faces of (the human) race #3
Name: Sanny Veloo
Identifying Race: An embodiment of love
Ethnicity: Singapore Indian
Current Residency: Melbourne, Australia
What was your first experience with racism or a racially charged situation?
The first experience I had was when I was really young. I think I was 7 or something. I was playing at a playground and I was trying to jump off this ramp with my BMX bike. I fell and hit my head on the pavement and there was blood all over my face. My friend who was playing there with me ran to help me, but I remember his mom was there and she pulled him away and said, “Don’t touch that boy, Indian blood is dirty.” My friend couldn’t help me, so I had to cycle all the way home with blood all over my face to my house and then go to the hospital.
Did you continue to experience things like this, growing up in Singapore?
I experienced it throughout my teenage years, but now I wonder if it was because of race or because I had long hair and I was always wearing rock n’ roll t-shirts. Every time I was standing at a bus stop and saw a group of cops, I always knew they were going to check me. Every f*cking time! So I had to be very careful not to put anything dodgy in my bag…
Sometimes [being Indian] works to your advantage…when it was an Indian cop, he’d be cool. The Malay cops are super nice and understanding and would comment on my t-shirts, saying they liked the band too. The Chinese cops serving NS, would always give me shit. They’d be like, ‘What are you doing standing here?’ I’d be like, ‘I’m waiting for the bus!’ I had a lot of problems, but damn it sounds like I’m being racist now. See it’s so f*cked up! It goes both ways sometimes.
Have you felt racism in Australia?
Yes. It’s more a systemic racism and prejudice against immigrants. I tried to get a place with two other Asian guys, we couldn’t get approved for anything. Then I tried with my white Aussie friend, man, it was so ridiculously easy. We got the first place we applied for. So now I know, you have to have a white Australian friend with you makes things easier.
I’ve been there long enough know now how to integrate into the culture. I can go into Aussie mode. I can come back and go into Singapore mode, and when I’m in the States I go into American mode. I’ve learned that if you do that, people are more willing to accept you because it shows that you’re making an effort to understand their culture and be a part of it.
So, do you have to sacrifice who you are to be accepted? Is that hurtful?
No, it’s not hurtful in any way. I was willing to grow. I saw it as the game I had to play. I said, f*ck it, let’s do it. I was willing to do whatever it took. I wasn’t super traditional anyways, so it seemed natural to me. My values are spiritual—I have the same values wherever I am. It doesn’t matter the country I’m in. In that way, I am who I am no matter what country I’m in.
But I do think countries definitely need to be more accepting of immigrants. I wish that people would base their opinions on character and the quality of the work others produce. That’s the only thing you should be judging people on.
What kind of challenges have you faced in the music business in Australia?
In the Australian music business, there’s a subtle form of racism. They’re trying to export their image of what it is to be Australian, so most of their stars have strong Aussie accents. So you don’t see immigrants as Australian music and movie stars. If you’re not part of what the industry is looking for, it is just very hard to get to the top.
I have actually been told by managers of big bands that while I am a great songwriter, I should get an Australian singer for my band instead—that I should just write the songs and let someone else sing them. They say I would have a greater chance of success in the industry. I’ve been told by image consultants that I should go to acting school and learn to put on an Australian accent onstage, so I can be marketed as this “exotic” Aussie guy.
That must be extremely frustrating, to be told that who you are is not ‘marketable.’
You go through phases. First, you feel mad, you feel upset. But, you know it’s not going to change anytime soon, so then you just have to go back to your heroes and read their stories and how they struggled to make it…I think of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz and BB King all the time and the kind of shitty things they had to go through in the 60’s and before.
Those stories are my inspiration—thinking of the racial and social barriers they broke through with the sheer quality of their music. I mean BB King…his parents were slaves. He came from a background of poverty. Lenny Kravitz is half black, half white, so the white labels didn’t want to sign him because he wasn’t white enough and the black labels didn’t to work with him because he wasn’t black enough. But they all made it.
What is it that’s perpetuating these kinds of prejudices in Australia?
I feel like it comes from the older generation, which unfortunately still controls the power. But I never feel that from the people I perform for. When I play in front of Australian people, I always get a lot of love and support. I love performing here.
So what can we as humans do to stamp out racism?
I think people need to practice universal love and compassion. Starting from their families first. Love your parents, your cousins, your aunties and uncles more. Then your friends. Every day try to do one act of love. If everybody could ask themselves, ‘What is one thing I can do today that’s an act of love for another person today?’ –that would start an amazing change that would snowball.