Australian and more: Danny Chirkoot
Australian and more explores the dissonance and delights of an individual straddling two cultures in Western Australia’s current social atmosphere. This series of five stories shares perspectives of people with Chinese, Malaysian, South African-Indian and Iraqi heritage. The Centre for Stories believes that sharing diverse perspectives is essential to creating a cohesive and empathetic society.
I am Danny, I am 25 and my family are of South African and Indian Heritage.
CONNECTIONS TO ANOTHER LAND
Both my parents were—I don’t know exactly the year or the history of it specifically—but basically when the British were in India, they then took a bunch of Indians to South Africa. Then just because of the racial and political climate in South Africa, there were townships for every different race. So, my family for at least four generations have been in South Africa—but originally from India at some point.
From what I know both my parents grew up in a township in South Africa. My mum is like freakishly intelligent—not hereditary, unfortunately—but she is like freakishly intelligent. Back then it was segregated. Black schools had no resources and they also had no money. So my mum got a full scholarship to go to uni—which especially for a woman in that culture, it just didn’t happen. So, she got to go to uni and then she did so well in uni that she got a job. There is a company called Arthur Andersen who I think are now Deloitte’s or something like that. They were one of the Big 5 at the time, consultancy firms. They offered one job to a non-white person in South Africa and my mum got that job. They sent her to Switzerland on a conference. It was the first time she wasn’t being oppressed legislatively and culturally and stuff like that. So she got back to South African and said, I assume to my dad, “We’ve got to get the fuck out of here”. Then they just applied to move anywhere and got accepted into Australia. So they ended up here which was cool because then I was born here. I don’t really know much about their experience when they came to Australia because they moved in 1984. I know Australia would have been a pretty repressive place then, but then I suppose coming from apartheid South Africa it would have been very liberal in comparison.
It is actually really cool; my parents were both kind of badass. They used to do marches and sit-ins and all this really dope peaceful activism work. I mean, it is unfortunate they were in Africa, so they would just get tear gassed and shot at basically. Because of stuff like that, I just like to think that even if I didn’t know all of that, I would still call out shit when I hear it. But I feel it is so rare, especially in Australia because we are all such fence sitters, and the whole culture is like, “let’s be inoffensive”. It’s kind of why change doesn’t really happen here or it happens so slowly. I think because of knowing that particularly, I’ve always had a problem with just sitting there and hearing something racists, even if it is not directed at me.
I think when I was young my parents tried to instil in me their cultural values, but because of my age, obviously, all I would have wanted to do was fit in. I suppose I would have tried everything in my power to be a white Australian, basically, but then I feel like every ethnic family have that classic line, “We are not white”. So, I think I was definitely raised with the same cultural values that my parents have for sure.
There are a lot of things that I really like about Australian culture, but I think the thing that frustrates me the most, I almost feel that Australian culture is quite allergic to having intelligent discussions about things. The whole idea is to avoid actually having to commit to a call on issues and stuff like that. I think that phenomenon is why we are always the last country to do things, like legalising gay marriage and stuff like that. I think it is quite restrictive. Whereas, my culture is kind of the opposite end of the scale. Which is also a bad thing I think—everyone has an opinion on everything and most of the time it is not an educated opinion, it is just and opinion, like ethnic hysteria. They are quite polarising on things like that.
RACISM, INTERNAL DISSONANCE AND SOCIAL CHANGE
It is really hard to pinpoint specific anecdotes because I feel like you just learn to ignore it, or become desensitised to things like that. In high school, it is obvious because everyone used to just call me Danny “Black”, because like, you know, kids do stuff like that. Outside of that, I suppose it is just the first thing that someone will bring up. If you are in a fight with someone, it’s like the go-to thing to say. It is more just ignorance I think. I’m aware that every single thing I do is a reflection of my entire community. Whereas if my white friend wanted to be an asshole that is just them being an asshole, but you are kind of affirming stereotypes if you do it as a minority.
I think the current social and political climate has almost made me chill out a little bit. Because, given my family’s history—and my parents migrating from apartheid South Africa where they were legislatively second class citizens for their entire life—and stuff like that. I was really vocal about things that I believed in because my mentality was like, “Well, if I am the first generation of my entire family to not be crippled by these laws, it is kind of a kick in the face to those guys if I just stuck it out and I just stay here quietly while this is going on”. But I feel that particularly with Trump and stuff, I just can’t take it seriously because it is so barbaric and America is its own problem. I don’t know if Australia has really changed that much. We’ve always had ultra conservative dickheads in Parliament. I feel like if anything it is getting more liberal, but I don’t think it has changed how I feel. I have always felt like I am foreign firstly even though I was born here, but I don’t think it has changed anything particularly for me on a personal level.
I love that question of “where are you from?” and I am like, “Australia” and they are like, “no, where are you actually from?” and I say, “Glengarry”. I definitely identify as Australian, but I guess I also identify as—see I don’t identify as South African because, it sounds harsh, and my whole family are there, but I hate so much about the country and its history. A lot to do with South Africa’s mentality, I disconnect with completely. But I guess I still do identify as South African Indian to some point; but if someone would ask me where I am from, I would say Australia for sure.
I think primarily I feel like the most important thing, culturally, for Australia is for us to truly actually embrace our Indigenous culture and value and respect it. Although that sort of stuff is now on email signatures and stuff, “This company respects this…” like okay, that is great, but do any of your staff members actually know anything about it? It is almost on a grassroots level that things needs to start happening. It is all well and good for corporations and every opening ceremony to have an Indigenous dance and stuff like that, but we are still so ignorant about it, on a grander scale. That would probably be my one wish for Australia, to pick up its game.
Read the rest of the stories in Australian and more here.
Copyright © 2018 Danny Chirkoot
This story has been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story please contact the Centre for Stories.
This story was collected by Centre for Stories intern, Karen Escobar.