I write this as an aging ethnic female with passions and desires for a creative outlet that of course have not been and will never be realised. Domesticity, responsibility, societal norms, and yes limited self esteem have shaped my life to a predictable existence and an existence contained within the parameters of my gender, race and socioeconomic standing. I should not ever think my life could have ever been different when white women themselves struggle to be artistically realised as equals and those who have, usually have a short shelf life. I speak of actresses, directors, musicians, writers, in short all story telling artists here.
What has spurned this rant ? I’ve had an intense past two weeks of admiring Mr Depp and I’ve always had an admiration for those who Story-tell by film, especially those who’ve managed to play the game and still hold their creative truth (love Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Cohen Brothers). I’ve admired them for being able to realise their talent and find their expression, knowing full well being a white male helps. In short I’m a sucker for Hollywood Marketing and the Film Industry be it in the US, UK or Australia. But I also know who gets noticed, who gets ‘picked up’ and who the Media Machine will deem which actor beautiful and talented.
Case in point here is Australia of course. Look at who gets exported to Hollywood? Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Melissa George, Cate Blanchette, Bella Heathcote, Toni Collete, Rachel Griffiths. All pale of the palest white, good Australians, will only be known as Australians because Australia was always a white country and we’re not about to change our identity now are we? All those Heath Ledger Scholarships and Nicole Kidman Grants go only to their own kith and kin, unless someone cares to prove me otherwise? Haven’t seen a lot of indigenous actors in Hollywood of late, have you?
Cast your minds to Janeane Garofalo vs Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Hudson, and you get the picture of where Hollywood’s beauty disparity runs. I am being selective here but I wonder why do average plain Blond women always trump the average plain ethnic ones? Thank you Hollywood , thank you mass media. Drugs and alcohol anyone? Anyone? And yes, I get it. We all want eye candy to look at, not our mothers and the local supermarket check out chick. One actress who debunks my rant is Frances McDormand, Ms Plain Jane Blond Chick with Loads of Talent & Integrity, not afraid of aging, I love her. Frances McDormand, I have so much respect for you as a person and actress.
My recent ‘get-sucked-in-crush’ is Johnny Depp, crush version 2.0 seeing as I loved him in the 1980s, 21 Jump Street. He would have liked me back then (given Mr Depp’s penchant for younger women), as I was pre-pubescent and he well in his twenties . Flash to now, I watched all his movies, saw all his interviews, bought books and interviews about him because in my mid life crisis, boring Sydney suburbia he provided an alternative and an escape. He was different from the rest of them. He didn’t want the teen idol-sex symbol stereotyping roles. He seemed drawn to the weird, the occult, the strange, the outsiders. He loves music, loves art, loves reading. As one blogger wrote, Johnny Depp is the ‘thinking girls’ actor (given his recent marriage and divorce, I don’t quite know if that is what Mr Depp looks for in a woman). He looked like one of ‘them’ and sided with them emitting truth, integrity and honesty. With his dark features, mixed race look, he was siding with me. Something more to him than meets the eye and yes don’t the eyes get an amazing specimen of a man when they feast on Johnny Depp?
But coming down from my airy loft of fan-in-awe, he is after all the makings of the Hollywood film industry. Would he really be where he is a fat unattractive male? Would he be making as much money if he were an African American? Then I got thinking, he’s not that different to what we expect in Hollywood. He’s still more white than he is ethnic, he takes photos well and he is ‘marketable’. He has eyes only for whippet looking white women (naughty Mr Depp for perpetuating the anorexic ideal as attractive) and as much as he is a ‘gentlemen’ to fans, he is apt to temper , drugs, alcohol and an extremely indulgent white male life of excess, choice, riches and folly. And that’s just how we like it. After much deep thought and many fantasized moments of romantic chance encounters with Mr Depp (read Barnabas Collins) and a deep convincing that he and I would connect on no other level he’d ever experience with another human being, I reluctantly concluded, he’s really like the rest of them and he would never ever give an ethnic woman in her forties, slowly growing fat with stress and age even a moments glance. Bang! A hard hit down to reality, with only my fat butt as protection.
