“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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