When it comes to talking about Australia’s media, the topic of racism is bound to come up. It’s no secret white, Western faces and voices are what we usually see and hear in this industry, ironically in a culturally diverse country.
Growing up, I wanted to be a radio presenter or producer. Live talkback and pre-recorded infotainment radio programs fascinated me – voices over the airwaves nimbly informing and entertaining at the same time. At university, I took communications subjects, learning about the Gutenberg press and the ins-and-outs of writing for online publications.
Sometimes we look at the media and wonder why we are seeing what we are seeing | Weekly Photo Challenge: From Every Angle.
As part of my tertiary studies, I also interned as a journalist at SBS Radio. But after reflecting on my time here and how the media landscape works in general, the last thing I wanted to do was work in the media industry.
There are times when we find certain names harder to pronounce than others. Maybe ethnic names, cultural names or names with more than a few syllables. Names we have never heard of that make us stop and wonder if we’ll ever get the pronunciation down pat.
I was born Mabel Kwong in Australia to Chinese-Malaysian migrant parents. Or Kwong Li Teng (lee ting/lìtíng, 丽婷), Mabel – that’s how my name is written on official documents in Malaysia and Singapore. While the first-middle-last-name convention is standard in the Western world, surname/cultural names usually come first before first names in Chinese culture – think last-first-name or first-last-middle-name conventions in a culture where family and seniority are esteemed.
Although I go by Mabel in professional and social settings, I’ve encountered numerous people who are convinced that that’s not my real name, lumping me in the same boat with those going by non-Anglo names. Sometimes these instances are annoying. Sometimes there is more to these instances than meets the eye.
Recently, I went to dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling’s show at The Forum Melbourne. She inspires me to write. Watching Lindsey play her violin and dance at the same time to electronic beats on stage complete with a funky, flaming red up-do on her head was a sight to behold. Anything’s possible no matter where we come from, and how we look. But at what price? How do we get there?
As a Chinese person living in Australia, defining who I am as an Asian Australian has always been tough. If you come from a mixed family or have moved around quite a bit, you might feel this way too.
Growing up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, my fair-haired Caucasian classmates teased my brown eyes in the playground. These days, walking around Melbourne, I get asked “Where are you from?” a fair bit. And at home, I get nagged at by my parents for not having studied science or law at university. As Asian Australians, we ask ourselves: Where do we fit in? Where do we belong?
Yet I no longer hate myself for being “too white to be Asian and too Asian to be Australian”. Living in multicultural Melbourne for almost a decade, I realise there are signs telling us it’s okay not to fit in – because we’re all different.
When it comes to work, a lot of Asians are fast and efficient. Sometimes scarily fast and efficient (when compared to others). It’s like a super power that some of us have.
I’m generally a fast worker. Some years ago I worked at a processing job: I stamped forms and divide them into batches of 100, which takes me around five minutes per batch. But that’s not as fast as my Asian colleague, and let’s call her Mandy. Watching Mandy grab a stack of papers, flick the papers up by their corners and count each one until the 100th one in a matter of twenty seconds is like watching a magic show – the papers flick up in a blur, actually disappearing for a second.
Maybe some of us Asians do things fast because we want to be first, first to cross the finish line. Coming out on top and getting titles and rewards is admired in Asian cultures. When I was younger, my parents nagged at me to finish all my homework as soon as I got home from school so I could start the next set of questions in the maths revision books. I did that, because back then I naively thought keeping ahead of the pack made us truly happy.
I’m no stranger to racism in Melbourne. As an Asian Australian, racist encounters have been a part of my life here for as long as I can remember. But I don’t remember doing much about this.
Over the years, I learned there are different types of racism. I’ve had insults about my non-Aussie accent and yellow skin thrown verbally in my face by non-Asians. There have been times where I met new people who immediately assumed I wasn’t Australian and asked, “Where are you from?” That is, there is direct racism and casual/everyday racism, one of them more subtle than the other.