Everyday racism as an Asian Australian

Being an Alien in Your Own Land

I was born in Australia to parents who arrived as refugees to Australia and escape the war in Vietnam. I considered myself to be more Australian and I have encountered everyday racism.

When we hear the word ‘racist’ or ‘racism’, we often visualise images of bigotry at its most extreme. Racism is neither black nor white, the racism I have unfortunately becoming more familiar with, are often grey in colour.

Here is my all time favourite question: WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

This question drains the shit out of me. If you had to ask and be curious, ask in a way that provides context. If a white person asked another white “Where are you from?”. It becomes a conversation about where you live. When the same white person asked a non-white, the same question, it moves on to being a heritage background check.

I also understand that this could be a genuine interest about learning about my who I am as person and it can lead to interesting conversation. If you like to know, I have only been to Vietnam about four times. It’s a lovely country, with the most freshest food and the people are friendly. Even then it’s not my motherland, it’s more like a holiday destination where I have a lot of extended family there.

These days I have responded in kind by saying “I’m from Melbourne. I’m sorry if I’m not white enough for you.”  Now you’re wondering how is this question considered racist?

To be exact, it fits under the umbrella, ‘racial microagression’, or simply said ‘everyday racism’. This form of covert racism represents the assumption that all Asian Australians are foreigners or born overseas. For me personally, this question is not a “compliment’, they make me uncomfortable and awkward. Unintentionally and minor it might be, when asked often enough, it comes to the point that I feel like an alien in my own country.

Want to stay on my good side, I suggest you avoid the question altogether, and ask “where do you live?” when asking for locations. It’s all about context.

-Suzanne Nguyen
@StringStory

11 comments

  1. Sophie Burke · · Reply

    I completely agree – what’s interesting is that in my studies I have used measures of perceived ethnic/racial discrimination that were validated in an American context, and they are not translating well in Australia. I’ve inferred this could be because of the ‘casual’ racism Australia exhibits, that people don’t always realise. I think it’s all part of the guise of multiculturalism that Australians like to believe they are above racism – which has been shown not to be the case.

    Out of interest, would you be insulted to the same degree had it been a non-white person who asked the question?

    1. Most people are not hyper-aware of subtle or racial putdowns. In a way I only started to become more racially aware as I began to pick up more knowledge about it. I think its the lacking of understanding and education about these differences. And Australians are only taught to recognise overt racism.

      Actually I do, haha, just today I was in a taxi, and the driver was Indian. He asked me “where are you from?” I tartly replied in my strongest Aussie and Occa accent, “Straya mate”. He promptly replied, “no, no! where is your family from?” I find that locals non-white person don’t ask, its a foreign-born Australians who like asking these question.

  2. […] week I posted up my thoughts on the question: “Where are you from?” and I had some pretty interesting responses. There were two distinct voices that came out of the […]

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  4. […] week I posted up my thoughts on the question: “Where are you from?” and I had some pretty interesting responses. There were two distinct voices that came out of the […]

  5. […] few weeks back, artist Suzanne Nguyen wrote a great blog post about why asking the question “Where are you from?” is kind of racist. The […]

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    1. That’s so sweet. I write more about racism on this site: http://www.thetwochairs.wordpress.com

      What kind of knowledge are you trying to gain?

  7. I’m a Chinese-Canadian living in Sydney and I’m saddened to say that this is the most overtly racist country I’ve been in. I feel like my value added is in being Canadian and not in my Asian heritage. Australian roommate is of the mindset that mixing should never occur and she is pro-Australian thoroughbreds. I suppose they mate for prizes and not for love. Haha despite this, Australia is a lovely country and there are many amazing people in it. Great blog!

    1. Yes, its so normalise that people don’t challenge or question these subtle microagressive racial meanings. Still, your roommate? woah sorry that you have to deal with her all the time. there are many interesting facets about Australia, I’ve been travelling around rural NSW and enjoying the many stories and people there.

      Thanks for commenting and I hope you continue to enjoy Australian, the good and bad 🙂

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