I’ve been ticking one box my whole life and it’s hard to consider that, with the way ME affects my life, I might be ticking another one – sadly the fact is that I’m not as able as I used to be.
But today I’m going to talk about the first box as I’m not there yet with ticking the other box.
So here’s the box I’m going to talk about – let’s go gently as it’s a delicate and emotional subject! But we need to talk.
It’s just over a month since the death of George Floyd and an outpour of racial awareness and unfairness erupted. Black squares clogged up my social media and I was appreciative of those who were aware of their privilege who posted but also aware that some of us who fit the ethnicity boxes – didn’t. I didn’t post a black square.
It bugged me – why didn’t I? After much thinking I realised that it’s because as ‘Yellow’ I’ve spent most of my time trying to fit in and not raising the race issue – I know it’s hindered my life but also as ‘Yellow’ I think I’m perceived as less different and less of an unknown – which helps. The British Chinese minority represent 0.7% of the UK population and are known as the Silent Minority. Chinese children tend to do well at school – but interestingly their educational achievement does not translate into better rates of employment. We tend to stay quiet as maybe ‘Yellow’ is a less threatening colour and culturally younger females don’t speak out. However I realise my privilege of being seen as ‘Yellow’ and am thankful for it (even if I still feel discrimination).
At primary school I remembered the slanted eye gestures and the “Chinky” chants that came of being one of the few ethnic minority children. I was lucky that although English was my parents’ second language – they worked in the NHS and used English on a daily basis. This meant that they could engage with the school and ask the teaching staff questions when needed. So thank you mum and dad – thank you for being able and willing to engage with the school to understand the UK education system – I know it took perseverance and tenacity. I know English was your second language and having not been educated in the UK – you didn’t know what a State Grammar School was – but you listened when your daughter said she’d heard of one and wanted to go to one. You found out what they were and supported me even though we came from an ‘English as an Additional Language’ (EAL) household. There was no chance of a tutor but we worked together on it. Thank you as you helped me broaden my opportunities and increase my privilege in this world.
Starting my career – I realised being a Chinese-looking female – you look young and can lack gravitas. I was lucky to receive some training when I was told bluntly that my voice hindered me. The enthusiastic and higher timbre of my voice re-enforced that I was young and not experienced – I learned quickly when presenting or participating in meetings I needed to speak lower with more bass in my voice. Plus I had to repeat points and fight to get recognition of them – it’s a lot easier to recognise a point when it’s raised by someone who you feel familiar to (because of their looks) even though you don’t know them or their experience. Young, female, non-white – I did okay but was conscious of it.
I’ve been told multiple times to ‘Go Back to Where you Come From!’. I’ve been asked in front of others ‘Are you being Racist?!’. Both times ironically by older white males – and no neither times was I being racist. I was talking about race and colour but I wasn’t being racist – I wasn’t disciminating against someone because they had a different colour – I was talking about it – I was conscious. It hurt and put me back in my box and sometimes it’s just easier to stay in the box and be a known quantity.
I think it’s human nature to fear what’s unknown and to like what’s familiar – I believe we’re ALL guilty of some sort of unconscious bias. For those who say I don’t see colour – you do. For those who say they’re not racist – I don’t believe you. Saying either of those phrases raises my alarm bells – I need to tread gently in discussions with this individual. It’s much better to say what you are rather than what you aren’t. When curious about someone’s background – you may be scared of offending the other person but if you approach it openly and with an interest to find out more – I doubt you’ll offend them. But maybe don’t ask ‘Where are you from?” – that’s too loaded because we’ve been told so many times to go back to where we came from even if we were born here. What’s your cultural heritage? Do you mind telling me more about yourself, your background or family heritage?
I’m aware of my privilege and culture. Are you? I’m sharing my experiences so maybe you can start to understand. From experience – females will more easily understand as we’ve been together on a similar journey and those who are less able or have been affected by chronic illness will more easily understand too. Sorry for the generalisations – perhaps you’re a white male and you’re angry at me for generalising. But I’m aware that I’m generalising – I’m conscious that I’m generalising. Are you conscious? Or are you still unconscious without realising it? Try this test – I have.
However enough about me – currently there is one house that is really burning and I need to speak up even thought it’s hard.
So I’m trying – I’m trying to speak out.
I get you Reni Eddo-Lodge as to why you wrote “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. I get how you felt you can “no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience” – it is SO emotionally draining trying to get your point across.
Because they have privilege and have never experienced not having it.
Thank You to the White Male Ally who spoke up publicly and inspired me to speak out more.