real life

“Please don’t touch my hair or question my family”: The reality of casual racism in Australia.

“Where are you from?”

It’s a question I get asked constantly and I’ll admit, I do have a bit of fun with it now.

“Brisbane,” I’ll say, which is then met with, “but where are you really from?”

“Oh, Indooroopilly” I respond knowing it’s an answer that won’t suffice.

Finally, I just have to address the real question they are asking me and say “you mean why am I black?” and it makes them squirm.

It’s this feeling, the squirm and the discomfort, that people should be hit with when they think about asking questions like the ones above.

It’s not that I don’t understand their curiosity. When I see a mixed-race person, I too wonder what their mix might be, but it is not something I have the right to ask them about.

By asking where I am from, by asking me why my hair is curly or why my skin is dark, you are indirectly asking for my family history. For me personally, that’s really confronting.

Listen to Kee Reece tell her story of casual racism in Australia, in relation to Chelsea Handler’s new Netflix show, on The Spill.  

I don’t have a conventional family and it is something I was already aware made me different way before my race was even on my radar. Double the fun, yay for me.

Recently I was at the Archibald Prize with my godmother, and there was an older (than me) white man who I had been locking eyes with during the two or so hours we had been walking around the exhibit.

Even across the room, I could just sense it – he was so perplexed by my looks and desperately wanted to seek confirmation from me about where I was from.

Finally, as I was looking at the children’s’ entries right at the end of the exhibition he approached me.

“Gorgeous aren’t they?” he said.

“Yes lovely, the kids are so talented”,” I replied and then we descended into a bit of chit chat with very short answers coming from me.

And finally he came out with: “I love your hair, where are you from?”

I now had to explain my heritage to a complete stranger in a public place.

Inside I coached myself through it – don’t get frustrated, just be polite, smile, nod.

“Oh,” he says, “you don’t look black. I would have thought Fijian, are you Fijian? Are you sure you are black?”

“YES SIR I AM SURE I AM BLACK ARE YOU DONE?” is what I wanted to scream in the middle of the Archibald Prize.

But I didn’t. Instead, I just replied with.  “Yes, very sure… yep, crazy”.

You can do everything “right” in the situation. You’re polite, answer the line of questioning and then STILL find yourself required to convince a complete stranger that you’re certain about your bloodline.

The touching of my hair by complete strangers and the regularity of their questions about my race are a constant reminder that I am different.

 

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Thursday glow up c/o honey pie @milliecat06

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Time after time the expectation is that I should let someone touch me (because you know, my hair is connected to my body) and explain myself to anyone who has any curiosity about my heritage.

Sometimes I just want to go somewhere, mingle, meet some new people, or just be, without having to explain my full family heritage or wait politely and uncomfortably while someone pets my hair.

The petting of my hair is something that even the most woke person can get wrong.

“How do you even brush your hair?”

“Can you even get a comb through it?”

“Do you have to wash it in the shower?”

These are the questions I have been asked, even by past colleagues at work while they touch my hair. They were just bewildered at the thought of dealing with my hair and the “work” that must go into it.

“Oh, but it is so beautiful though” people often add as an afterthought, but that doesn’t make it any better.

When talking about washing my cavoodle Albi, I had a friend jokingly say to me, “oh well you would use the same brush for him that you use right?”.

Casual racism is a thing and I don’t appreciate being likened to a dog. It makes me feel less than.  As if I am not good enough to use a regular brush, my hair is only worthy of being brushed by the type of tool you would use on an animal.

This unruly, hard to manage narrative lives on through the generalisations and stereotypes that other people place on myself and my culture.

For years, black women have been judged for their natural tresses, made to feel that their hair was “wild”, begged for a relaxer to fit in, have been expelled for dreadlocks or forced to wear weaves in order to feel professional or polished in a work environment.

I’m not here to entertain you nor do I care to be touched.

Please keep your hands to yourself and try getting to know me as a person before asking about my family tree.

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