On several occasions, Chinese people have told me that I “look Australian.” At first, I thought this made no sense, how could I, someone from a nation of immigrants, “look” like someone else from a different nation of immigrants? Surely nobody could “look Australian” anymore than anybody could “look American,” right? It turns out that both have distinctive looks, at least to the discerning Chinese eye, and that “Australian” is a much more consistent look than “American.”
I guess it makes sense that I look Australian, since many Ozzies are members of the Irish diaspora, as am I. I find I get along pretty well with the Ozzies, and that’s largely due to the shared values and culture that the US and Australia share. But also, they look like me. And around here, I notice that. And noticing that gets me thinking about the history of why I look like these people from the other side of the world. And makes me feel more connected to that history.
My family tree has potato famine written all over it. This genocidal act by the British empire scattered the Irish people all over the world, and sent my ancestors to Pennsylvania. Others, the famine sent to Australia, Canada, and even HK. I think we still carry the legacy of this violence in our genes. Perhaps that helps explain why we’re known for our petulant personalities, and why I don’t deal well with bankers. Put it down to genetic PTSD. Survivors of genocide are not necessarily reluctant to perpetrate it on others, and potato famine survivors and their descendants certainly went on to participate in genocidal acts against Native Americans (and perhaps something similar is happening with the descendants of holocaust survivors in Israel). Recent research in epigenetics indicates that it may be possible for certain genes to become activated by traumatic histories like these, with unknown consequences for the potential for world peace.
In the US, many white people feel like they lack ethnicity, and I was one of those white people. I felt like a generic white American with no culture of my own, beyond that supplied to me by my TV. But now that I’ve regained my ethnicity, I understand the desire to be around people like myself. It’s not that I don’t get along with Chinese people, but I spend all day with them. Sometimes it’s nice to be with people who understand me not through something they learned about my culture from a book or the media, but because their culture is my culture. It’s nice not to have to explain everything. It’s nice not to need everything explained to me. I now understand why the minority kids often self-segregated themselves at lunch time.