Sorry to be so blunt, but don’t. You may think it is a term of endearment, just as writer Susie O’Brien penned so eloquently in her opinion piece over the weekend, but it’s not. Apparently having an Albanian friend who is okay with being called a wog by her white friends also makes it okay to write an article about how the stigma of the word has eroded over time and then proceed in listing out all the things that keep us stereotyped. Singing In The Rain star Adam Garcia’s wife, Nathalia Chubin, had every right to be annoyed at being called a wog. I’m annoyed too.
We like to clean our fridges; it’s such a wog thing to do, right? The girls are all boofheads like Effie from the TV show Acropolis Now. But what if I proceeded in saying that all white people don’t know how to cook a good meal – do I have your attention?
I have many friends from many different backgrounds. The term ‘you’re such a wog’ does get thrown around as a joke between family and friends from Greek or Italian backgrounds. So why is it okay for us to use it and not white people?
When the migrants came to Australia from Southern and Eastern Europe and then the Middle East, we were called wogs or filthy whites. This term was used to separate us from the superior and privileged white population. We had our ‘smelly sandwiches’ as O’Brien puts it. The term ‘wog’ was used to punch us to the ground both physically and emotionally, to remind us of our place in the pecking order of Australia.
The term ‘wog’ was used to punch us to the ground both physically and emotionally, to remind us of our place in the pecking order of Australia.
We were at the bottom of the queue when it came to opportunities, and the arts were no different. The creators of shows like Acropolis Now and all the ‘wog’ shows that came along with it were very smart because they took the pain that was born from this racism and turned it into art. If white Australia was not going to open the door to our stories, then they would give them the comedy they wanted: comedy where they could laugh at us.
This word, coming out of a white person’s mouth, is a reminder of all that happened, of the racism endured and the art that was born from it. As an artist it’s a reminder that stereotypes are preferred because this is how white Australia like to enjoy us, like to understand us. Not individual people with unique stories to tell, but as collective, ethnic, wogs. We love your cooking but do we think you are on par with our intellect? No. The Channel Nine show Here Come The Habibs is an example of how even today, this is still happening. It's because of the existence of stereotypes that I wrote my poem 'Wog', which I turned into a short film.
This word, coming out of a white person’s mouth, is a reminder of all that happened, of the racism endured and the art that was born from it.
Do I think I get discriminated against based of my surname? Absolutely. My surname is ethnic which, in the writing world, or to an editor, often means I am only preoccupied with ethnic writing and will only appeal to an ethnic audience. Things have definitely shifted over the years, as O’Brien points out, and I don’t deny this. We have come a long way but the fight has hardly been won. Especially when O’Brien ends her piece saying that wog surnames have been accepted but Middle Eastern surnames have a way to go. This very statement is a reminder that there is a pecking order in Australia and there always has to be a new kid (or culture) on the block to pick on.
So can we please move on from the term wog? Stop looking at me through the lens of my culture. Just look at me as me, a person. It shouldn’t matter what my culture is, what matters is the story I want to tell. It doesn’t matter what a white person’s background is, so why does it matter so much for us?
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer, poet, filmmaker and the author of Love and F**k Poems. Her debut theatre show KORALY : “I say the wrong things all the time” will premiere at La Mama in Nov-Dec 2016.