At Costco in the line to return something that happened to be the wrong size, I was marvelling at all of the different heritage around me. There were so many shades of skin colour and accents it was truly a moment capturing the beautiful multiculturalism in Australia. It was totally awkward, but I couldn’t help but compliment the woman who had been partially helping the woman who was helping me as her skin colour was this incredibly rich shade very different from my pale freckled skin, and she had such a great complexion too. Anyway, I smiled to myself during the whole encounter because it really made me feel that Australia is a country that has so many immigrants and in places where we all converge all just flows.
As it usually goes in just about every shopping experience, there’s a signal to everyone that it’s now time for every single shopper to make their way to the counters to pay. This happens everywhere, we as humans must all feel the urgency of timing all at once and all in unison turn around and make a b line for the closest checkout. I was in one of the lines and moved back so other people could pass in front of me to get to the other side. In this, some people got a little confused about where the line started, but I hadn’t thought it was going to be a problem because there were clearly people already waiting behind me, specifically this woman and her baby who my son and I had talked about during our shopping trip. We heard the baby talking and talking, and then by checkout time, bub was not happy and needed to be held. My toddler noted all of this as we’ve been talking about feelings a lot lately so he narrated the scene when we saw them. Apparently an older woman didn’t realise the line was much longer and put her cart behind mine, and I politely told her that I thought the woman with the baby was next in line, and the line was curving a bit making a hand motion in the direction of the curve. I could tell that English wasn’t her first language, but she understood, and moved her cart to the end of the line. All was fine, just helping create some order. Then all of a sudden I hear the two guys who are with the woman and baby, say “Yeah, we need to take care of our own” and I made eye contact with him, and at first the thought was just that I have child and I assumed that was probably his child. The mother now holding the baby didn’t say a word, and I loaded up my items on the conveyor belt and the comment swirled around in my head. Why I can’t just let things roll over me and be done with it, I’m not sure… but I thought about it and I was the only other fair skinned person with my son in our line besides them. I hadn’t even considered that the remark would have been racial in nature. So I purposely talked in my very American accent to the checkout helpers and talked about the wagon I had in my trolley and how it was going to be great this summer, especially with the extra drink holders. As I left, I distinctly noticed a big Southern Cross tattoo on the man’s neck who made the remark. And I quickly pieced together an episode of Triple J’s Hack where the Southern Cross had been coopted and now was representing something more like white nationalist pride, or something of the like. My stomach turned.
I enjoy the richness that comes with multiculturalism. I enjoy the opportunity to learn and grow with the people around me. I know I am an immigrant, and I cannot help but feel the same amount of slightedness that might be aimed at people who are more obviously not from here based on their accents, or their skin colour, or the way they dress. I am one of them, I am one of the Australians too. We are all one.
Maybe I misconstrued what that comment meant and probably I am overthinking and overanalysing it, but maybe not.