Taking a bite out of Aussie prejudice 92



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I have lived in Australia for 26 years, in Sydney’s Inner West where, when I first moved in, there were very few brown faces to be seen. I am not a tall, blonde, blue-eyed Aussie. On the contrary, I am short, dark and balding: far from standing out in a crowd, I am noticeably different. In all the countries I have lived in, I have learned to live with myself and the accompanied prejudice.

In the country of my birth, Sri Lanka, I belonged to the minority race. In the late 1960s, living in London and away from my comfortable life, I had to learn to live with rudeness and taunts – it was a shock when knocking on a door looking for a place to say to be told “we don’t want your sort here”. As an art student in London I took great pride in fighting back by having a small print of the Union Jack pasted on my portfolio, with the central red cross of St George blacked out and the slogan “I’m blacking Britain” carefully lettered in – my answer to the “I’m backing Britain” campaign (then current). Yes, the racist taunts were malicious and cruel but it toughened me up: I learned to live with it and my skin got considerably thicker. I learned to live with being spoken to very slowly, as though English wasn’t my first language! I learned what it was to be stereotyped and often cheekily played up to people’s perceptions.

I went to Hong Kong where I lived for 18 years and again I learned survival skills, and learned to live in a tough commercial world. Luckily as a designer, my world comprised the weird and wonderful creative types who were at ease with like-minded people and who cared little about colour, race, sexuality or stereotypes. There, where success was measured by the dollar, I learned what hard work was. Yet there was still prejudice in a society where there was a large expatriate population, and apart from one very notable and wealthy Indian business family, Indians were seen as shopkeepers, tailors or those who ran cheap eateries. Of course it didn’t matter explaining I was born in Sri Lanka – we all look alike! I remember being refused membership of an exclusive club, and when it hit the press (thanks to journalist friends), all hell broke loose in my defence – but Hong Kong wasn’t exactly a colour blind society. After a few years of living there my knowledge of Cantonese was enough for me to know the nickname my colleagues gave me: Hak Jai (black boy) – Yes, the HK names can be very direct and don’t lack subtlety. Yet I loved all the time I spent there, and made some very close friends with locals as well as expatriates.

Coming to Australia with an English wife, we were looked on as ‘exotic’ – I didn’t have doors shut on me but often saw the look of surprise when I turned up for job interviews, then told “oh, you sounded very different on the phone”. Does colour alter an accent when you are face to face? Obviously yes! I guess for years I have learned to live with prejudice, learned to live with being ignored in shops or being the last served. Learned not to care that on a bus the seat next to you will be the last to be taken. Learned to look ahead bravely when someone in a passing car yells out “Hey Curry”. Learned to live with being stereotyped. When I took my young sons to the local kids’ cricket club, I was instantly asked to coach the young team. Despite my background, I’m not a cricketer, and have said time and time again “can’t bowl, can’t bat, can cook” but the message still hasn’t sunk in.

Yes, living in Australia has had some problems, with acceptance and prejudice, perceptions and stereotyping surfacing. I, as all others like me, just have to live with these attitudes – we have to put up with them and learn to control our tongues as well as our tempers, although there are times when I give as much as I get!

I have learned to live with people who, when invited home for a meal, are shocked that I have done a roast, or bouillabaisse, paella, boeuf bourguignon, crème brulee or pannacotta and not a vindaloo, korma, biryani or kulfi! My beef when it comes to cooking is that every one expects me to like hot and spicy food – I don’t. Cook it every day? I don’t. Why? Because there are too many other cuisines I love, to eat, cook and share. This is probably reflected in the fact that each of the four of us in my family was born in a different country. I was born in Sri Lanka, my wife in the UK, our older son in Hong Kong and younger son in Australia – so we are a very multi-cultural/national family. During the Sydney Olympics in 2000, we had a family pact: every night for dinner the family would decide on a country and I would have to cook a dish that represented it – we travelled the globe and had such delicious fun.

