Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


High school racism in the merry old land of Oz

  • 13 June 2017


I was told in grade nine I shouldn't bother trying out for the lead of our school play, The Wizard of Oz, because there's no way Dorothy would be Asian.

I was told this by my supposed best friend. She had two neat blond plaits and wanted to be the lead in the play herself.

Though I had no intention of trying out for the play, the fact that she told me not to bother made me arc up. The reason she gave — my incongruous Asianness — made me feel angry and ashamed. Angry because it was stupid and unfair. Ashamed because it felt somehow like it was my fault for not being white enough.

This is the first time I've ever shared this story of high school marginalisation publicly. I almost submitted it as part of a non-fiction story for Growing up Asian in Australia (2008), edited by Alice Pung, when the call for contributions surfaced. I was so excited that an anthology like that was coming together.

My experience of stories or characters I could relate to through my schooling in Australia from year two to 12 was minimal. I think there may have been a silent Chinese cook in A. B. Facey's A Fortunate Life, but reflections of the Australian communities I recognised were nonexistent. So, I started writing the story, had covered ten pages of my notebook with it, then I stopped.

I felt like it had all been said before. It felt like my small stories of not belonging, or being on the outside, were so common. I'd researched in the area of Asian Australian narratives for many years by that stage. Along the way, I'd also read many novels, short stories, and other literature from Asian Canadians and Asian Americans. Many of them included signal moments of stereotyping, racial abuse, and bullying.

What did I have to say that was new? This feeling stopped me for many years from writing about my personal experiences as an Asian Australian. I told myself I didn't need to — others were doing it, after all — and I was researching and publishing in Asian Australian Studies and had been for more than ten years. My personal story was irrelevant.

Then I pulled my head out of the academic bubble it was in and realised that these stories and their nuances were not at all common in broader public sphere or in the minds of