I’m finding casual slurs are a regular part of life here in Sydney. On television, in conversation, as a funny retort or affectionate pet name. WOG is most frequently uttered, thrown around as a noun or an adjective, all depending on what sentence structure asks for.
Perhaps it’s living where I live in Sydney, and not in close proximity to Australia’s aboriginal or ethnically diverse communities, that I feel the only other brown person I’ve seen is my bus driver who waits for me as I sprint through the rain. There is more to friendship, to family, to community than skin colour, but it’s nice to see people who look like you, thriving. If simply for the knowledge that all is possible outside of ethnicity, pigmentation or race.
Now, I’ve been called a handful of playful slurs. An oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside; a blackberry, mostly after the school summer holidays; mixed fruits, a friend thought this was the correct term for mixed race; and, once, the N word. I’ve heard the word nig-nog thrown around, had teachers ask which race I identify as (weird and inappropriate) and repeatedly been referred to as ‘my first brown girlfriend’. At sixteen a friend’s aunt tried to recruit me to UKIP youth. I blinked and gestured dumbly that I probably wouldn’t consider joining, no matter how compelling Nige was when ‘you just got to know him’.
Because I went to nice schools and have nice friends, most people assume I identify as a middle class white woman. Because I like to go to yoga, really believe in the power of natural medicine and studied politics at university, their assumptions aren’t actually too far off.
But when it comes to racial slurs, no matter how mildly intentioned, something stirs.
And in this case, I am confident that should the word WOG be levelled against another human in the UK, a bar fight would ensue.
Here in Australia it signifies a flippance I can’t put my finger on.
Is it Australia’s isolation that some social norms surrounding racial decency haven’t evolved yet? Is it trickle down from the Australian government’s seemingly public disdain for refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers? Is it that ethnic people have gone along with the joke for perhaps a decade or four too long and now the literal snowball is running amok?
Whatever it is, I don’t like it. I find it demeaning, a tool to remind people of their otherness, of them being the grateful recipients of strictly rented social real-estate.
I can’t decide if it’s a misunderstanding between me and my newly minted Australian neighbours.
Or if using racial slurs in 2018, is like, really dumb.
What do you think? Am I missing the joke?
Since pressing publish a number of European and Aussie friends have been in touch with their own opinions and observations.
Use: In Australia the term WOG is used to signify someone of Greek or Lebanese descent, ethnicity or origin. In the UK, the term WOG would signify anyone of non-caucasian identity. Whilst the term is used frequently here, by Greek and Lebanese people alike, in the UK it is a dirty word, one inspired by hate rather than affection. The confusion behind intention may play into my surprise at hearing it in Sydney, but a good observation nonetheless.
Location: Namely, that it’s the area I’ve chose to live in that explains the non-proximity to indigenous or more ethnically diverse communities. Suburbs such as Redfern, Cabramatta Lakemba, Strathfield and Liverpool would more resemble demographic levels I’m familiar with from London.
Refugees: In September one of Australia’s main offshore detention centres was closed with many asylum seekers relocated to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Perhaps still a small win, but ‘a win nonetheless’ and I agree.
Population: My attention was drawn to the fact that population sizes radically differ here. Aborigines make up a far smaller percentage of the population whilst being such a crucial and rich part of Australian history and origin.
Please keep the conversation evolving, I am always open to new opinions and observations, no matter how contradictory to my own.