When was the last time someone asked you where you are from?
It happens all the time, but it has rarely bothered me. That being said, no one has said it to me as part of an unwanted advance – no one was trying to pick me up by saying it – so it has never felt like a violation. I can only imagine how maddening that is. For me, how annoying it is depends on who is asking. If they’re doing in a way that is exclusionary, or overly presumptuous, they can get fucked. Depending on how I’m feeling I usually say something appropriately vague, like I’m urban or I’m equatorial.
What happened/how did they say it?
The last time that was a bit annoying was an Australian diplomat who visited my studio. When he asked me I told him I was from Perth (which is true), and when he pressed and asked where I was really from, I told him I was seventh generation Australian (which is also true), and I walked away. I know he wasn’t meaning to be annoying and was trying to relate to me by telling me some story of his experience with whatever country he thought I was from, but it still pissed me off enough to stop giving a shit about who he was and what he thought.
What was the person like?
I guess he just has this vibe I didn’t like. Most politicians and ex-politicians I’ve met do.
How did/does it make you feel?
It made me feel like he should know better. He asked me a question, I gave him an answer, and when my truthful, reasonable answer didn’t fit with his narrative he essentially called me a liar. Fuck him. If he’d asked me where my parents are from, I would have told him, but he asked where I was really from – and I’m really from right here. It also has to do with my perception of him as a rich person. Like, a rich person being paternalising to someone who has grown up pretty poor. I'm happy to explain my heritage to someone I like – I'm proud of it.
What connotations do you think the question has and what do you think it says about Australia in terms of the way we understand cultural identity/ nationality?
It’s about whiteness. If I was white, the question wouldn’t be asked. My parents could be Scandinavian, but if I had an Australian accent, my identity would be assumed: I’d be “Aussie”. It’s far from the worst thing going on this country though, at least whoever asking is showing some interest. They only ask if you’ve got something they want, or if you hold some value to them. If you didn’t, imagine how little of a shit they would give – the question wouldn’t even occur to them. Take that as a consolation.