deaths of Robin Williams and Simone Battle to see that looks can be deceiving.  Those really hit home for me, especially Simone’s passing – so young and talented with so much potential and promise.  I met her after G.R.L’s showcase and thought to myself she coulda easily been one of my friends.  To think she saw no way out except suicide is devastating.

Don’t worry, I’m not that far gone!  I have my rough days though.  I’m grateful for where I’m at but we all have our struggles.  Our individual conflicts may or may not seem that major in the grand scheme of things but I think it’s important to take time to address them properly, regardless.  Mine are relatively simple – new city, new career, no friends, no guidance.

Ok it’s not that destitute but to come from full immersion in university/school environments for the last ten years which I’d say are the single most easiest places in the universe for meeting heaps of like-minded people to going part-time in the ‘sea of celebrity’ is an adjustment.  I worked in education for ages and mentoring played a huge part in my life.  I’ve been part of communities rich in role models, sharing experiences and advice on how to navigate the spaces we’re in but out here I’m still kinda searching for that.  I’ve got some solid friends in Sydney but we’re all spread out and on completely different schedules.  I’ve honestly felt like a drifter [a little reminiscent of the isolation I first experienced in Ohio].

Re-reading this 2.5 years later and it still rings true. The only difference is I met some amazing people who helped me to survive.

Nothing can take away from the impact they had on me [they all know who they are and what they mean to me because I’m all affectionate and soppy and shit like that!] however at the end of the day, they alone couldn’t offset the toxicity I was immersed in. I’ve always considered myself to be a strong person, firm in my values but having your mind inundated with fake and destructive shit non-stop for that long will take its toll on you, no matter what.

Lemme give you a couple more examples of the ignorance I encountered…

Network Exec: Australia is a lot more progressive than you think. The only reason there aren’t more Polynesians on tv is because we just don’t have the numbers. Proportionally you’re being represented. I know the numbers. It’s my job.

Krit: Really? Then how do you explain the fact that we make up 42% of NRL players yet we haven’t got a single reporter or commentator across any sports programming?

Network Exec: Look I know what you’re saying but it just comes down to numbers. Trust me, I want more of you on tv, I do. I’ve done more for your communities than you’ll probably ever know. It’s the government. We need to let more foreigners into the country so that people here can get used to you and so you can be integrated then that will change minds and attitudes. Our government is ridiculous because it’s against it but I’m all for it. I actually prefer dark men. Can I just say one of the greatest things about multiculturalism is – when you have a black and white couple they make the most beautiful babies!

What in the actual f.ck?!

Or how about this:

Publicity Manager: This looks great on you.

Krit: Really? I’m not feeling it. It’s not my style.

Publicity Manager: Kanye would wear it.

Do I look like f.cken Kanye? That was a big problem agents and managers encountered – they had no idea what to do with me. No idea how to dress me, no idea how to sell me or who to sell me to simply because they’ve never had to deal with anyone who looks like me. Not only that but I was from New Zealand which made it even harder. In the end I decided to go out on my own and hustled my own opportunities. Now that part I’m no stranger to.  Most people don’t realise that this was all done without any financial/professional support from my employer or a manager – I had to make things happen through my personal networks.

I was busy as hell and in an industry where booking work and staying relevant is an indication that you’re doing well, it looked like I was killing it. Travelling every week, running around events none of my peers could, clothes coming at me left, right and centre and pulling off these massive grinds – I even tricked myself into thinking I was cracking it.

It was quite the opposite. I had lost myself.

Guidance, development and alignment. That’s what I was missing. To be completely void of three massive components that were integral to reaching my levels of achievement in the past left me static in Australia.

Guidance
While I had some wonderful people in my corner, I had no strong industry mentors who had been where I was and could truly understand what I was going through as a Pacific person in Sydney. There are two facets to this:

1. You can count on one hand the number of Pacific people represented on screen in Australia – at that point in time I was the only person of Pacific descent hosting on mainstream television and I can only think of one Pacific actor who was on a primetime show. There isn’t exactly a massive pool of people to link up with.