Three years ago I got into an adventure that changed my life drastically. My five minutes of fame on reality television continues. What started out as one-off adventure has resulted in something that I am still trying to cope with. We were told that it could be a life changing experience – I had no idea what I was getting into and where it would lead. As a result of MasterChef Australia, and MasterChef All Stars the following year, I was thrown into the spotlight. From the day my elimination was aired, I was suddenly thrown into the public arena. I get shouted at, but now with friendly words of greetings. I get asked to pose for selfies, hugged and kissed: young, old, kids, teens, middle-aged and seniors – it is overwhelming. Initially, I felt shell-shocked and didn’t even like going out. My family made me see the positive side of it and the happiness people got from seeing me. Yes, it was scary and sometimes intrusive, especially when out having a private family dinner. But when I see and hear mums and dads telling me that I inspired their kids to get into the kitchen, or someone at a bus stop, street corner, the baggage carousel of a foreign airport, in the queue for a movie, or in a gallery somewhere, will come up to shake hands and say “thank you, you brought us happiness” – well this is magic and I like to think that this is a special experience I am privileged to have.

Sadly, today racism has reared its ugly head again and as usual it has polarised peoples’ opinions and is causing distress and fear. It saddens me when politics plays up stereotypes and induces panic and insecurity, and in the process causes racist rifts through ignorance. The media can be so damning as well. It is sad to see the malice and damage that ignorance can cause. So this short, dark, old, balding man is very glad to have opened at least some peoples’ eyes to see that all of us have something to offer… we might look and sound a little different, but we only just need the opportunity to show who we are, dispel some myths and share our talents. For me, I have been fortunate to get opportunities I never dreamed of, meet people who are my culinary heroes, learn heaps and get to do things I never thought I would. I have also become much more confident with who I am, and with what I can and want to do. From being a rather shy person, I now have the confidence and ability to talk and appear in public. But above all, the one good thing I have got from this experience is the feeling that I have helped people accept someone from another culture and see that I am no different from them. I was given an opportunity for people to get to know the real me and I am grateful.

And fulfilled.

What prompted me to write this was the insistence of a very close writer friend who is much better with words than I will ever be – we were catching up on our lives and recent events and he said “you have a great message, get it out”. This together with Noel Pearson’s recent, very powerful and moving eulogy for Gough Whitlam, where this line particularly resonated with me:

“Only those who have known discrimination truly know its evil”


What do you think of Kumar’s comments? Have you seen or be a victim of discrimination? Tell us your thoughts below.

Kumar Pereira

Born in Sri Lanka, Kumar studied typographic design at the London College of Printing. After working in London he lived in Hong Kong for 18 years. He left Hong Kong for Australia in 1988 and lives and works in Sydney. He has worked in publishing in Sydney before joining Sydney Institute, TAFE NSW Design Centre, Enmore where he was Senior Head Teacher Graphic design, until 2007. In 2011 he was a contestant in MasterChef Australia, series 3 where he made it to the top 12. In 2012 he was part of MasterChef All Stars. In addition to design and cooking his interests include gardening, walking and illustration and travel. His Book ‘Kumar’s Family Cookbook’ was published by Allen & Unwin, Australia in May 2013 and is available in Australia and internationally. ‘Paletteables’ a set of 6 illustrated cards with cooking suggestions was published in March 2014 and is available at select stores and online; www.kumarpereira.net

  1. What an intelligent man you are, sorry you have been made feel that way. Enjoy your family and enjoy been an Australian.

  2. Wonderful article and so true. I am an Anglo-Celt Australian and have often observed prejudice and discrimination towards others. Travelling on the Indian-Pacific we took our meals with a Sri Lankan couple each time. The subtle way, and at times, unsubtle way, they were shown they were unwelcome the first few meals I’ve not forgotten.

  3. Kumar , my mum told me something when I was a very little girl, she told me skin was only the raincoat that kept the rain from wetting our hearts in rain storm. I had a very good mother who gave me a wonderful gift, she taught me that skin colour did not matter, the person underneath did. You sound like an intelligent and talented man. Ignore racism if you can, don’t let anyone poison your heart and mind.

