Australia Doesn’t Want Me
He raises his eyebrows for a second, tosses his head back and laughs. It is deep and husky, and drums through my ears.
My face warms with embarrassment.
I shouldn’t have said I’m Australian. I don’t look Australian.
I have brown skin, dark coloured hair; my parents are from the Middle East and English is not my first language. And to top it all off, I am Muslim. Nothing about that is Australian.
I stare back at the white, middle-aged bus driver. He reeks of cigarette smoke, his uniform is half tucked into his pants and his grey hair looks like it hasn’t been brushed in years. He had told me to take a seat on the bus and wait inside as it had arrived early. So, to fill in the time, he decided to start some small talk, and asked me where I’m from.
“You’re not Australian. You don’t look Australian,” he says.
I knew he would say that.
I feel heat rise in my chest. My heart starts beating faster and tears burn the surface of my eyes. A wave of emotion comes over me as I realise what he’s just said.
Being considered to be not Australian because of how I look is like consistently telling a hard-working person that they’re worthless. It’s heartbreaking and diminishing. I came to Australia at the age of two years old. I finished school and university in Australia, and now I work in Australia. It’s the only home I know.
Unfortunately, these negative feelings towards Australian minorities who look “different” are perpetuated by the media and politicians through the use of certain language. The term “terrorism”, for example, is predominantly used to describe an attack carried out by someone with dark features and of Middle Eastern decent. This has led to racial discrimination against other minorities who share a similar look.
In June of this year, a Snapchat user posted a string of captioned photos of an airline passenger he mistakenly believed to be a terrorist. The Sikh passenger, wearing a turban, was singled out in the photos, with one caption reading “Update I’m still alive.” The photos have since gone viral, causing a big uproar on social media.
Apart from having darker features, being Muslim makes it a whole lot harder getting through each day without facing discrimination either online, on TV or in person. When I turn on the news, all I see are white, middle-aged journalists and politicians spreading misinformation, and speaking on my behalf about my ethnicity and my religion.
In an interview with Channel 9, Queensland senator Pauline Hanson reiterated her calls for a ban on Islamic immigration. “Islam is a disease. We need to vaccinate ourselves against that,” she said, despite being an anti-vax advocate. Nine Network media personality Sonia Kruger announced on Today that she would like to see Muslim immigration stop because she doesn’t “feel safe”.
My ethnicity and religion do not have a definitive place in this society. I’m an identity that has been hijacked and demonised by ill-informed people. It sometimes feels like I’m trapped in the dark corner of a room with faceless bodies towering over me; their shadows cast over any stream of light that dares come through. By calling myself Australian, I attempted to enter a territory that is out-of-bounds for people like me.
“C’mon, where are you really from?” the bus driver asks.
Well, I’ve only ever lived in Australia. I sometimes have vegemite for breakfast, snack on Tim Tams and laugh my ass off to Kath & Kim. I sing along to the Aussie Jingle Bells song by Bucko & Champs instead of the classic American version, and often enjoy a good BBQ and a fishing trip with family and friends. I also abbreviate everything, and answer closed questions with “yeah, but nah”.
Whether that makes me Australian or not, the man towering over me doesn’t believe me, nor does he seem to care.
“My family is from the Middle East,” I say.
That’s why I’m not white.
His last words tighten the strings that are already slicing through the flesh of my heart.
“What are you doing in Australia then? Go back to your country.”
Taken aback and unsure of what to say, I smile. He ignores, starts the bus, and we are on our way.
I don’t have a country to go back to, but maybe it’s time to find another home.
Cover provided by the author