Ad for Henry Halloran Lecture

Regions of Racism

By Andrea Yong.

It’s not everyday I’m given the opportunity to write about my experiences regarding racism. And so, I would like to share my experience growing up as an Australian-born, Chinese-Indonesian person in regional NSW and how it compares to my current living status in Sydney.

The first decade and a half of my life consisted of very little interaction with anyone except Anglo-Australians. In primary school, I was the only person of colour in my grade. High school was more culturally diverse, however I still managed to land myself the status of ‘token Asian’ within my group of friends. I didn’t feel as though this was an issue back then, but I had always sort of wondered why I felt uneasy whenever a passing joke was made about my ethnicity (and it was only until I moved to Sydney and was introduced to the idea of social justice, that I realised why). Moreover, the region of the Illawarra wasn’t just generally racist towards Asians, but rather quite specifically anti-Chinese, and because of this I was uncomfortable disclosing the fact that I had a Chinese background when people would ask.

In the midst of these years, I received a lot of racial discrimination on the street, grew up hearing these ‘jokes’ and formed a lot of internalised racism. My most memorable moment was when a man was harassing my two friends, saying extremely vile and sexist things, and as I intervened, he stopped and turned to me to say, “Did you miss your boat?”

Now hang on. Not am I only a person of colour, I am a woman. WHY NOT HARASS ME ABOUT THAT? But the colour of my skin overrides everything – that I am female, that I have a personality, and that I am Australian. How do you even call out full-blown, blatant racists?

This is what I feel is the striking difference between living in a regional area of Australia and living in a culturally diverse city that is Sydney. No doubt there is still racism in Sydney, but I feel like it’s often in the form of subtle racial prejudice. However, there are other people of colour that you can stand in solidarity with, and the colour of your skin is not more apparent and salient to the people around you than you as a person, and that I feel is the important thing.

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