Nearly 21 years ago, I was born in inner west Sydney, in a hospital that has now closed. Except for two short stints in London, I have lived in Sydney my whole life. I hold an Australian passport by birth and a British one through inheritance.
If you closed your eyes and heard my voice, you’d say I am definitely from Australia. My accent has touches of bogan, ocker and UK English (see above).
However, throughout my life, especially in my young adult years, people seem fixated on “what I am”. I have lost count of how many people have asked me “What are you?”
WHAT THE HELL IS THAT MEANT TO MEAN?!
The answers they are looking for is what my cultural background is. For you see, apparently, I don’t fit the stereotypical image of an Australian.
This is me:
As you can see, I have brown hair, brown eyes, eyebrows that rival those of Cara Delevingne and Lily Collins and slighty tanned skin.
However, since I don’t look like this;
it is totally justifiable for others to essentially challenge my authenticity.
Because that’s what I see it as. When someone asks “What are you?” they are insinuating I look different enough to justify a question, that I am not normal. That I am not Australian.
My three beautiful friends below (left to right: Alice, Sarah and Maddi) are all born and bred here. Just like me. We all went to school together.
They are rarely questioned about their heritage. Why should they be? They ‘look’ Aussie, they definitely sound Aussie and obviously live here.
In fact, Alice’s parents are Irish. A part of Maddi’s family are from Malta.
What makes me so different? A tan?
Don’t get me wrong, there is a difference between natural curiosity and questions like the above.
In the course of a conversation, if someone asks about my cultural background (and uses those words), I am perfectly happy to explain. There’s nothing wrong with a relevant question within a suitable context. But when strangers ask me, as I’m pouring them a beer, or if I’ve just met them, it’s frustrating and almost insulting.
I know there are others who have the same problem, if not worse. It’s so common, that there’s even a Youtube video about it:
The bigger question is why is it so common?
Why is it necessary for others to know why I look the way I do? More importantly, why do people feel the need to question my ‘Australianness’?
Unfortunately, I think it points to a unspoken ignorance that isn’t really addressed. It insinuates that there is a dominant, but outdated stereotype of what Australians should look like. As a country that has a rich history of immigration (starting with Captain Cook in 1788), you’d think we wouldn’t have a typical image. But we do, and it results in the large majority of us having to answer stupid questions on an almost daily basis.
So, the next time you notice a special feature of someone’s – may it be a great tan, peroxide blonde hair or a great mop of curls – don’t ask what they are or where they are from. Find out where they have been sunbaking, which hair product they use or which hairdresser maintains their beautiful tresses.
It is very likely that they are Australian.