2. Pacific people working in television can be phonies too. In my first week of arriving, I reached out to an island brother who had worked in Australia for years and had been quite outspoken about the discrimination he faced. While he initially made out he was eager to catch up, he brushed me off. Thankfully I met Pacific entertainers who became great friends but I would eventually come to encounter others in media who reeked of inauthenticity. It became clearer that people only got in touch when they wanted something or someone I had access to. Of course I exploited that for what little value it was worth but it really shone a light on the gatekeeping and the unprofessionalism our people can operate within. It’s a real shame.

Development
When I sat down and really thought hard about it, the only ways in which I upskilled in 2.5 years was my ability to be comfortable in front of a camera and basic video editing. I covered those off early on in my first year. For someone starting out fresh in a field that’s brand new to them, you need more than that to get ahead. You need management who has a vested interest in your development.

Never had that.  If anything, I was working under people who were threatened by my ambition and did what they could to hinder my progress. You’ll get that – when you start pulling off stunts that your “superiors” can’t, you’re showing them up so they’ll do what they can to “put you in your place”. They need to justify their position and so they’ll go to great lengths to sabotage you and bring your ass back down to earth. Anyone who’s worked in a hostile environment knows how mentally abusive this is. To have none of what you do valued.  To be disrespected.  Every day was a battle. A game of political chess. I had played it before but not so ferociously. While I had some triumphs here and there, I was only ever moving sideways. Never up.

Alignment
When your values don’t align with your work, you’re not gonna be happy. Mines were constantly butting heads and anything that resembled an achievement was in fact quite empty. Towards the end of my stint, I booked a few gigs where there were clear positives BUT they would always be tainted by some resistance that threw the alignment out of whack.

As a newcomer in entertainment who was starting from scratch, my priority was getting my career off the ground. Everything else came to a halt. Whenever time permitted, I dipped back into the school/community scene to give talks and run workshops but they were few and far between.

All of these things contributed to my suffocation.  I was dispirited and I didn’t even know it.

When I got my visa approved in December, I was too hype cuz I’d been working towards it the whole year. I rushed to book my airfares to get through the gates before Trump’s inauguration cuz who knows what could happen.

Because of that shotgun decision, I came out with everything up in the air in regards to employment and accommodation but things are working out. I knew they would. “Fortune favours the bold” my friend told me. Within a couple of weeks I was in a new role hosting and after 9 months of living out of a suitcase, I can say I finally have a permanent address!

What’s really giving me peace of mind though is the joy of learning again. I recently signed with a new agency who are the JAM and they envision me going into acting and recommended I start taking classes.  In just two weeks I’ve already noticed a huge shift in me. I’m stimulated and I’m excited. It shows too. Everyone around me can see it. It’s only because of this sudden change in me that I’m cognisant of what I’ve been through. Being faced with such a stark contrast is a wake up call that something was wrong. That’s when I knew I had buckled. In so many ways I fell and I fell hard.

As I continue to take these classes, not only am I hungry for any knowledge I can get my hands on about this new craft, I’m slowly peeling back the different layers of myself and getting to the bottom of who I am. It’s therapeutic as f.ck and why I’m writing again. This also marks the three ingredients I’ve been yearning for – development, guidance and alignment. I’ve got those again. Who woulda thought that LA of all places would give me space to breathe?

This transition alone has made the effort of moving out here worth it. For that, I’m thankful and I can appreciate my time in Sydney more now because without it, my approach to this new chapter of my life wouldn’t carry the same fervor. For anyone out there going through his or her lull, I hope this helps you snap out of it or just realise that you’re in it. To get out feels f.cken bomb.

We’d like to thank Krit for allowing us to share his story, and this piece in particular which was originally posted on his blog, here.

talanoa

Arieta Tora Rika is a Tongan-Fijian Freelance Writer, Digital Marketing and Communications Specialist, and Talanoa's Founder and Creative Director. Born in Darlinghurst in the late 80s, she spent most of her childhood in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, and all of her teen years in Tonga. She now lives in Sydney with her husband Josese and their beloved Labrador.