Australians Want Diversity — Just Not On Their Own Street

One Saturday night a few months ago, I returned home from dinner with my boyfriend to find my parents huddled in our upstairs living room in complete silence. My dad’s hands were glued to his phone as he anxiously watched the live footage from the security cameras at the front and back of our house. 
My stomach dropped, as if I already knew what to expect.
“Our neighbour’s kid just jumped the fence,” my dad said. 
“He was running up and down the side of our house". My dad turned his phone to me to show me the footage. I saw a skinny, white teenage boy sprinting up and down our backyard before climbing back over the fence to our front yard. 

“Before he could get away, I went outside and yelled at him to come up to me,” my dad told me.

“Why are you trespassing on my home at night? What have we ever done to you?” my dad yelled at the boy. 
“What have we ever done to you?” This was the line I kept replaying in my head, asking myself the same question. To have our privacy and our safety completely disregarded; to be the only house on the entire street that was targeted and trespassed on — what had we done to deserve this?
I live in a suburb in Brisbane called Chapel Hill, with my mum and dad. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) last census (2016), the most common countries of birth that make up Chapel Hill’s population were England and Australia. The census also found that the most common occupations in Chapel Hill were white-collar professionals (43%). Outside of these statistics, it’s not difficult to see these characteristics for yourself. Known by some for its inflated value and “pretentious charm”, you’ll find a Tesla parked in at least one driveway on every second street in Chapel Hill. I’ve made a game out of counting them so yes, you can take my word for it.
During our first year of living in this house, no one on our street acknowledged our presence, and I didn’t think I had a problem with that. That was until I would watch my dad walk outside to take the bins in, and see him wave at our next-door neighbour who was also outside. Only, our neighbour wouldn’t wave back. He would just look straight at my dad with a blank stare before walking back inside. It left my dad feeling confused, but being the stoic man he is, he found it easier to shrug off the experience. I, on the other hand, took note of this, and every other experience that came after. 
Rubbish thrown on our front yard, cigarette butts swept under our side of the fence, our neighbour leaving his dog’s waste on our lawn — I found it difficult to believe that these were simply just the tales of a bad neighbours segment on A Current Affair. As the only non-white family on our entire street, in an affluent, white-dominated suburb, I knew deep down that these microaggressions stemmed from something more than just getting unlucky. 
In 2017, the same year that my family and I moved to Chapel Hill, a Western Sydney University Professor led a team of researchers that now make up the Challenging Racism Project, to examine the extent of racist attitudes and experiences based on where Australians were born and what language they spoke at home. Their research revealed that if you or your parents were born overseas and you speak a language other than English at home, you are likely to have many more experiences of racism than other Australians. Survey participants that were born in Asia were twice as likely to experience everyday racism — in fact, 84% of these Asian Australians had experienced racism. 
With the rise of new minority populations and the sharp slowdown of white population growth, the traditional image of the suburban Australian dream is changing. Together, these trends paint a very different picture to the one the public has about “affluent suburbs”. Little by little, the presence of minorities moving into and living in these types of suburbs is breaking down the paradigm. But perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy about it. 
According to a research paper by professors Kevin Dunn and James Forrest, the owning and occupying of these spaces by Asian Australians is seen as a threat to Anglo-Australian hegemony, an echo of colonial racist thinking in which Asians are viewed as biologically inferior and a potential source of racial impurity.  
“Nadia”, 22, whose real name has been kept anonymous for her privacy, lives in a suburb called Redlands, which is also known for being a white-dominated area of Brisbane
“My mum, sister and I used to go to Zumba classes in our area. Since Redlands is very white, our class was filled with only white women,” she told Refinery29 Australia.
“So my mum, sister and I — three visibly brown women — easily stood out. In all-white spaces, you just learn to become small and take up as little space as possible.”
“One time, at the end of a Zumba lesson, an old white woman said to my sister and mum, “You should play some of your cultural music from your country to get into the rhythm before class.”

In all-white spaces, you just learn to become small and take up as little space as possible.

Nadia*, 22
“She took one look at our skin and decided to label us as foreigners. Would she have said the same thing to the British white woman next to her who recently moved to Australia? No way.”
Nadia’s experience is a reminder of how POC are taught to be constantly cautious of never taking up “too much” space, because that one glare or dirty look can transcend through our bodies and stay with us in the most destructive ways.
“I get comments from people telling me to not take it to heart, or that the woman probably meant well. I don’t care if she “meant well”. These are microaggressions and they are detrimental to POC. I see my family brush it off and not want to admit it for what it is: racism. They feel obligated to love this country that supposedly “accepted them”. But in reality, the racial microaggressions and constant state of ‘other’ proves that we haven’t come very far.”
Eventually, Nadia stopped going to Zumba and ended up moving to a different suburb. But the experience has never been able to leave her.
“The prolonged stares when I am out with my extended family, as if some people have never seen brown people in their life. The comments made in public places, or even in school. I think the moment I question my safety is when I think about whether someone not connected to me would stand up for myself or my family,” she said.
“Would kids in school intervene when racial jokes were made towards me? What if an aggressive racially driven incident occurred and police were called? These are things we POC question when living in white neighbourhoods.”
Echoing Nadia’s experiences is Nick, 24, who lives in Bardon
“I've been mistaken as an Uber Eats driver several times while picking up takeout orders at restaurants in my suburb. It was funny at first, but then I realised you really do get treated differently,” Nick told Refinery29 Australia.
“Now, I make sure to put my phone away and clearly state I'm picking up a 'phone order' to minimise the risk. I mean, it's really not a huge deal but it is a constant reminder of how the community here sees me and assumes who I am.”

It was funny at first, but then I realised you really do get treated differently.

Nick, 24
When asked if he felt this happened to him because of the colour of his skin, Nick was certain of it.
“I used to work in hospitality and I'd estimate 90% of our UberEats drivers were darker skinned and/or had ethnic features, so I somewhat get why people in this neighbourhood would mistake me for one. I feel like many community members here have not had any interactions with people of different races other than receiving their food delivery.”
With Australia’s next Census coming up in August this year, I am hopeful that the updated data it collects will provide a rich snapshot of the nation I yearn to live in, one that is accepting of people of all different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, who speak different languages and who want nothing more than to work hard in this country and be accepted for who they are. 
At the end of the day, people like myself, my parents, Nadia, and Nick are counting on an important milestone to be passed: that this year’s census will become the first to show a majority of the nation’s largest racial minority groups residing in the suburbs. And that those communities will only become more diverse in the years to come. Because if we don’t ever see this happen, when and where will we ever be truly accepted? If not in an affluent suburb with exceptionally low rates of crime, then...where?
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

More from Culture