Its approaching the end of ‘Buy Nothing New Month’ and for the month of October I’ve had great fun doing just that. Its amazing what you can find when you commit to the experience: a new pair of shoes, never worn, for $6, summer pants made in France, ever so summery and stylish, a gorgeous retro dress admired by friends, family and even strangers who ask where I have purchased the little gem. So when I broke my sunnies ( sunglasses), I didn’t hesitate to visit the local Vinnies (St Vincent De Paul Op Shop) and find a recycled pair. The sales assistant advised that, unfortunately, they were no longer permitted to sell them because of government regulation concerning the UV factor. Bummer! There were a couple of days to go till the end of October so I decided to be patient and wait until I could buy a new pair. I decided to look around the shop even though I had everything I needed. It was then that I overhead a conversation.
‘ Where do you come from love?’ the elderly woman asked the busy and very helpful sales assistant. Even then I thought it a strange and intrusive question to ask out of the blue of someone you didn’t know who was serving you in a shop. Still, she was an older woman and maybe meant no harm buy it. But then I reflected on the assistant’s broad Aussie twang and thought how could she be mistaken for anything other than an Aussie?
‘I live in Downer (the neighbouring Canberra suburb) , been there over forty years’ She replied with some forbearance, knowing that such an answer wouldn’t satisfy. She had clearly been through this before.
The older woman persisted, again touching the assistant on her arm ‘No, where do you really come from?’
With a sigh the assistant answered ‘ I migrated from Sri Lanka in 1966’
‘Ah’ the older white woman answered, satisfied in some way. I went up to the sales assistant and told her I had overheard the exchange. ‘She probably thinks I’m with ISIL or something’ a note of frustration and sadness in her voice. I apologised for the insulting experience and wished that all Australians would mature in our understanding.
If the sales assistant had been red haired and green eyed, she would never have been asked her origin and would have been considered by the older woman ‘one of Us’ a legacy of the concept of ‘Team Australia’ created and fostered by our previous divisive Prime Minister. But what if she had answered ‘actually I was born in Ballarat (or Sydney o
r Melbourne) and have lived her all my life as have my parents and grandparents’? And how about if she had replied ‘My family has been here for over 40,000 years. Where do you come from?’
It’s easy to ignore other’s pain caused by ignorance and racism but when we do that something in ourselves is numbed and lessened.