Johnny in his mid-fifties looking like a 1930s hobo magician/drunkard muso may now be experiencing the aging reality like the rest of us. Lucky for Depp he’s a white male, no double standard to contend with. Word of advice Johnny, you don’t need to have the latest and greatest hanging off your arm. I’m not going to comment about his recent marriage and divorce but I will dare him to be with someone who gets him and will look after him regardless of what she looks like. The paradox of the entertainment industry and ‘truth’ is that all that is superficial, light and glitzy often distracts and often doesn’t present with what it appears, much like ‘fake news’ . When you’re too cool, that might be a harder lesson to learn.
That abruptly brings me to the issue of body image and the gender ‘Double Standard’ of beauty. The double standard of how men can age and women still need to look pre-pubescent in movies, media and the general public in order to be deemed attractive. The awful, awful mental illness of anorexia and bulimia, if you ask me, a symptom of patriarchal desire. The desperate need to diet, exercise, botox, undertake plastic surgery and every other regime one can find to reverse the aging process. It has made some look like buffoons. Serves them right if their vain excesses have made them appear more feral than real. Why do we let these people dictate what is beautiful in the world anyway? Is it because it’s now an industry? Money is involved? How dare an industry tell us who is beautiful and who isn’t? People of the world, we should rebel!
So next time you want ‘luck’ to get you somewhere in the creative industry in a first world country, be sure to look the part first and start when you’re twelve years old and be blond. Preferably be someone who did modelling first because school was too hard. Try then to act the part. Then actually get paid well for it. The rest of us are hanging around with our hands outstretched for the charity of knowing who can have and who can’t have, who is attractive and who isn’t, working hard for the spare change to fall our way because our genes and happenstance in the world would never allow us near that privileged grail of paid creativity leading to fame and fortune. Unless of course you have no integrity, reality nor dignity….
In case you’re feeling like this is a rather negative rant on Australian society, let me put your mind at ease- it is. This well written article by a white American might just let you know how unbelievably OK it is in Australia to be discriminatory towards those who are ‘different’. This comes from another person, not me so I hope it goes to validate my feelings and experiences here in Australia.
She was the first neighbour we had in Australia. She left us place settings for two, two tea towels, and a kettle on our doorstep after she learned that our things wouldn’t arrive from America for another month and a half.
It was the holiday season. A tough time to make cross continental moves.
On New Year’s Day, she had us over for “a cup of tea”. I can’t remember if she was born here or an immigrant from Scotland, but she was certainly proud of her Scottish heritage. She explained that we were her first guests on New Year’s Day, a detail of significance in her culture. Something called First-Footing.
A custom of Hogmanay: the first guest over the threshold on New Year’s Day, it was hoped, would bring an assortment of humble, symbolic items of food and drink in order to procure good luck for the host in the coming year.
Since we had none of these items, our neighbour had them ready for us to give to her: salt, coal, whiskey, shortbread, and a fruit cake of some kind sat upon a plate on the entry table near her front door. She let us choose the items from the plate that we wished to give her, and then we handed them back to her as we stepped inside.
While we sat in the foyer of her terrace house and enjoyed her homemade shortbread cookies, she proceeded to tell us about “The Neighbourhood”. The neighbours on the other side were an “eyesore”, she said. Italians. “Always talking loudly in Italian on their phones, leaning out the windows. I have to ask them to be quiet five times a day or keep my windows shut. And they hang their laundry across that upstairs balcony. The council really should do something about it. I’ve reported it more than once,” she said.
The loud-talking Italian neighbours were one thing, but the Chinese who fed the pigeons in the small park behind her house seemed to be an even greater source of agony. According to our neighbour, the Chinese dirtied up the park. They left litter and food around for the pigeons to pick at, and eventually the seagulls would come and really make a mess of things. “Those birds, they just spread garbage and disease. It was discussed at the last council meeting. Something will be done about it.”
