Growing up in Australia by Tekie Quaye

Growing up Black in Australia by Tekie Quaye

Becoming a parent raises all sorts of questions about the way you might bring up your child and the family you want to be. I find that much of what I do and don’t want for my daughter is a reflection of my own experiences as a child. My experience growing up in Australia with dual heritage and brown skin, combined with what I have come to know about the world influence much of what I hope for her.

I left Australia nearly six years ago to come to London and be with my partner. I was never one who was particularly drawn to London, I hadn’t been before and definitely had no grand designs of making a permanent life here. So I find it completely foreign that I now struggle to see where else to live and raise my family.

Growing up in Australia we were the only Black family I knew. Walking down the street if we were to see another Black person we would nod with them in acknowledgement. Here in London my daughter is surrounded by people of all colours from the moment we step outside our door. She will grow up with the tacit understanding I never had the chance to have, to be surrounded by a diverse representation of the world’s people as part of her everyday experience.

It is with the gift of time and reflection, coupled with six years of life in London that my eyes have been opened. I see now how growing up in Australia, a country that self identifies as being multicultural and inclusive influenced my young perspective and understanding. It skewed me to believe that the white centric and undiagnosed racist optics of Australian life were representative of the world at large.

I feel such a relief thinking how my daughter will grow up seeing not only herself but also her whole family and cultural history reflected within the world around her. In her innocence she will absorb and become familiar with all the strong, beautiful and vibrant examples of Black people and people of colour, our history, present and future. I myself feel so fortunate to be surrounded by people who hail from all over the world, those that are part of my tribe and those I encounter on the bus or street all help me in my new journey as a mother.

Thirty years ago my mum, who is white, didn’t have that community or privilege to help guide us through the awkward, confusing and hard experiences we had growing up. She instead was surrounded by people who would stop to say how cute we were and how she had done an amazing thing adopting little African babies. It wouldn’t even occur to people that she could have given birth to us herself. Nor how the pitying tones they employed could imprint on a child, projecting an idea that being African was something for which we should be apologetic. Polluting our emerging connection and African identity with negative intimations.

Growing up it was common for people to refer my siblings and I as Aborigines, to be asked if I tasted like chocolate, where was I from or if I was a boy or a girl. My dad was a wonderful example of the many things a Black person could be, but he alone could not fortify our experience. Living in London, a city filled with all shades of skin, where seeing your features, history, even name reflected as a common experience provides such relief and sustenance I feel a freedom that I doubt I could enjoy back in Australia.

I think it is the smaller, passive and common experiences that are illustrative of the way racism exists in Australia. For so many people I know, myself included, it isn’t until we leave that the veil comes down to reveal the disquiet and solitary experience of being a coloured person in Australia.

I am excited that my daughter will have a greater chance to become a version of herself that isn’t impacted by the visual or articulated acts of othering that I encountered. To live in a city with everyday representation our experience, where our voices are be validated by the familiarness of those around us. London certainly isn’t a utopia, there are many issues facing our Black communities, which is part of a different line of discussion, one that my daughter and I will be able to participate in. Alongside our fellows, which is what makes the difference.


Photograph by: Hannah Palamara