Some people will ask, ‘What’s your background?’ Others, usually with a drunken drawl, will demand, ‘What’s your nationality?’ even if I’ve explained that I’m Australian. Some will put it simply by asking, ‘Where are you from?’ And this question, without fail, vacillates from the obvious to the awkward. Not Geelong, Blackburn or Carlton – no, these places do not suffice as places of origin. What they want to know is where my coloured skin comes from even if, in a locational sense, I’m not from there.
The problem is even those of us who object to these actions are ultimately affected by them. We are the ones staring into the abyss of the horrible things done in our name: the detention centres, the deaths, the sexual, mental and physical abuse, the lives scarred and hopes ruined by successive governments’ inability to ignore the votes of the least among us – the narrow-minded, fearful, compassionless and xenophobic. The abyss is staring back at us. It has been for some time. Each lurch toward a crueller policy response normalises something that was once horrible in the past. And something in us changes too. We might still disagree with the policies, but we are becoming desensitised.