real life

“So, what are you?” The question non-white Aussies get asked daily.


One of the nice things about getting into an Uber is the opportunity to tell a stranger about your entire life – said no one, ever.

No, I’m not a snob; it’s just that when I get into a car, I want to get where I’m going – and not have to explain my history. Or, even worse, have it mansplained to me.

Especially when one of the questions I’m usually asked is, “So, what are you?”

Yep, you read that right.


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This is a question about my background, my ethnicity. I accept that being a non-white person, there’s often genuine interest. That’s cool, I guess. I’ve had that all my life. And also, I know I’m fascinating, right?

This is how it goes:


So, what are you? Where are you from?

I was born in Australia.

No, but before that?

Before I was born?

No, but your parents?

They were from India, and they have spent their entire adult lives as Aussie citizens.

Yep, I’ve had that exact conversation many, many times. It just goes with the territory of not being white, and I don’t expect most people to get how annoying it is to have to explain your heritage constantly, because just going by your appearance, they assume there’s something to explain.

Yeah, that’s not annoying at all. Especially because I’m really proud of my Indian heritage and if you’d just ask nicely, I’d happily talk about it.

That rarely happens, but what drives me absolutely nuts is the statement that follows fifty per cent of the time:

Nah, you can’t be Indian. You’re Greek.

The first time I heard this, I thought, whoa, steady on, mate. So you’ve interrogated me about my background, and now won’t accept my answers? That’s some serious bravery right there.

But what I’ve learnt from hearing this so many times, is that some of them can back it up, because they explain why I must be lying.

Side note – is it rude to sit in the back seat of an Uber? Mamamia Out Loud debated this topic below, post continues after audio.

You’re too light to be Indian. Indians are dark, the man who is most likely not an expert on race, but is definitely ignorant, tells me.

You must be Greek. Or Italian? Maybe Israeli?



Ah, you’re just trying to be cheeky. Why won’t you give me a straight answer?

I can’t tell you how super fun it is to have this sort of conversation, especially when I’m relying on the service of this stranger to get me, and often my son, safely where we need to go. And I’ll be rated for it, too.

Once, trying to be smart, I just said I was Italian, and the driver told me no, your name is Nama and I am Indian myself and I know that’s an Indian name.

To which I wanted to scream THEN WHY DID YOU BLOODY ASK ME WHAT I AM but I didn’t, because, you know, that whole captive in the car thing.

I am, officially, too old for this sh*t.

You may think it’s a generational thing, and that younger people are more woke, but a friend who’s about 20 years my junior told me about a disastrous date where the guy insisted she was Greek, when she had, in response to his question about her background, told him she was Indian.

So naturally, we now refer to each other as “my Greek friend” just for LOLs.

Because, we know what this really is; it’s mansplaining at its finest.

We are literally having our skin colour mansplained to us. So, what other choice do we have but to laugh?

And offer fake recipes for baklava.

Nama Winston has had a decade-long legal career (paid), and a decade-long parenting career (unpaid). Now a Mamamia Contributor and freelance writer, Nama uses her past experience as a lawyer to discuss everything from politics, to parenting. You can follow her on Instagram: @namawinston and Facebook: @NamaWinston.

Have you had an experience like Nama’s? Tell us in the comments.