NO, IT’S NOT RACIST TO ASK WHERE YOU’RE FROM – News.com.au discovers a new outrage, thanks to a freelance journalist Carolyn Cage:
If there were an algorithm that could formulate a person’s most asked question, mine would be “what are you?” Society has a habit of labelling people like soup cans in a kitchen and for as long as I can remember, one of the first questions people ask during initial conversation is usually in relation to my racial ambiguity.
Replying with “I am Australian” only ever leads to “but what are you really?” Learning how to tolerate ignorance and pass it off as curiosity, I take a deep breath and pull out the pie chart. I was born in Australia, but my mother originates from Malaysia and is of Chinese heritage. My father is of Anglo background, mixed with German and Belgium descent but was born in Sydney.The responses tend to be generic ranging from how exotic that is, how adorable mixed babies are or how I am the spitting image of their other mixed raced friend. Accepting that it is intended as a compliment, at the same time it is dehumanising and reduces my identity to some sort of novelty. Most of the time it leaves me unscathed, but the more I am asked “what am I”, the more of a hindrance it becomes.
And yes, the rest of the piece includes “internalised racism”, “white passing privilege” and “race as a social construct”. All that education at Deakin University was well worth it.
As someone who was born in Poland and apparently has a Dutch accent (or German or Scandinavian, depending on the listener’s ear), I am absolutely fascinated by people’s and their families’ journeys and the mixed heritage we all to some degree share. In addition to discovering over and over the richness of the humanity’s tapestry, it’s fun to find out how many people have a Polish grandparent or a great-grandparent in their family tree, or might have been born in a city or a country I visited or want to visit. It instantly creates a conversational bond and is often a nice ice-breaker. That you could detect racism lurking behind questions about your ethnic background and heritage tells me more about you and your mindset (thank you tertiary education, at Deakin and elsewhere) than about me or an overwhelming majority of people who ask these sorts of questions, as if we are somehow implying you’re not a real Australian or have no right to be here or questioning your identity.
Use your adult privilege and refuse to be offended and outraged by everything and anything under the sun.