Saturday 3 July 2021

On identity by blood quantum...

It was a seemingly harmless conversation with an Uber driver.

We got chatting about our lives - she was from Kenya, and after moving to Australia she had married a local, and now she has two kids who are "half-black and half-Aussie".

I cringed. I would have said something, but I didn't want to affect my Uber rating by giving her my five cents' worth about how people of colour demean themselves by referring themselves as half-this and half-that.

And it's fair enough. There was a time that I would have referred to myself as 'half-Chinese'. I wouldn't even need to mention what my other half was - it would have been assumed to be white Anglo-Saxon. That's the way that white supremacy works.

It was only when a friend told me about a conversation that they'd had with a relative, who was doing her usual 'racist aunt' schtick and talking about how awful all the Asian immigrants were. "What about Andrew?" my friend asked. "He's Asian."

"Oh, Andrew's okay, because he's only half."

I kinda wish my friend hadn't told me that story - I kinda never looked at that racist aunt the same again. But it also made me think... am I really "only half-Asian"? Which half, exactly.

Furthermore, it was through listening to Indigenous colleagues in my previous role that I started to realise exactly how offensive this kind of wording was, defining people's race by their blood quantum. It's still in Australia's living memory that Indigenous kids who were were taken away from their families on this basis, as a way of defining who was a 'real' Indigenous person, and who wasn't. And, indeed, this language still emerges from time to time to question one's status as an Indigenous person.

Needless to say, terms such as half-caste are deeply offensive, and for somebody to describe their cultural identity of being 'half'' anything just plays to water down the authenticity of one's identity.

This much feels obvious to me now, and yet it upsets me when I see people of colour continue to define themselves in this way - for example, on a recent show on national TV, when a presenter referred to herself as half-Asian.

So, white folks, please be mindful of using this kind of language, and people of colour - yes, I realise that this kind of terminology is prevalent in Asian cultures (I'm thinking terms like 'hāfu' in Japan, and similar in places like Malaysia and Singapore), but we need to transcend this kind of thinking, otherwise it'll continue to be used against us. I'm sorty of okay with being called 'mixed' or 'Eurasian' - whilst not as offensive as being called 'half', they're still not great. At the end of the day, it's probably easiest to ask how people prefer to identify - and don't do it by asking 'So... what are you?'

Anyway, here endeth the little rant.