Where Are You Really From?

“Where are you from?”
“No, where are you really from?”
“No, but where are you really from?”

Sometimes I am tempted to name an Asian country just to shut them up ­– but that would only contribute to the alarming issue of multicultural resistance prevalent in our society today.

The conversation above, and many variations of it, are ones I endure during my travels overseas, regardless of which continent I am on. These conversations with locals usually start off with an element of surprise, as they complement me on my English. This familiar comment is then met with my automatic response: “Thanks, I’m a native speaker.” And then a perpetuating exchange of disbelief and annoyance ensues.

This resistance to the fact that I am Australian is not limited to overseas experiences. Here, at home, when I encounter new people, I often find myself being questioned about my heritage as if it were an attempt to work out ‘how Australian I am’.

Interestingly, the opposite also occurs. While discussing this issue with a close friend of mine, she revealed to me that, during the early days of our friendship, she was too afraid to ask me about my ancestry as she feared that it would imply that I was not Australian. She continued to explain that she has become cautious about asking people where they are from, owing to her experiences as a Caucasian, and therefore never being questioned about her own ancestry.

While my ancestry is occasionally questioned purely out of genuine interest and appreciation towards my culture and heritage, this is unfortunately a rare occurrence.

This widely-held belief is evidence of a larger and more concerning issue that has manifested itself in the way that we view nationality: that is, with a lack of cultural appreciation and embracement of multiculturalism.

Both my own experiences and my friends’ comments have exposed a critical and alarming issue that we have in society today: our limited and perhaps ingrained conceptions of nationality. The issue lies within the intentions behind, and implications of, the questions asked, and not within the questions themselves. In fact, I encourage curiosity and discussion surrounding multiculturalism. I encourage questions about my heritage and my culture. It is the subconscious intentions behind the questions, however, that reveal a larger social issue.

This widely-held belief is evidence of a larger and more concerning issue that has manifested itself in the way that we view nationality: that is, with a lack of cultural appreciation and embracement of multiculturalism. I find that discussions about and attitudes towards diversity in our lives, whether they are culturally-concerned or not, have always surrounded the notion of tolerance, but not of appreciation. In the face of cultural diversity in particular we are taught to merely tolerate differences when conflicts arise due to different practices. It is the absence of the next step forward, towards cultural appreciation, when this mere tolerance becomes an issue.

Tolerance is nothing but a short-term solution to the timeless reality of diversity. Growing up, we were told by our parents to accept and not treat others differently based on their physical appearances. At school, we were exposed to diverse cultures and religions through an integration of multiculturalism into our curriculums. We were, however, never really taught the true value of diversity, or the way in which embracing it can enrich our lives.

Indeed, it is the absence of this insight that forms the genesis for the more violent and anger-fuelled conflict we see in the world today. Pauline Hanson’s recent stunt in Parliament is an example of the way in which Australia, as a society, is resistant towards all the individual and societal benefits that embracing multiculturalism can offer. Hanson’s display embodies the danger in a society which merely tolerates cultural diversity, as tolerance in itself does not solve the conflict that can arise from multicultural resistance. Instead, it simply purports to suppress visible reactions to diversity – that is, until a catalyst comes along and brings these suppressed and merely tolerated realities to the surface.

The dangers of mere tolerance are extensive, and potentially fatal. A consequence of supressing anger and hatred in the name of ‘tolerance’ allows for these feelings to be exploited by leaders in attempts to further their discriminatory agendas. Leaders such as Hanson here at home, and Trump overseas, are unsettling cases that expose the limitations of tolerance. Their large followings demonstrate the way in which tolerance has not resolved the issue of multicultural resistance but instead become a catalyst for more potent conflict.

It is, therefore, not until we start to appreciate multiculturalism and attribute genuine value to diversity that we will begin to remedy this issue of cultural resistance. It is through a conscious change in mindset that we can slowly alter misconceptions of what it means to be of a certain nationality, and it is not until we welcome this change in thinking that we will progress into a more unified and accepting society.