Mehreen Faruqi

Image source: The Greens

"Dear The Australian: Not all brown people are the same"

Women of colour continue to be mistaken for one another in the media and beyond.

Whether it's in social settings, the workplace, online or in the media, women of colour are sadly mistaken for one another all the time.

The Australian newspaper has been criticised after an incorrect image was used in an article about Senator Mehreen Faruqi.

Journalist and media commentator Antoinette Lattouf took to X (formerly known as Twitter) over the weekend to draw attention to the publication's inclusion of a photo of Senator Fatima Payman that was captioned, "Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi".

"Dear @Australian. Not all brown people are the same. We hope soon you’ll be able to tell us apart. Regards, Antoinette," read Lattouf's social media post.

While both Faruqi and Payman are culturally diverse, Muslim senators in Australian parliament, it's arguably hard to mistake them for another — especially when Payman wears a hijab and Faruqi doesn't.

Lattouf later posted that she understands "mistakes happen across the board" and that even white people could be the subject of a mix-up in what's a very fast-paced online news media landscape. However, "it feels as though even among high profile brown and black people they routinely get mistaken for one another," she said. "I doubt it’s comparable and as common for white people who are high profile."

This is an issue I've written about before, but it continues to occur. In May last year, Liberal MP Fiona Martin denied confusing her Labor opponent, Sally Sitou with another Asian Australian, Tu Le. During a segment on 2GB that also featured Sitou, Martin said, "Kristina Keneally kicked you out of Fowler too".

It seemed as though Martin was referring to Vietnamese Australian lawyer Tu Le being sidelined for Labor pre-selection in Fowler after the political party's decision to parachute Senator Kristina Keneally into the safe seat in September 2021.

Chinese Australian Sitou later tweeted that she'd "never sought to run for Fowler".

"Earlier today in a candidates’ debate, my opponent Fiona Martin accused me of having previously contested preselection in Fowler. I have never sought to run for Fowler. I live in Reid, my son goes to school in Reid, and I am excited by the opportunity to represent my community," she wrote. "My opponent either has me confused for a different Asian-Australian, or she is deliberately misleading people. Either way, she should apologise."

People of colour being mistaken for one another doesn't just happen in politics. Writer and novelist Celeste Ng has previously spoken about being mistaken for fellow Chinese-American author Amy Tan.

At the 2021 Oscars, a journalist for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association seemingly mistook actor Daniel Kaluuya for Leslie Odom Jr, when she asked Judas and the Black Messiah star Kaluuya, who won Best Supporting Actor, how he felt about being “directed by Regina”. However, Regina King directed fellow nominee Leslie Odom Jr in One Night in Miami. The journalist later apologised but claimed she hadn't confused the two actors.

In 2022, some Australian media outlets misidentified Pania — who is of Indian and Māori heritage — as First Nations artist Barkaa, when she was incorrectly named by a photo agency.

In 2019, Who magazine magazine published a photo of Ugandan Australian model Flavia Lazarus and incorrectly identified her as Sudanese Australian model Adut Akech alongside an interview with Akech.

"This has upset me, has made me angry, it has made me feel very disrespected and to me is unacceptable and inexcusable under any circumstances," Akech wrote on Instagram.

"Not only do I personally feel insulted and disrespected but I feel like my entire race has been disrespected too and it is why I feel it is important that I address this issue. Whoever did this clearly thought that was me in that picture and that’s not okay. It goes to show that people are very ignorant and narrow-minded that they think every black girl or African people looks the same."

Later issuing an apology, Who magazine said that "the agency that set up our interview with Adut Akech supplied us with the wrong photograph to accompany the piece".

Those of us as women of colour without high profiles are also often mistaken for others.

As a South Asian Australian woman, I remember attending a red carpet event a few years ago where I was mistaken by a publicist for the one other brown journalist who worked in my department at a major newsroom. "You must be Karishma?" they asked. "No, I'm Alicia," I replied.

All these years later, thinking about the incident evokes a sense of uneasiness. I'm triggered every time I hear of a person experiencing something similar. It feels as though no matter our unique achievements, accolades and efforts to contribute to society, we can so easily be discounted as 'that woman of colour', void of individuality and readily swapped in for another who has the same skin tone. Sometimes it's these more subtle racial aggressions that cut deeper.

Missing Perspectives has contacted The Australian and Senator Mehreen Faruqi for comment.