First, here's a (safe-for-work) news-clip on what Sery did atop Uluru, a rock formation formerly known by the Australian white conquerers' name, Ayers Rock:
In a subsequent interview, Sery defended her actions by claiming, "What I did was a tribute to their culture, in a way. I think the way I was, was the perfect way to be up there, in total harmony with the land and with myself."
More ridiculously, Sery also said her self-aggrandizing publicity stunt was a tribute to the days when, you know, those groovy, close-to-the-earth peoples were even closer to the earth than we are by virtue of their lack of clothing:
I respect the aboriginal and their culture. What I did was a tribute to their culture, in a way. . . . What we need to remember is that traditionally the Aboriginal people were living naked. So stripping down was a return to what it was like.
Sery may have thought she was honoring indigenous traditions (though I doubt that she really cares about honoring much of anything, other than her own body). But seriously, shouldn't the estimation of whether such acts constitute an honorable, respectful "tribute" be left to the supposed honorees?
Various online reports suggest that Sery has no interest in actually listening to the people whose culture and traditions she claims to respect. If and when she does, she'll find out that a lot of them, including those who currently own Uluru, are angry.
As noted in the news-clip above, "traditional owners of Uluru" described Sery's stunt as "an insult, and they want the woman deported." According to the Brisbane Times, Sery
has been labelled "stupid" and local indigenous elders have described the act as the equivalent of defecating on the steps of the Vatican.
Alison Hunt, traditional owner and member of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Board of management said: "I am angry and disgusted at this stunt. This is an important spiritual place. It's not a tribute to the traditional owners, it's an insult.
"We try to share our land and work together and we think it is disgusting for someone to try and make money out of our sacred land."
Disgusting indeed, and again, a blatant attempt to make money and drum up publicity (interesting term, that -- "drum up" . . .). More to the "swpd" point, Sery seems to be furthering her dancing career in a common white way, by casting something authentically Aboriginal as a natural, romantic, wild, and exotic backdrop. This amounts to a racially white performance, because it's meant to evoke and profit from some of the many collective white fantasies about non-white people.
In this sense, Sery's actions, and her defense of them, echo similar ones committed in the U.S. by many white people, who also tend to romanticize and exotify indigenous people. To me, the most obvious parallel way they do so is by clinging to racist sport logos and mascots. White American sports fans cling to mascots that represent several racial groups in racist ways, but the overwhelming majority (past and present) represent Native Americans.
When white people defend such insults in the way that Sery did -- by claiming that they're honoring instead of disrespecting the human objects of their racist caricatures -- they're failing to listen to the other side. By doing so, they're ultimately failing to understand what a lot of people on the other side think, and feel. They're failing to empathize.
So, what to do, when confronted with such common white ways? I think that turning the tables, in the way an indigenous person described above did, can have some impact on such simplifying, appropriating, and insulting white people. I've actually seen it work.
Again, an Aboriginal person was paraphrased as having "described the act as the equivalent of defecating on the steps of the Vatican."* There you go, white people -- how would you feel, if your own sacred traditions were effectively shat upon? Would you really consider that a sincere "tribute"?
I remember hearing (or actually, seeing) another good example of that same kind of table-turning, during a talk by a Native American author, Sherman Alexie. Someone in the audience asked him about a local college's Native American mascot, which was currently under review. Alexie's answer was more of a demonstration, or a pantomime; the white people I attended his talk with later told me that it really got through to them. They even told other white friends about it later.
"Oh yes, I heard about that mascot," Alexie said, rather mischievously (he gets his points across with a lot of humor -- he's often hilarious). "And, I've been thinking about a replacement. Here's what I suggest."
Alexie then stepped to the side of the podium, spread his arms wide with his hands splayed towards us, pulled his toes together, and let his head droop forward. Many in the audience signaled that they got his point by applauding. Alexie offered no further explanation.
I've since confronted people in the U.S. who see no problem with team names and mascots like the "Indians" and the "Redskins" in a similar way.
"So you don't mind that?" I ask. "Really? Okay, well, what about a team named, say, the New Jersey Jesuses?"
This idea usually evokes a laugh. An uncomfortable one, especially if they themselves are Christian.
I'll then say something like, "Doesn't that sound great? The mascot could dance at half-time, like some of those 'Indian' ones do! And he could drag a huge cross around the basketball court, with a wheel on the end of it. And at the climax of his dance, he could spin the cross around and around, and actually dance with the cross!"
By this time, my point (or rather, Alexie's point) is usually made, and usually well taken. By which I mean, the person who'd just defended a racist, common white practice is now less enthusiastic about doing so. I can see it in their faces.
* The person who actually made this comparison is identified in this article as "Aborigine John Scrutton, who lives in the Northern Territory city of Darwin."