I still remember this like it was yesterday. Three-years ago I was at work wearing a 90s, chunky knitted sweatshirt, that was pastel purple, pink and yellow, and tucked into some high waisted jeans (obviously). When a middle-aged white man came up to me and said: 'I love your colour’. At that moment, I kind of came out of my body and was staring at myself next to this man, with my fingers crossed, thinking: 'please be about my sweatshirt, please be about my sweatshirt.' When I didn't respond he followed with: '...where are you from?'
So many things were running through my head… like: Umm why is this happening? I really don’t want to have to uppercut a stranger right now... I just got my nails done... I couldn’t wince hard enough—I bluntly replied: 'I’m from New Zealand...'
The man: 'New Zealand?!'
Me: '…New Zealand'.
At this point my face held the biggest eye-roll expression you could imagine. And then he continued: ‘oh geez. Did ya get culture shock growing up there?’
I really, really slowly and sternly said to him: ‘Noooooo! Because I - GREW - UP - THERE’ *does head tilt* My body language said ‘we’re done here’, and finally he got the picture and awkwardly scuttled away.
When this was happening I knew it wasn’t necessarily coming from a malicious place, but it was incredibly frustrating and so awkward. At the end of the day (or the start of the conversation) for PoC, being asked ‘Where are you from?’ serves as a constant: ‘just in case you forgot you aren’t white—do you care to comment?’ The question, most of the time, is immediately alienating and is a power play. It makes me wonder why it matters? Does it matter? This country is in a state of flux and yet is completely unable to grasp what will unite us. Dealing with these microaggressions only makes me think twice before I use my voice - just to preserve myself.
Australia is a country with no inclusivity and only the barest recognition of our indigenous people. Our shared history since 1788 seems to be shared with one side a lot more than the other. There is a separation between colonial history and Indigenous history. This hugely affects how our nation sees itself. It breeds a culture that isn’t the Australia I identify with. It creates a divided nation with a divided history. It’s really sad because we have so much to learn from each other.