When I was younger, I used to detest being Chinese.
I didn't realize it then, but I knew something was different about my body and appearance. I had smaller eyes and skin that wasn't fair or pale. My hair was just ordinary and my nose was flat.
As a kid, other kids made it their job to point out differences between me and them through interrogation and passive statements. Why is your skin such a weird colour? Can you even see out of your eyes? Why are you using sticks to eat your food? I thought you were good at math. Your language sounds weird.
I so desperately wanted to be White.
It took me years of self-compassion and unlearning to realize that my racialized identity is a blessing. It makes me who I am. I have a racialized body and face that makes me look different from some, and that makes me unique.
But as many of my fellow friends of colour can attest, what makes us unique can also be a significant burden. Our diversity and difference have been severely weaponized, both knowingly and unknowingly. In every sphere — education, professional, creative, even religious — people stop at my identity. Before I open my mouth and speak, there are already a number of assumptions that pop up.
In an economics class, people naturally assume that I'm a whiz at numbers (flattering, but unfortunately I can't relate). At a piano performance competition, people look down at me when I've forgotten a majority of the sonata I was slated to perform. When I was dating, men hypersexualized my racial identity and called me exotic. One man went as far as to say that they had finally "caught one". I came to understand afterwards that I was his first "oriental girlfriend".
What's even more unnerving are the passive "jokes" that people make. They try to pass it off as humour without even realizing the implications of what they are saying. People make "jokes" about the animals that I've eaten, how I speak, and my ability to see beyond my eyelids.
Suddenly the gloves come off when I speak up. "It was just a joke." "Lighten up." "Why can't you have a sense of humour about this?" "Obviously this was a satire."
That last one, if you could believe, has been used on me a number of times.
I can't believe that in this day and age we still have to talk about this. But if you have to rely on attacking a person's identity, appearance, or culture for humour, then perhaps you need to think about getting another day-job.
I hadn't written anything about COVID-19 and the anti-Asian sentiments around it because I thought that 1) we were all better than that and 2) things would eventually tone down. But what I neglected to see was that the more time I waited, the more I was complicit in letting such behaviour take place.
Night after night, I've seen far too many news items where Asian people of all ages and genders are being abused simply for being Asian. There have even been cases where people were assumed to be Asian, and they were attacked for it.
If you have to rely on attacking a person's identity, appearance, or culture for humour, then perhaps you need to think about getting another day-job.
Thanks to the proliferation of the myth of COVID-19 as a "China virus", suddenly many folks have taken it upon themselves to attack people of Asian heritage. I've seen it on the news and among friends of mine. I'm thankful that, at the time of writing this, I've only been subjected to a few passive-aggressive comments on my ethnicity and nothing that warrants assault.
But how twisted is that? I've become numb to verbal abuse and the racism that has remained unchecked for years and years.
Newsflash: anti-Asian sentiments have been around the moment Asian immigrants have arrived on this continent. COVID-19 just replaced the batteries in a flashlight that was already doing a poor job at revealing the racism that's been happening.
As mentioned, it took me a long time to come around and see my ethnicity as an integral part of my identity. It's also become abundantly clear that I need to check myself in the way that I relate to other persons, coloured or not.
The injustices that we've seen with violence against Black folks at the hands of police officers, poor treatment of refugees and migrants, and spreading lies around about populations are unfortunately nothing new. Like many, I've become tired at the fact that I need to write something like this, try to educate and correct, or fight back at times.
I realize now that as a kid, I spent my entire life fighting two battles: I was fighting the assumptions of other people with little to no success, as well as fighting my own identity for something that is impossible to change. And when you've spent your entire life fighting for your identity and fighting for acceptance, you can see why I don't particularly find the off-colour (pardon the pun), casually racist humour funny.
As I write this, there is a huge part of me that is already in despair that this will continue to be our reality for a long time to come. The small role I can play in helping to combat this is to speak up and stand with other people of colour.
Never be ashamed of your identity and the fact that you may look different from other people. Our diversity is our strength, and we can make it that way if we all stop and think critically about what we're going to say.
I don't write this to condemn or attack folks who aren't coloured. I recognize and respect the fact that while Caucasian is a broad term, within it there is a huge variety. This in itself is special and contributes to our diversity. But I'm asking for you, with White privilege, to also be a voice. Many times our voices, though we're speaking from our own experience, get sidelined or even silenced. You inherently carry within you power through your bodies and beings. Please work with us. We need your support.
I'm hopeful that we can destroy racism, and if it takes me until the end of my lifetime, then it's a fight worth fighting.