Lately, I’ve come across a few rants about “children of colour”.
There was that article on Scary Mommy about how teaching colorblindness is racism’s friend, not its opposite. There was the Mamamia one on how a Chocolate-Olive mother – panicked after losing her young son in Target – was denied access by a well-meaning staff member to see her son because she couldn’t possibly be his mother, as “he looks totally different to you”. Cue Chocolate-Olive mother’s post-find shop-stopping war cry, “JUST BECAUSE WE AREN’T THE SAME COLOUR DOESN’T MEAN HE’S NOT MY SON!”
I have to admit that got my blood pumping somewhat. I had lost Arddun in BigW once. Found her eventually, wandering around the cushions – far, faaaaar away from the stationery section. It had only taken two seconds for me to lose sight of her. She was only two-and-a-bit years old, and even though she knew well enough to come when called, if a big bad person decided that she was good enough to steal, I would not have stood a chance. The BigW staff reacted far too nonchalantly, and every moment felt like I was walking through thick jelly. My heart was pounding in my ears. I had already started not forgiving myself. And when I finally found her, I had never wanted to hug her so fiercely or shake her so hard in my life. I also shot the offending lackadaisical staff the filthiest look I could muster before stomping off.
If any of them had told me I couldn’t check to see if that lost little girl was indeed mine because we weren’t coloured the same, you bet I would have taken on ALL the overweight staffers in that store, bar none. It’d be like River Tam in that last scene from Serenity. Yeah.
Panicked mothers have super powers. You have been warned.
As my due date draws near and the prospect of meeting Boy Blob in the flesh looms closer, I wonder whether he will turn out with that 50-50 blend that Arddun has. Arddun really does look like a mix of both of us. Even with her more-Caucasian skin and hair colouring, there is no doubting I am her mother… just like there is no question about Tony being her father with that mouth and face shape. If Tony and I looked nothing alike before, Arddun definitely bridged that gap.
It will only get more interesting because as both Arddun and Boy Blob get older, they are going to realise that their father and their mother look like different sorts. It will probably not matter to them, but I’m sure it’ll eventually raise questions about race and colouring — especially when the majority of their friends will have parents who look like the same sort. And here’s where I’m slightly stuck on what is safe and acceptable here in Australia.
Because Singapore and Australia talk about race very differently.
This has been my personal experience – and perhaps other Singaporeans may feel differently. I don’t purport to speak for everyone, of course. But growing up in Singapore, we were always aware that we were BOTH Singaporean and [insert race here]. I am Chinese by race, if not by language. (Chinese really isn’t my Mother Tongue. Hasn’t been for generations.) My nationality is Singaporean. I am a Singapore Citizen. You learn these things very early in life, in Singapore. The three are held in equal esteem. We learn that there are Indians. There are Malays. There are Eurasians. And then everyone else falls into the checkbox labelled “Others”. They’re usually Caucasian. You learn there are many religions, and some seem tied to race more closely than others. A vast majority of Malays are Muslim. Indians are more varied, and Eurasians tend to be Christian/Catholic.
Every officious government form you fill out will question these things. Your race. Your nationality. Sometimes, your religion.
Our national holidays are structured around festivals and religious occasions from the three main races and the four main religious groups, with the exception of National Day. Because that’s when we come together and celebrate our pluralism. Singapore is a plural country.
Australia believes in One People. One Nation. One identity.
And Australians are very uncomfortable referring to anyone by race.
It has taken me a while to get used to this. I remember asking to see someone at a counter once, and the easiest, most obviously definitive thing about the person I was looking for was that he’s Indian. Otherwise, he was wearing the same uniform, was of average height, and didn’t have any other outward detail that jumped out like a beard or a tattoo. And yet the person giving me directions absolutely refused to use that man’s race as a marker. In Singapore, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you were given directions to “go to the counter towards the back — the Indian man will help you.” But in Australia, it is hugely a taboo thing. It is politically incorrect. It is crass.
It has made me think a lot about racism.
Have I been racist all this time in Singapore? Noticing, among other things about a person, the differences in skin tone? Except it’s not just skin tone that makes a person Chinese or Indian or Malay. It’s the food, it’s the language, it’s the religion, it’s the way of life.
Should the no-go zone start from referring to anyone by their ethnicity? Or is the line somewhere further in, where stereotypes start to seep in and honest, fair judgement leaks out the other end.
Or is Scary Mommy right – is colour blindness actually racism’s friend?
When I read Scary Mommy’s post on colour blindness, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Yes, I found myself saying, yes. This is what I’ve been feeling like in Australia. Colourless. The nation’s call for all immigrants to Integrate and put behind UnAustralian behaviour is loud and constant… but vaguely, heavily Anglo-Saxon too. And very ambiguous. I have more ideas about what being UnAustralian is about, than what being Australian is. Except that I have the sense (self-preservation?) that my race should never figure highly in that equation. Because that would be UnAustralian.
It’s bad enough that I have a such lousy command of the Chinese language and can’t speak any dialects… but I find myself the lone wolf in needing to pass my own heritage to my children. My educated guess is that my children will grow up largely White, my heritage swallowed up by the life around them. It is only natural. I have adapted very well to Australian life. Tony’s people are indeed my people now. His ways are my ways, much more than mine are his.
But I also want more. I want my children to celebrate my differences. Because I want them to be proud of theirs. I want them to understand that they are blessed with TWO cultures, not one. And that their lives are richer for it.
I am a woman of colour. I am Chinese. You will not insult me by saying so, because I have nothing to be ashamed of. And neither will my children.