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  4. Thank you for your excellent article Kumar. I can never understand that people can be judged by the colour of their skin. I witness it every time I walk down the street with my African American friend and get a glimpse of what she puts up with constantly. Working with her I’m learning to understand the generations of pain that has shaped her people. I have a beautiful daughter in law from the Philippines and she also suffers discrimination. We have a long way to go!

  5. Racism is ignorance and fear. You should judge people by how they are, not by colour, race or religeon.

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  6. Kumar your story is sad and probably very typical of many people from o’seas who choose to call Australia home, but not all Australians are racist. So welcome and please feel free to stay.

  7. All the best Kumar, please don’t think all Aussie’s are racist, we are not, it just that the racist yell the loudest no matter what country your in. Well done on Master Chef.

  8. I have been here 51 years and I still experience racism weather it’s serious or in jest,I have gone to school here,collage, and furthered my studies,by going to private collages,there is always some snide remark from the ones that are lacking in education,or are just down right ignorant…I totally ignore the situation at my age I have discovered what to eliminate…Here are some of the remarks,” You people come out here and etc etc,Bloody wog eh? you people are the ones that take all the good jobs ” and so it goes on.Here is my come back, “Mate while you where at the pub pissing it against the wall,I was working overtime and running a garage at Summer Hill,5 nights and Saturdays and every second Sunday, but here is the cruncher, If it wasn’t for us wogs,you’d still be eating damper…lol then we all have a good laugh,for God’s sake don’t take life too seriously,it’s too short…Oh …by the way I married an ozzie sheila whom I’ve loved from the day I layed eyes on her,I saw my future unfold with her,we go to bed laughing and wake up laughing..we’ve had 3 beautiful children ,now in their mid 30’s 2 are twinsboy and a girl…I have nothing to complain about,this is by far the best country in the world,work succeed,have goals and get on with it,as for racism ,it’s ignorance and nothing more.afraid of someone you do not understand.

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    • Mike here-like you Guido I am an immigrant, cae with my parents at the age of 11 in 1960. I have always been called a pom, even to this day. I am a naturalised Aussie, married to another pom a Veteran of the Vietnam war, father of 2 Aussie children, grand father of 4 Aussie children. People can call me what they want just don’t call me late for dinner.

    • Sadly June there’s a huge difference from being called ‘a Pom’ to some of the names I’ve heard used against some of our new arrivals.

    • ‘Pom’ is a term of endearment! Even ‘Pommy Bastard’ means you’re liked…..you wouldn’t call someone that if you didn’t like them, they might retaliate! Lol

    • Sorry you were put through that prejudice Guido and I’m ashamed, I can only say that some people who don’t understand other cultures are scared of them in doing so become racists. Instead of embracing it. After we are all immigrants.

    • Yup I hear that sort of nonsense all the time, it’s now moved away from Europeans and is put on Indian people. Rubbish like “They come here and take all our jobs”
      The jobs are there for anyone to take but we won’t because everyone wants less work but more pay. Can’t get all the things we WANT if we’re not willing to work for em.

    • Guido, you are one of the New Australians who helped make Australia what it is today…I grew up with people like you, even a German who was our hero in our town….he was happy to be away from the mess overseas at that time, like so many who experienced the years of war in Europe…he came to be part of this country, and worked to build up our little town which he did. South of us were “Wogs” growing sugar etc…hard, hard workers all of you. Thankyou for your comment and thankyou for your commitment…moving to this country and throwing yourself into it like you did. Christina above said we are all immigrants, yes, I agree, but some of us had to earn the right to be an Australian the hard way.

    • I bloody hate that word WOG, many years ago it meant westernised oriental gentleman , now it’s used in the most derogatory way possible by all and sundry , I think a fine should be imposed for use of that word

  9. agree. people are scared of what they don’t understand.

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    • I agree with you Margaret and I also believe that those people should try to learn more so that they do understand. It might change their skewed perceptions and beliefs.

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