Being yellow: about The Two Chairs initiative


Being yellow

Riding on the train is one of my favourite places to think and reflect. During a reflective train ride, I have come to a sudden realisation that I may be potentially known as the artist who like racist stories. The more I thought about it the more it doesn’t bother me. After all I am a story collector interested in exploring Australian cultural identity. At one point in my life, I questioned ‘what does it mean to be an Asian Australian?’ The only fitting answer came in the form of my childhood icons Banana in Pyjamas. I believe that B1 and B2 are Asian Australians. Like a banana, I am yellow inside and white outside. By accepting this I started to notice other things. Namely, that racism is part of our everyday Australian culture.

On one of my story adventures, I found a dark secret revealing Australia’s racial legacy. Beneath a 1950s timber chair was a stamp that read “European Labour Only.” European Australians at the time felt threatened by the presence of the local Chinese furniture makers. The stamp was made to differentiate furniture produced by European Australians and Chinese. In an essence, it was for certain people to buy from certain groups. The cartoon above showcases the story on how we plan to creatively address racism.

‘The Two Chairs’ started off as a personal art project has now grown into a social impact initiative. What started in Melbourne has now expanded to Sydney. What I learnt is that people want to share their thoughts but haven’t found a suitable and safe platform for them to digress, contribute or learn about the issue.

‘The Two Chairs’ is a new antiracist organisation and plans to be a creative platform for people to come, share and learn about race and racism. My role is cultivating a discussion using art and creativity. We are building a collection of thoughts and stories about race and racism.

Casual racism in Australia

“Asians can’t drive,” “All Asians look the same” and the classic of all classics: “I’m not racist but…”

Racism like it or not is embedded into everyday Australian culture. While many people are capable to recognise overt racism, there’s been a slight shift. Today’s conversation is focused on less known forms like casual racism. It’s happening everywhere, on the bus and in class, the way we share jokes with our friends. When we apply for jobs, when we switch on TV and it’s happening on fashion and magazine. It’s happening everyday.

Casual racism covers racist behaviours and attitudes disguised as humour or cheeky post-racial sarcasm. They are like jabs, it’s not about intent, it’s now about the impact that careless attitude and remarks could cause. Many insist they’re not actually racist or believe what they said as malicious. The conversation has moved beyond that, what we fail to comprehend is that it’s not about intent, its about the impact or harm it could potentially do.

I particularly like complimentary insults. Like “You’re pretty cute for an Asian” and “You speak such good English”

Casual racial remarks are like jabs. A jab is quick poke or sudden jolt to your system, sometimes we don’t know how to respond to them. Casual racism works in a similar manner. Take it from me, being constantly jabbed hurts.

The Two Chairs – image courtesy of Suzanne Nguyen

Using art to address casual racism

Australia is based on immigration; Most of the population are born to parents who were born overseas. I’m one of them, I was born to parents who escaped the war in Vietnam and seek refuge in Australia. Thanks to my parents, I am proud to call it home. This year I have been collecting a number of stories and realised that there is a need for people to find a space to share their thoughts. Using traditional and social online means I found people are willing to open up, most of the time they are genuinely curious. The Two Chairs aims to help people spread awareness of inclusion and racism by challenging and questioning social norms and conditions. One of The Two Chairs will be an art installation. The project is participating in the Big West Festival, a contemporary community-based art festival in Melbourne’s West. Two handmade chairs have been made with recycled Australian timber. Set as part of the Footscray café décor, the idea is part of the everyday experience. Similar to the thought that casual racism is becoming an everyday social norm. The only difference is their exchange is part of a story collecting experience. The Two Chairs aims to have meaningful and intimate conversation that allows for seeds of thought and consideration to be planted. We are looking forward to listening and hearing your thoughts and stories. Tell us, what does it mean to be an Australian?

Author: Suzanne Nguyen

Founder and Creative director behind The Two Chairs initiative, Suzanne Nguyen is exploring her cultural identity as an Asian Australian. Most of her time is spent collecting and seeing patterns in stories. She likes to hang out in cafes and spend her time drawing and contemplating. You can find her on the twitterverse @StringStory

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