the inbetweeners - speaking with mixed-race australians
This article was first published via i-D Australia on September 23, 2015.
I've always been the odd one out in my family, and my parents are in anomalies in theirs, too. They were the first to enter into inter-racial marriage. My Dad was Australian of British-Irish descent, while my Mum's Filipino. They married in the early 90s, a few years before one of Australia's most divisive politicians explained that we were in danger of being "swamped by Asians".
Funnily enough, Pauline Hanson's fears of oriental takeover didn't follow through, though Vietnamese migrants took over her Fish and Chip shop. But as a child, I was never privy to this. Discussions about race crystalised in adulthood for me, which recently slapped me in the face when a friend of mine explained I had "white passing privilege".
At that point everything clicked. For all my life I'd known I didn't look exactly ethnic, but very rarely do you overtly acknowledge the privilege that "not exactly ethnic" affords—until things happen where you're led to believe that Australian police might check your visa in the street as a result.
Understanding racial difference in Australia is a much-more vexed issue here because this is filtered through an egalitarian façade - not everyone gets as much of a fair go as most people assume. To find out how this plays out in 2015, we asked a bunch of Eurasian-Australians about their experiences in childhood and beyond.
Lachlan Siu, Graphic Designer
Especially being a gay person, there's a lot of privileges towards us. In the context of having to label yourself on Grindr as "white / mixed / European", it's different because you can perceive yourself in different ways to how others do.
When you look at people who are mixes of two-white ethnicities don't see themselves as ethnic—there's no weight given to it. It's implied that our non-white side is a negative thing and it's kind of like, 'oh you don't look Asian', because they perceive Asian looks as a bad thing. So they might think you're beautiful or interesting, but once they find out you're part-Asian, it's often handled in a way which implies disbelief because that's not the qualities they find with an Asian person. And if I was to go 'fuck all white people', that would ignore me accepting all the privileges of being a white person.
Carmel Marks, Student
When I to try and engage and trade off shared cultural experiences of my Filipino background, my friends would reply "oh, but you're only half". That starts the whole, "Well what am I?"
So I consider myself Australian of a half-Filipino, half-Australian background. When people ask me of my background, they mostly guess European ancestry. When they find out I'm Eurasian, they'd imply that I have my looks only because I'm half—otherwise you wouldn't be seen as exotic. And I find that this is never because I've got Asian in me, it's because you've got some white in you that you're seen as "good-looking". It's extra brownie points in a way.
Elizabeth Flux, Editor
When someone found out I was Eurasian In High School I had someone say to me, "I knew you didn't look quite normal". I know that I sit from a position of privilege, but it's having a foot in each camp. You don't feel like you can fully fall into either, and you don't know whether you can talk about race issues because you don't experience them in the same way that my family would. It's weird, because that's half of you, and you feel like you don't have the right to engage with it. I'm very glad to have two cultures and I don't feel ostracized by any stretch, but it's that weird space where you don't fit in either way. But it's subconscious. People just want more information to paint a picture of you that aren't necessarily actually who you are.
James Robinson, Photographer and Filmaker,
We do have privilege in the sense that people will treat us as white people. On a personal level, we may not necessarily align ourselves with white people, and the way that they're treated in society. To me, I don't think white-passing privilege is obviously as powerful as white privilege, but at the same time it's not inconsiderable because we need our voices to be heard, but just not as much of a level as people of colour. It becomes an issue when people see me as white first-up—it doesn't give me the freedom to define myself on my own terms.
Jenaye Lay, Student
Questions over my background don't bother me because I'm used to it. It happens throughout your whole life, so you just smile and say 'oh yeah, that's me'. But I find it weird how everyone always assumes it's my mother who's Asian. It just trades off of the perception that white males assume power.
With the term 'white passing privilege', I've never heard of it till now, but I know it's there—it's just that people don't talk about it. I believe it's there. I'm proud of who I am, and I'm proud of having two different backgrounds — mix things up a little bit!
Kevin Hawkins, Head of Live Below The Line
For the most part it doesn't bother me—it's more of a surprise when I'm made aware of my difference (because no one's ever going to tell you). I'm never really identified in a derogatory sense, it's more that I'm readily identified as a "halfie" because it's a convenient way to categorise me.
But I don't feel it's my right as someone who sees myself as primarily white Australian—even though it's quite gross to think about the connotations that brings up—to participate in race conversations. If I've got an opinion on that, it'll often come from a place that isn't, "I look a bit different to you guys than this so I have an opinion on this".
Words and photos by Alan Weedon