She gave us the lay of the land. The Woolworths on the corner was where the Aborigines gathered. “But they’re relatively harmless. Just drunk. Don’t give them money.” There was a butcher a street over who sold turkeys for the Americans at the holidays, and if I ever needed any jewellery or watches repaired, she knew a good repairman: “He’s Greek but trustworthy.”
My husband and I listened and smiled politely and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible. Our neighbour was kind in her intentions, but her blind unawareness of her basis of judgment of other human beings was disturbing, and in large quantities, a potentially dangerous thing.
Since then I’ve realised that our neighbour introduced us to more than the neighbourhood; she introduced us to normalised racism in Australia. And over the years, I’ve seen it worsen. As it has globally, the anti-Muslim sentiment has grown stronger here. Worrisome generalisations like, “There’s no such thing as a peaceful Muslim,” are becoming more common.
Most people reading this would dismiss that statement for what it is: an uninformed prejudice. That said, there are a lot of people who believe mainstream fearmongers and think that Muslims are dangerous aggressors determined to infiltrate a country and convert its inhabitants to Islam.
These people can’t differentiate between a general belief system and the extremists of that ideology.
Because it’s the extremists of any religion or movement that are the true threat to peace. And we create those extremists ourselves. They are the manifested response to our divisive rhetoric, our mob mentality, and the unopposed false statements and prejudices that are allowed to circulate within our cultures.
A UN special rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, in his recent visit to Australia, fingered Australian politicians as a whole as being influential contributors to the xenophobic hate speech that fuels the rise of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment here. Ruteere warned that those who refuse to denounce such speech serve to normalise it within the culture.
Like Peter Dutton, who recently said that “of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 are from second- and third-generation Lebanese Muslim backgrounds”.
Head of counter-terrorism policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Jacinta Carroll replied: “Fortunately in Australia to date the numbers of supporters of Islamist extremism and terrorism are very low; so low, in fact, they’re categorised as cases and clusters rather than being statistically useful,” she said.
But Dutton doesn’t explain that. Truths like that would contradict his xenophobic agenda, but it’s truths like that that should be shared loudly.
It’s the holiday season again. I’m digging out family decorations and going through customs and traditions that are foreign here but age-old in my family. Australia-wide there are people like me, like that first neighbour, enjoying the customs of our diverse backgrounds, and I find myself wondering about the word “assimilation”, how it stands in such stark contradiction to the multicultural society Australia touts itself as being. How can we be multicultural if we’re all the same?
Muslims are regularly criticised for “not assimilating” into Australian culture, and I wonder what that means. Why are Muslims expected to trade-in their customs and traditions for Australian ones yet my neighbour feels she can freely cultivate and share her Scottish traditions and racist judgments of others, with strangers? Surely, that kind of bigoted, hypocritical thinking is far more dangerous to society than a headscarf.
I’m not making up my experiences of being in the ‘out’ group here in Australia. Where as I’m not the recipient of violence I have been the recipient of hate, bullying, intimidation and exclusion. I can give one of many examples of incidences living in Sydney, one being of a neighbour calling the police because my husband told a tradesperson not to obstruct our driveway. The neighbour reported to police that we damaged the tradie’s ute when we did nothing of the sort. This would be one of many examples of the casual racism we receive on a daily basis. The outcome, thankfully (and because my husband is white) was the police telling the racist neighbour to leave us alone or a protective order would be issued. I’m thankful that a) Australia has the rule of law and due process but I suspect works better if you’re white b) the more polite racists in my area (Sydney’s Snore Shore) just pretend I’m faceless and nameless- ignored and excluded like I don’t exist- ten times better than being targeted and assaulted like our indigenous people. There is still a long way to go for a non white ‘out’ group person to be fully accepted as ‘Australian’ especially in areas of perceived white privilege.
I realize we are all ethnically bias and that’s ok but it does make me feel sad when whole groups of people can not see beauty or cuteness in another race. Maybe I have this unique ability to be open minded about beauty because I don’t see a lot of others with this quality.
In one of my other blogs I wrote about an Australian baby competition in which an Eurasian baby girl was put down for not being Aussie enough. There were also taunts about how ugly she looked. My young relatives as babies and children have never been the centre of attention in shopping centres or public spaces here in Australia because they just don’t look the part. I had an Anglo Saxon friend with four children who in my mind were your quintessential Aussie kids- nothing really special but the amount of gushing and carrying on that these kids received, you’d think they had the Midas Touch. One was even approached by a kids modelling agency. The hypocrisy isn’t lost on me either but these children were seriously nothing special.
When we moved into our white upper middle class suburb one of my young relatives (3 years old) was playing in the front garden. An elderly neighbour walked up with her dog. My young relative said hello to which the elderly lady replied with a frown and disdain. The same very woman stopped at a neighbour’s home who recently moved in a few months ago to chat to this woman and her children. The difference was that the new neighbours were white and her children platinum white. They were deemed suitable enough for this elderly white woman to display common decency and courtesy and her children received platitudes of praise.
It makes me feel really sad too when I see young babies frowned upon by people of other ethnic races. Do we really need to do that? I know some times it’s the case of ‘well my kid is cuter than yours’ and we all have our own parental bias towards our own children (as we should) but we don’t need to be so ethnically bias do we?
A human condition indeed. My silver lining in life is being able to see beauty in that which is distinctly different to me, however the social whitewashing in Australia makes it harder for me to ever gush over the offspring of those who can’t and won’t reciprocate.
Do you notice how many times the word ‘fair’ is mentioned in ‘Australian’ vernacular, illuminated in the national anthem?
Of course a double entendre is not intended here? The choosing of words and syntax speaks volumes about the writer, the audience and the intended message. My apologies for the Captain Obvious statement, however most people lack awareness on how language can send a sentiment or tone of what is the ‘norm’, acceptable and expected.
Australia was ‘settled’ by the British. Never invaded or occupied. This land was deemed empty; ‘Terra Nullius’. How convenient!
Advance Australia Fair- fair as in just or fair as in albino like people? ‘Fair’ in a ‘fair go’ is intended to be an action that is reasonable and just, a layman’s term for due process?
I’m intrigued by this notion of a fair go because I firmly believe the one thing the British were pretty good at was ‘due process and a legal system’. From this, an individual could expect order and rights, so to speak. I’m not a lawyer and I certainly am not intending for legal arguments here; however I wonder from a cultural perspective who the real recipients of a ‘fair go’ are in Australia? Indigenous Australians, a non-white migrant? Does a fair go really exist when you hear (researched fact) that it takes over 100 applications for someone of Indian heritage or a muslim name to land a job interview than a person of Anglo Saxon background?
I’m really conflicted with this one because a fair go raises many contradictions for me here in Australia. From my personal experience I have been both the recipient of a fair go and someone who hasn’t received a fair go. From my experience and observations, I can see a fair go is given if it doesn’t upset the apple cart. As a non-white person, if you’re not going to threaten anyone or take a resource/opportunity from anyone , you get a fair go. However as soon as you enter the upper echelons of privilege your access to having a fair go seems to diminish and more so if you are a young ethnic female of colour.
I have a friend who is a speech therapist of Asian background. She has often come across rude parents who don’t readily credit her for her skills because they question if her English is good enough, despite English being her native tongue. She may not have such an issue in migrant rich areas of Sydney, however in ‘whiter’ suburbs of the upper middle classes, many parents may take issue with a person of colour instructing their child about their own native tongue. How dare! She has been the recipient of disrespect from parents and other allied health professionals who deem her phenotype incompatible with being a speech therapist. Is this a fair go?