By YATU HUNT
This is a speech I delivered at the Seymour Centre for Reconciliation Week as part of the ‘I’m Not Racist…but’ forum, co hosted by the NSW Reconciliation Council & Sydney Ideas.
My name is Yatu. Or if you are my barista you probably know me as Audrey or Emma, because Yatu seems to morph into ‘latte’ by the time my coffee is ready. I am Aboriginal, British and Irish and have grown up in urban Sydney most of my life. I guess because I have dark hair, fair skin and a strange name, people love trying to guess where I’m from. Are you French? No…Turkish? No…and when I tell them I am Aboriginal, I am left with blank stares, puzzled looks or some jibe about how well Cathy ran at the Olympics way back when.
And sadly, rather than accept my identity, more often than not, people question it. Are you sure you’re Aboriginal? Because Yatu sounds awfully Japanese? Maybe you’re just a quarter, or a half…so practically not Aboriginal at all!
On the flip side, over the years, many people have felt they can say blatantly racist things to me because I don’t ‘look, think or sound’ like ‘them’. The ‘them’ that are on A Current Affair, appear in Government Reports or are stuck somewhere out in the far far away desert.
Because I don’t look like the stereotype or I guess what people would expect an Aborigine to look like, I have been privy to a whole bunch of conversations that I might not otherwise have been a part of. And the results are frightening.
When I was in Central Australia a few years ago, a woman from Port Macquarie who didn’t know my cultural background, leant over and in a very earnest advice giving voice said, ‘the full bloods are lovely, but it’s the half castes you have to look out for’. And it didn’t stop there. ‘Where are the Aboriginal people? They should be standing at the Rock (Uluru) saying welcome, can I show you around?’
I should have said, ‘Well I was in Port Macquarie last month, where the bloody hell were you?’
It makes me wonder where these attitudes come from. But then I think back to when I was at school when Aboriginal education consisted of colouring in pictures of men in loin cloths and then suddenly skipped to celebrating Aboriginal athletes at the Commonwealth Games. Where were the massacres, the attempted genocide, the rest of history? And more pressing for me at the time, where was I? A fair skinned Aboriginal kid growing up in an urban jungle?
Why wasn’t there any acknowledgement at all of contemporary identity, expression or belonging?
A teacher I had at the time, even told me I should think about hiding my identity because my life would be easier. Perhaps his life would be easier if he stopped saying racist things like that.