Where am I from? This is a loaded question, one that I am asked daily. My father left Jamaica for Australia in 1987. My mother was born in Australia, however, my grandparents migrated from Sri Lanka in 1971. I was born and raised in Melbourne, but I am firmly entrenched in my parent’s cultures.
As soon as I open my mouth, my Australian accent is painfully strong, but when I am asked where I’m from I habitually refer to myself as Jamaican/Sri Lankan. My reason for this is because I know that this question is intrinsically tied to my race, rather than the place I was born. I suppose this can depend on who’s asking the question. When ‘Aussies’ ask me, it’s because they want to know why my skin is brown, why my hair is curly, and how I ended up here. That’s the bottom line.
I know many people of color who would understandably be offended by such a question. The question itself is a form of micro-aggression, defined as the casual and commonplace degradation of a minority group. This question is one that every person of color faces. In my own world, I encounter this question daily. When I am asked this question by entitled dudes, I know it’s the beginning of a pathetic pick-up line, drenched in misogynoir. However, it is important for me to note that it’s often asked innocently,
Benevolently. In every sense, unless I am feeling particularly sarcastic, I am far more comfortable signifying my culture rather than my birthplace as my origin. I feel a certain discomfort surrounding calling myself ‘Australian,’ and this stems from an acute awareness of Australia’s inherent racism, as well as the horrific treatment of First Nations peoples and asylum seekers.
Australia’s very foundation is genocidal, and I am often ashamed to associate with this. I have, in the past, struggled to explain that I am more proud of my Jamaican and Sri Lankan heritage than my birthplace. I find that, as a black woman, I am becoming more and more proud of my skin, my hair; my heritage; my roots. This can be confronting to those that label themselves ‘colorblind,’ or believe that we
live in a post-racial society. I have been accused of furthering the divide, choosing the label myself as ‘other,’ or it’s insinuated that I somehow victimize myself. I have friends that are confused or offended by my reluctance to state that I am Australian when asked where I am from.
I am grateful for my base - Melbourne. When I think of what it means to be Australian, I automatically think ‘Anglo.’ Perhaps I could look at myself as an indication of Australia’s diversity and multiculturalism.
Melbourne is almost like its own hub – separate from the rest of Australia. I am committed to speaking out about my experiences with racism, and living in Melbourne has enabled me to do so. I consider Melbourne to be a haven (at least in comparison to other places in Australia – the Gold Coast, for example), despite mainstream media’s stereotyping of our African community, numerous encounters with the ‘hipster’ brand of racism and the ignorance of white feminists. I feel that this is a place where I can speak passionately and without consequence, and for this I am grateful.