"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Why Aren't You White.

Now Playing: Viva la Vida by Coldplay (revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver plate, just a puppet on a lonely string, oh, who would ever want to be king?)

So a couple of days ago we were in Kalbarri whale watching with a bunch of other tourists, and one of the ladies asked us, before she even said hello, where we were from.

Which is a reasonable enough question, because nobody actually lives in Kalbarri.

We told her we were from Perth, and she just glared at us like we were little kids being sassy. And then she said - slowly - 'no, before that'.

Ohhhhh. You don't actually care about the geographical location of our family home. You want to know why we're not white.

People are constantly asking me why I'm pretty critical of Australia - the culture, the society, the politics. People tell me I should have a bit more patriotism, a little more national pride. How? How the hell am I supposed to consider myself 'one of the Aussies' when other Aussies clearly disagree on that point?

I'm pretty proud of my Asian heritage; it's interesting being bicultural, but it's also really difficult. It's hard belonging and not-belonging to three totally separate cultures, and constantly being falsely aligned with one or the other. But it's a complicated story, and not one that is particularly useful or interesting for polite small talk between strangers who have never met and will never meet again. And I don't appreciate being interrogated for the crime of being Not White, considering that Australia is part of Asia and the indigenous population are decidedly Not White, too.

Mum then asked her where she's from - because, as I said, hardly anyone in Kalbarri actually comes from Kalbarri. And she just said 'Busselton'. End of discussion.

I almost said 'no, before that', like she did. I almost said it even though I knew it was a rude question. I almost said it because, you know, she didn't look particularly Aboriginal and therefore she must have 'come from' somewhere that is Not Australia. But considering she thought we were sassing her by not immediately diving into our story of Ancestors from Not Australia, she might have punched me if I had asked her what was partly an honest question - after all, I have lots of white friends who have fascinating stories about coming from places of Not Australia - but mostly I really wanted to show her how inappropriate it is to ask a total stranger what their genetic makeup is.

It's perfectly fine to ask your friends who are people of colour what their ethnic background is. Most people of colour are very proud of their heritage and are happy to discuss it in painfully excruciatingly pedantic detail. But when you don't know someone's name and when 'where are you from' is a more important question than 'how are you', that's racism. I don't have a story of being born in some Very Poor Asian Place (that has been Bombed Out by the White People, but let's just pretend that all Oriental misfortume was the Oriental's fault) and coming to This Beautiful Country. I was just an Aussie kid born in an Aussie hospital trying, and failing, to be Properly Aussie; because even if I beat all the white kids at English and be stubbornly monolingual like the rest of them, the main criteria for being Australian is not, apparently, being Australian; it's being white.

No comments: