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Never again locked out by whiteness

  • 05 June 2018


Recently I locked myself out of my apartment, and had to go to the office of my real estate agent to borrow their spare set of keys. After asking for some identification and taking a look at my driver's licence, which lists my English name as my middle name, the white, middle-aged lady glanced at me and said, 'Oh, we'd better correct your name in our system, then.'

My heart stopped for a couple of seconds while I processed her words. I knew I had to reply quickly, and the only thing I could think to say was 'No, I've been called Yen-Rong my whole life'. I hoped I didn't sound like I was begging. But even so, she still shot me a look that seemed to say, 'I don't really believe you.' She handed me the keys with a glare. I wilted slightly, and scurried off to catch an Uber home.

I had spent the last few days reading tweets with the #whitenesstoldme hashtag, which had been sparked by Tori William Douglass' tweet, 'Whiteness told me that whiteness wasn't supremacy, it was just behaviour. Whiteness told me, "Anyone can be equal, you just have to act right".'

Whiteness is a cultural construct that centres itself as the norm, and by doing so, situates everyone else as 'other'. It assumes authority just by existing, and uses that authority to keep itself in place, and in charge.

People from all manner of backgrounds latched onto the hashtag, telling their experiences and speaking their truths. They spoke about assimilation and colonisation and structural racism, about absorbing whiteness as the default, without even knowing it was happening.

That afternoon, the lady at the real estate office made me feel less-than, like I wasn't truly 'Australian' unless I went by my English name. People have always had issues with my name — they don't pronounce it properly, or they want to give me a nickname (and call me unAustralian when I refuse), or they straight up make jokes out of it. I've lived a life of people telling me my name was too different, too hard.

That afternoon, whiteness wanted to erase my name. It wanted to erase my identity and my cultural background — and to what end? To make it (and by proxy, me) easier for white people to digest? The keys the real estate office had didn't even work, so while I waited for the locksmith to