I am not Black and I have never experienced violent racism in my life. But I know what it’s like to be treated differently because of the color of my skin.
Everyone’s talking about racism. But from my experience, when people talk about racism, they are talking about extremists. About the neo-Nazis, the far-right political parties, or your local xenophobic drunk.
Basically the people we don’t want to be friends with, and the people who aren’t on our newsfeed. They exist in a faraway land that has nothing to do with us.
Where Is the Racism?
However, since George Floyd’s death and the rise of Black Lives Matter protests, more people are starting to realize that racism doesn’t just exist among extremists. They are starting to realize that it also exists in a much more “subtle” way. (Subtle to those who are not affected by it.)
It exists in our institutions, policing, housing system, juristic systems, and even our healthcare. People are also starting to realize that, in some ways, they may have unknowingly gained certain advantages in life from this systemic racism.
As for myself, I’ve been having a lot more uncomfortable, yet important, conversations with my friends. And especially with my husband, who is white. We’ve always talked about racial issues and my experiences with racial discrimination. But never this intensely. It’s an ongoing process for sure and it’s been amazing. And emotional.
Racism and Microaggressions
I’m also looking to myself and my role as part of an Asian minority. Looking at the possible negative impact that I may have had on the fight against racism, by “ignoring” or minimizing the experiences I’ve had.
To me, my discovery of the word microaggression was quite important. It helped me to articulate a lot of my own experiences that I couldn’t quite categorize before, as overtly racist or sexist, or often both. Now, I’m starting to realize that they are more harmful than they seem.
They come in so many forms, often as “compliments.” “Oh, your English is so good!” Or “You must make really good Kimchi.” Kimchi is a Korean delicacy. I am not Korean.
Or “How can you be bad at maths?!” Or the most common one for me is men shouting across the street, or even whispering in my ear as they walk past, “Nihao.” Nihao is “Hello” in Chinese. I am not Chinese.
Time to Stop Brushing off the Comments
None of these comments seemed exactly harmful but they always made me feel “icky.” I often ignore such behavior, especially when it’s from men that I don’t know, which then makes me very disappointed and angry with myself.
And I’ve come to realize that, by ignoring these comments, I am trivializing them and could actually be doing more harm than good for my community. So now, at least when it comes from people that I know, I will always respond to it – while still fearing being accused of “overreacting.”
I don’t want to bring down the mood of the conversation, so most of the time, I will try to keep things light-hearted. But it’s hard to win in a situation like this, hard to manage your boundaries. You’re the only one carrying this emotional burden. I think that’s why most of the time people just brush it off, not acknowledging its impact on them.
Hide – or Have Pride in My Race?
I do think that, as an Asian minority member, I “get off” more lightly, as we are usually seen as less threatening and more submissive.
The generalized view of a stereotypical Asian is usually more positive than that of other ethnic groups. We are, as some say, “the model minority.” This, though, brings about its own issues.
One being that this is a completely flawed comparison and ignores the centuries of Black enslavement. It also greatly minimizes the role that racism plays in the persistent struggles of other minority groups.
However, saying all that, for a long time I still tried to make myself as “white” as possible. From my school, to university, to my workplace, I would do my best to assimilate and not act “too Thai.”
I’ve actually had a lot more experiences with sexism than racism. A lot more. It took a lot of growing for me to realize that I should embrace my difference rather than try to hide it.
Tackling Racism at Its Roots
The Black Lives Matter movement makes me feel both inspired and disheartened at the same time.
The widespread show of support helps reaffirm my faith in people. However, the fact that there even needs to be a BLM movement today makes me so angry and sad.
However, I do feel optimistic about it. BLM is not only trying to tackle overtly racist acts, but is also challenging the more subtle acts of racism, and the system that allows them.
More and more people are willing to look at themselves and question whether “not being racist” is enough. I really think it’s opening up a lot of people’s eyes, people who have always thought that racism doesn’t exist anymore.
The best way to fight racism for me would be an uncensored education in schools about race, racism and the history of racism. Or even history lessons that don’t see through rose-tinted glass.
Teaching kids the right way to not be a racist. And to celebrate and embrace different cultures and religions, instead of trying to be color-blind. I think for racism to be eradicated, it needs to start from early education.
White Lives Matter Too
You are really missing the point here. The BLM movement came into existence not to say that other lives don’t matter, but to say that Black lives matter too.
The BLM movement has to make these statements because of a history of discrimination, violence and subjugation. A history that they’ve had to endure due to the color of their skin.
A history that should have been, as it says, history. But sadly it’s still very much prevalent in the present day, even if it comes in a more “subtle” form.
Black Lives Matter was born because White Lives have always Mattered and Black lives have not.
Sai Cook was lead designer for the new Emerald Works brand.