I’m an established and respected business woman. I am the 2017 Indian Australian Business woman of the year and on the global woman to watch list. Despite everything I have achieved in this country and the influence I have in my field, at the end of the day, nothing matters more to the people I meet than my brown skin.
I get asked ‘where are you from?’ almost every single day. I spent my formative years in South Africa, at the end of the apartheid era. There was so much tension, so much going on, and as a child of colour, I felt all of it.
For as long as I can remember I have tried to mask my Indian roots and have no association with anyone my own race. I’ve dyed my hair, dressed differently, used whitening creams and stayed out of the sun for fear I will darken amongst other things. I grew up believing that only white was beautiful. I was not. All the faces in movies, on television and in magazines did not look like mine. They were pretty, but I was not. So I spent my entire life being ashamed of who I was.
I only had white friends so naturally I had people calling me a coconut. Brown on the outside, white on the inside. A term that others adopted to describe someone like me, an insult masked as a joke. It was something that I had to learn to laugh off but when the white boy you have a crush on at school calls you that behind your back and won’t go out with you because of your race despite him liking you back, it’s heartbreaking. When your family calls you that to your face, it’s even worse. I’ve spent countless hours crying over why god made me the colour he did.
Where are you from is a question I dread for a number of reasons. It makes me feel like I do not belong here. It makes me feel unwelcome. It makes me feel like I have to try so much harder to prove myself. I dread it because it’s just not a simple answer. Why does everyone act like they were provoked by my brown skin? When I’m asked, naturally I say I’m from Australia, but it is not the response my interrogator is looking for and they never accept it. Usually they keep digging. No really where are you from? If I say South Africa, in most cases I am met with the response, but you aren’t black? Or, wow your English is so good! How fucking insulting! Sometimes I am compelled to tell them that I’m of Indian descent, which is ultimately confusing to them and I’m forced to explain.
Once they have the answers they feel entitled to, they move on. Just like that. I’m forced to tell a stranger the origins of my heritage without the pain and hardship that it comes with. Forced to share something that only exposes me to more questions and the headache I’ve experienced my whole life.
Age, life experience and accolades has taught me that what I disclose is up to me. How I approach the question is my choice. I can say no. I can say whatever I please. But that still does not make it any easier.