Race. Ethnicity. These are two words that seem similar. But they are two words that mean different things.
When I studied cultural studies at university, the terms ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ often appeared within academic texts that I read. The more I read about these two words, the more I realised they are more complicated than they sound.
Commonly, ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ encompass grouping and categorisation. But each word is its own concept. As people and culture change, history and stories rewrite themselves; each word builds upon lessons of the past and revelations of the present.
Staying up and going to sleep late at night is something I’m all too familiar with. And so is getting a few hours of sleep each night.
I go to bed around midnight or one in the morning on most weeknights, setting my alarm to ring at 6.30am. I thought many others did this, until I mentioned it at work. When I did, my blonde-haired, twenty-something colleague Simone exclaimed, “What? I go to bed at nine. Nine thirty!”
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 a fast worker. Part of my job at work involves processing: I stamp application 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.
We love living in cities because everything is literally at the tip of our fingers here. Shops and restaurants are just around the corner in Melbourne: Nike shoes to Nintendo games, Hong Kong yum cha to Spanish paella. Convenient, and variety is never dull.
In this world made up of so many cultures, there are countless of us non-Caucasians who have Western first and last names. But there are times when some assume we go by “exotic” names if we aren’t Caucasian. If we’re dark-skinned, some might think we’re a Muhammad or Suresh. If we’re Asian, our first and last names might be Lee or Nguyen.