“What does the word ‘expat’ actually mean?” asks a German friend politely. “What’s the difference between an ‘expat’ and an ‘Ausländer‘? They’ve started saying ‘expat’ in German now, and I’m not sure what it means.”
He looks a bit embarrassed.
“Oh,” I say. “I’m not sure either. I think it means white. I think white immigrants are always expats.”
“Oh, right,” he says, and looks a bit more embarrassed. “But, erm, I mean, Jacinta, er, you’re not exactly – I mean you are quite – erm, well, you’re not dark-skinned, but are you, are you, erm, white? Are you actually white?”
I sigh forlornly. “I dunno,” I say. “Half the time, whenever I say I’m non-white, people look at me pityingly, and say: ‘Oh, you think you’re non-white, do you?’ But if I say I’m white, then they look at me pityingly and say: ‘So you think you’re white, do you?’ I guess I’m just half-white.”
He laughs at that. “I suppose it’s what you think that counts,” he says.
“I’m half-white,” I say.
“Okay,” he says.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be white,” I say.
“Yeah. I thought I ruined my auntie’s wedding photos. I was a bridesmaid, you know? And all the other bridesmaids were white – all my little cousins, and one of the bridegroom’s nieces. My cousin Richy was a pageboy. And the dresses were beautiful – just silky and gorgeous, absolutely amazing. Peach and oh, they were wonderful. They were really beautiful dresses, really stylish, really magnificent. But I thought that peach didn’t go with my skin-tone. And you know something? It was kind of internalized racism, and it was kind of right. I do look nicer with a bit of red on, you know. I always think Jennifer Lopez dresses too white. Too much pink, too much peach, too much pale turquoise. I was kind of right. But I was kind of just being racist. I didn’t ruin my auntie’s photos that much. Whenever I looked at them, as a kid, I felt really guilty. I thought she must’ve wished she’d have got just one photo without me in it. That’s what I thought.”
“That’s really funny. I mean, a bit sad, and really funny.”
“And then when I was a teenager? I really wanted to be white. I mean, I was basically Michael Jackson, although they said after he died that he really did have a skin condition, didn’t they? Well, I was basically Michael Jackson before we found out that it wasn’t total bollocks about the skin condition. I used to paste all this green stuff on my face, it was meant to take the ‘redness’ out. But really I just wanted to take the ‘brownness’ out. And then I’d cover myself in foundation, but real pale foundation, like you know 01 on the foundation chart, like foundation that’s meant for pale, creamy girls like Kiera Knightley? Porcelain-colour. And I look at pictures of myself as a teenager and I think I look like I had cancer.”
“And I had this internal white-o-meter going on in my head. If people thought I was Spanish or Italian I’d be, like: Jackpot! Coz I thought they were white. And if people thought I was Greek or Turkish I was like: Oh, okay. Coz they’re fairly white. But if someone realized I was half-Indian, I was, you know – I was gutted. And if someone thought I was fully Indian, I was totally gutted. I’d go home and cover myself in talcum powder.”
“That’s really fucked-up, isn’t it? Of all the very many fucked-up things you’ve told me about yourself, that’s probably the winner.”
“Oh, I was really fucked-up as a teenager,” I say happily. “I used to shave my arms. Even the fucked-up porned-up slut-shaming victim-blaming arsehole-waxing girls from nowadays don’t shave their arms. You’re not meant to shave your arms. It makes the hair grow back stubbly.”
“Do you mean your actual arms?”
“And once,” I say, “once, my purse got stolen. I was 17 years old. And I went to the police station to fill out a form. You know, to report the crime? And I had to tick a box. To describe myself. There were four boxes. White/Caucasian, Indian/Pakistani, Black/Afro-Caribbean, or ‘Other.’ And I ticked ‘Indian/Pakistani.’ And he changed it to ‘White/Caucasian.’ The copper did. And I said to him: “I’m half-Indian.” And he said to me – he said to me – he literally said to me: “It doesn’t matter what your roots are, it just matters what you look like.” That’s what he said. That was the happiest day of my life, that was.”
“I had no idea people felt like this,” says my friend, and looks a bit worried.
“Oh, I don’t anymore,” I say, reassuringly. “Enough German boys have played Bollywood music and made me put on a bindi before eating out my pussy for half an hour for me to have got over that little complex, to be honest. I even go to the solarium now and everything.”
“I suppose it’s just racist, categorizing people in the first place,” he says. “Why do we need those stupid boxes. There’s no difference between Germans and Ausländer, let alone between Ausländer and expats.”
“Expats are immigrants from white countries. I reckon. So, even if you’re not white, you’re still an expat, if the country you come from is mainly white.”
“It’s so complicated,” he says. “Are Spanish people expats?”
“Yeah,” I say. “They’re white, aren’t they?”
“Are they?” he asks.
“I think so,” I say.
“Yes,” he says. “I think you’re right.”
“To be honest,” I say uncertainly.
“To be honest, this whole conversation has probably been unbearably racist. Because the truth is, the only race is the human race.”
“Who said that?” he asks.
“Oh,” I say. “I don’t know who said it. There was a Body Shop bag with it printed on in the early 1990s.”
“The Body Shop,” he says.
“That’s where I used to buy all the green stuff from. You know, so I could – so I could white myself up.”
“Yeah,” he says. “You were in white-face.”
“Exactly,” I say, and start laughing. It’s a funny old world, isn’t it? I think of what my mum always says: ‘There’s nowt so queer as folk.’ That’s definitely true. There’s nowt so queer as folk and there’s nowt so fucked-up as a bi-racial teenager, either. And I’m still not sure what the word ‘expat’ really, really, actually means. I expect it’s Latin or something. Answers on a postcard, please…”
This Thursday, March 28 come to see Jacinta’s Lesebühne Rakete 2000 with Lea Streisand, Sven Van Thom and herself plus Margarete Stokowski and Frédéric Valin, 21:00 | Ä-Bar, Weserstr. 40, 9 pm. Be there or be square.