Whiteness and the city: Australians of Anglo-Indian heritage in suburban Melbourne

Whiteness and the city: Australians of Anglo-Indian heritage in suburban Melbourne

South Asian Diaspora
Volume 4, Issue 2, May 2012
pages 123-137
DOI: 10.1080/19438192.2012.675721

Michele Lobo, Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Arts and Education
Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

Leslie Morgan
School of Education
Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia

This paper uses an auto-ethnographic approach to map how two Melburnians of Anglo-Indian heritage make sense of their belonging through connections to cities within the South Asian diaspora, in particular, Lahore, Kolkata and London. As diasporic writers of mixed descent working within the disciplines of geography and visual culture, we use food and images of public space as entry points to explore our everyday experiences as translocal subjects who inhabit several spaces simultaneously. The exploration of such stories of intercultural encounter is interesting and significant in the field of diaspora studies because as South Asians we were historically an ‘out-of-place’ group of mixed descent in a colonial context, a community without a regional home in independent India/Pakistan, and an imagination that we were entitled to a home in Britain and Australia by virtue of our whiteness and Anglo-ness. Our stories provide a nuanced understanding of the dominance, power and privilege of whiteness in colonial and post-colonial contexts and an insight into how mobility impacts on our sense of belonging.

What do you eat for breakfast?

An interview held at a participant’s home on a cold winter morning was nearing conclusion. The audio recorder was switched off, but Harry, an Anglo-Australian man, a local councillor continued to talk about how Dandenong was changing. He expressed feelings of loss, regret and anxiety when he said that Dandenong, once a white working-class neighbourhood in suburban Melbourne with ‘good-quality homes and good-quality people’ had now become stigmatised as a ‘shit hole’, ‘a ghetto’ with ‘second-class citizens’ (Harry, interview 1 May 2003). Harry then began alluding to the cultural difference between Anglo-Australians and ‘ethnics’ and used food as the principal determinant. He said that ‘they live on the smell of an oily rag. It does not cost them very much to live. They see the food, vegies. jeez, it’s so cheap. Their diet is poor, that is their staple diet until they follow the Australian way of life’ (Harry, research diary entry, 1 May 2003). When Harry described Dandenong with disgust, stigmatised recent settlers, many of who are from India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Sudan, and devalued ‘ethnic’ food as cheap, less nutritious and unhealthy. I was shocked and surprised; as a new resident, this was the first time that I had heard an Anglo-Australian who was an elected community leader speak in such a manner…

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