In the wake of coronavirus fear and panic, racism against East Asians is rife.
I know that because I’ve been asked if I have coronavirus and where my family are from/currently living, I’ve been unfortunate enough to overhear racist remarks said about me but not to me, and I’ve been actively avoided in public. Sadly it is nothing more or less than what my family and I had been expecting since the original news story broke.
So how have we reached the tipping point in 2020 where it feels more normal to expect ignorance, racism and xenophobia than to feel safe in just being who we are?
On one occasion, I spent an entire evening speaking to someone (anonymous, no photo, identified as a white American woman) on Twitter about how I was a person of colour even though a) didn’t see colour so therefore ‘wasn’t racist’, b) she only knows two races: white and black, and c) she wanted the last say.
Let’s break that down. She doesn’t see colour so, therefore, isn’t racist. I believe this is one of the most harmful things you could say or believe in a society where racism still exists and strongly affects a huge portion of every community. It’s important to ‘see colour’ and to listen to the stories of people of colour in order to truly understand the root of the issues, what the existing problems are, and how we can move forward and tackle these problems. She also only knows of white and black. And here is where I have struggled. I’m not white. I’m not black. I’m reminded of this every day when race discussions leave out Asians. East Asians, South Asians, West Asians…
We are largely forgotten about; we’re the silent minority.
The ‘Silent Minority’
When Piers Morgan was racist live on air on Good Morning Britain in January (catch up here), he was not held accountable by ITV. Instead, they brushed it off as Morgan’s attempt to make a light-hearted joke. Which, is a joke in itself.
By allowing high-profile people to continue making jokes at the expense of minorities, systemic racism is only enhanced – it can never be fully solved if we continue this way. However one good thing that came from this very public racist remark against East Asians is that it started an uproar amongst the British-Chinese community in the UK.
More than 40,000 Ofcom complaints were registered and the supporting clip that was uploaded by ITV to YouTube – for what reason I can’t even imagine – was taken down. Finally – the tide was shifting.
East Asians are often labelled the silent minority, and I’d extend that to all Asians, in that we put our heads down, work hard, endure and simply keep quiet about what is happening or has happened to us. When I reported xenophobic behaviour last year (you can read why here), my parents berated me and said I should keep quiet and then reporting it might just be the start of more (hatred). I think otherwise.
Challenging being a ‘silent minority’
As a British-Chinese woman, I feel strongly about speaking up about my experiences in the hope it resonates with even one person in a similar situation to me. A recent feature shared on Stylist.co.uk put it so well – Yuan Ren says:
“As a Chinese woman, I find that the words “East-Asian women” always come with connotations here in the West. We’re skinny, timid, soft-skinned, submissive, sexually liberated – a mystery that’s full of contradictions.”
This is further evidenced by acts including the US’s Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 (now abolished) and the UK’s Aliens Act in 1905 (also abolished, although just look at the name ffs) that ‘sought to restrict entry to poor and low-skilled foreign works’. As recently as 2017, The Guardian reported that ‘Chinese report highest levels of racial harassment in UK’.
All of my life I’ve been subtly told by family, teachers (at regular state school and at weekend Chinese school) and those around me to be unheard, submissive, quiet. But in a world that’s moving rapidly towards calling out those who are being unfair, racist, homophobic… I wonder why we’re left out. By sharing my own experiences with a diverse, albeit largely white British or white American readership, I can begin to break down the walls a little and share what the mainstream media often fails to. We exist. And we’re suffering because others forget we do.
So where is the race conversation going?
Whilst the race conversation is largely moving towards anti-racism in many fields, as a British-born Chinese woman I find I’m not quite at that position. I’m still fighting daily to help others understand that racism isn’t simply black and white.
Xenophobia extends to all races, each person that is prejudiced against simply for their race. Is it lack of knowledge, lack of education or something more sinister? I’m not sure. I’m loathe to chalk much to ignorance with the current ‘woke’ culture, but then again I still regularly experience racism – mostly from white people but also often from other ethnic minorities.
What do you think about the ‘silent minority’ label? And do you feel similarly about the race conversation? If you enjoyed this post, I’ll be sharing a new post next week about reclaiming ‘yellow’ and what it means to me.