My two brothers and I were sharing a cigarette in the smoking area of a largely forgettable bar in the CBD. With us was our childhood friend, who was born in Kenya and adopted by an Australian woman. Growing up the 4 of us formed about 80% of the African population of Bendigo in the 90s. The other 20% being our father. So our upbringing (in Australia) was largely white AF.
As we are passing a cigarette back and forth between us a Caucasian male, maybe late 20s, rounds the corner. As we lock eyes an expression of wonder comes over his face. Like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy first steps onto the yellow brick road. We never exchanged names, so I'll use a rotating roster of typical white names to avoid overloading on pronouns. Wide-eyed, Todd stops dead in his tracks before nervously retreating back around the corner. Think Homer Simpson into that hedge or Ginny Weasley in Chamber of Secrets. A few seconds pass, Ryan walks back around the corner, this time he is composed, pretending as if we all hadn't seen his first ‘Not in Kansas anymore’ moment. Time slows, Spencer begins to approach us with the confidence and demeanor of a person that couldn't/shouldn't actually exist in the real world. It’s a cartoonish level of confidence. Gone is the wide-eyed Dorothy, now Donald's body language is relaxed and he's walking with swagger, a little too much actually. He's trying way too hard, it almost looks like he has a limp. His face is contorted in an attempt to look gangster, he's trying to be Ice Cube but looks a little more like that meme of Conceited.
At this point watching Adam slowly strut over to us, arms moving side to side like he's swimming through water; body slightly leaned back like he's about to limbo, we realise what this is. Jeremy is about to ask us where we're from. More accurately what's going to happen is Trent is going to make small talk for 3-5 minutes, until he feels comfortable enough to ask us where we're from. For some reason needing to have this knowledge factors into his day, and Ben has selfishly placed his unwarranted desire for the personal information of strangers over common courtesy. If we refuse to answer because of the sheer insensitivity of it, Alec will reply with a ‘What's your problem? It's just a question.’ If we continue to defend ourselves we'll be labelled as ‘aggressive black men’, if it escalates ACA have another unsubstantiated ‘African gang’ story to report on Monday, media scrutiny intensifies and our whole community suffers. We're judged as a whole, and if you're not a POC you should know that most people of colour consciously and consistently consider this when making daily decisions.
Our best play is to swallow our pride, and answer. But we know Zack won't accept our answer. We'll say Bendigo and Todd will ask, ‘Where are you really from?’ We'll say that we were partially raised in Singapore and he will ask, ‘Where are you REALLY from?’ Andrew will continue to pursue this line of enquiry like an insensitive and involuntary ancestry.com until he gets the answer to the question he really means to ask which is: ‘Why are you black?’ Clearly Aaron hasn't seen Mean Girls.
It has been about 14 seconds since Kyle made his first trip around the corner and so far this is what has been running through my head: (over analyzing things in real time is my forte). As he continues to waddle over I wonder if maybe I'm wrong about Erik, maybe my past experiences have made me jaded and suspicious. As Travis gets closer and I think about all the times my life have been made harder for challenging people's prejudices, class rooms I've been removed from, jobs I've been forced to leave, because of Tom, Dick, Harry, Jack, Michael, Jason, Peter. I think about how my own mother's advice to me about dealing with racism used to be, and sadly still is to keep quiet, and soldier on, because she grew up in a time where she didn't have the luxury of having a voice, or a sympathetic ear. I look into Ethan's smiling face and think about how I carry this with me. I carry it in interactions like this one and it makes me resentful and quick to judge. It pushes me toward the stereotype I have continually fought against.
Because sometimes it will be small, like the reason why people assume I listen to certain music, why they shake my hand differently, why they curate a different vernacular while talking to me. Other times it's larger like why I get bag searched leaving stores, why police will stop me when I'm walking home at night, why I get ‘random’ checks at the airports, why some people are afraid of me on public transport, why bosses don't trust me, why when dating I have to consider whether I'm a ‘type’ to somebody or if they're actually interested in my personality. But things are changing, and Melbourne is a very progressive city, maybe I am wrong about Chad.
Jesse smiles at me, I smile back, then: ‘SUP HOMIES!’ slithers out of his mouth with a simultaneous hands thrown back gesture. I realise that I wasn't wrong, my suspicions about Micky are dead on, and our night it about to be ruined.
My mother is Singaporean and my father is Zambian. If you read up to here wondering what my background is and felt some sort of relief/contentment at that information, you truly need to reassess your values.