My family and I are moving imminently from the house I’ve called home since I was around 10 years old. But that’s a story for another day. So with the impending move in mind, at the weekend, my parents and I went to view a house. We pulled up to the house and parked, when suddenly the would-be neighbours erupted seemingly from nowhere. Just beside their own car, they began littering a tyranny of abuse at us.
“F***ing Chinese c***s!”
“How dare you park outside our house!” (Just to clarify, we hadn’t parked on their property, we had parked on the drive of the house we were viewing.)
“We OWN this house!”
“F***ing Chinkies, coming over here…”
We hurriedly made our way into the house where our estate agent was already waiting in the hallway and I was completely shellshocked. Needless to say, I can’t remember a single wink from the viewing — except that it was residence to one super cute pup! — and we won’t be purchasing the house.
I mean, imagine that on your literal doorstep.
Sadly, I don’t have to imagine it. Because although this is one of the more extreme examples of how I and my fellow Chinese peers are treated, it isn’t a one-off. There will always be that time we had a brick through our takeaway window. Mum and Dad taped card over it and continued trading because we couldn’t afford not to. The time some people from secondary school told me I was ‘only able to go to school because they bought a takeaway last week’, even though we were at public school. There’s that time my sister and I were on a dog walk in our hometown, and viciously told to go back to where we came from, accompanied by disgusting racial slurs in a so-called ‘Chinese accent’.
Almost daily, I’m crippled by fear that when I’m outdoors alone, someone will say something that intimidates me so much I can’t fight back. And daily, I battle a very specific anxiety that someone will push me onto the train tracks or in front of a bus that I’m waiting for, an anxiety that began when this happened to someone in London; the result of a hate crime. It’s incredibly easy to imagine that, yes, I will say something the next time someone does this to me, but as the victim and as the other, it is frankly terrifying to be on the other side of a furious tirade. Trust me.
During a time of total uncertainty kick-started by Brexit (don’t get me started on that), hate crime is up and there’s no two ways about it. My tiny weapon of choice? To ensure I speak in my usual British accent — for I did grow up in the UK, after all — and reiterate that I’m not an ‘other’. I know this sounds crazy and it probably isn’t doing anything for the wider community and situation, but a part of me thinks that if I’m passing by Dave and Deborah with their Westie on a dog walk and they hear that I sound like them, they won’t think racist thoughts. That they won’t see me as a second-rate citizen.
People are becoming emboldened by the actions of others to act on their awful beliefs and thoughts; but who’s to say this can’t be the very act that emboldens the rest of us to stand up for others? I’m endlessly thankful to everybody that sent me a kind message of support after I Tweeted a short thread at the weekend. But I’d like to implore you, the reader, to take heed of your privilege, if that’s the case, and please stand up for us minorities whose voices are never heard.
So… We went to a house viewing this morning and before we even got out of the car, the neighbours-to-be started shouting 'f***ing Chinese c***s' at us. So we won't be buying that one. #BeingBritishChinese— Michelle Chai (@winyeemichelle) October 5, 2019
Don’t let them pass it off as ignorance. Don’t let them justify it ‘because they had a black/Asian/Chinese friend when they were born’. Don’t let them use racial slurs because they’ve always used those terms. Call them out. Steer them in the right direction.
A post-racial UK doesn’t exist right now. Not to me, at least. But I have hopes that one day, enough people will band together and call people out, teach them small lessons in the right direction. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem this big and it absolutely needs to start from the ground up. It could be something as small as recognising your privilege (even I am privileged as a light-skinned, regular-framed Chinese woman), correcting the way you refer to yourself or to peers, taking a stand when your colleague says something inappropriate, or standing up for people on the end of racial abuse, or it could be as big as reporting hate crime when you see it.
I’m just counting my lucky stars that we found out the neighbours-to-be were raging racists before deciding to move in.
Editor’s Note: I have since reported the people who did this to us. By a stroke of luck, we of course had their address. It’s the first time I’ve ever had the courage, and information needed, to file a police report for hate crime.