*Caveat: Some of my best friends are white people, and they definitely fart. This post is not about them. It is about those who do not fart. And when I say “do not fart,” I mean, of course, “Do behave in a racist fashion which implies that only people of colour fart. Or eat smelly food. Or take our jobs. Or kill people.”
I don’t know if I will post this blog. I feel kind of embarrassed just writing about the R word. I am not a victim; I have not been disadvantaged by my race.
The thing is, a few experiences have been adding up lately and I don’t think they quite mean what I had always assumed.
I have had a few experiences lately which have left me no other word to explain them but with the R word.
I am writing about this because of a recent incident of overt racism in a professional context, which is not where you expect to encounter it. I had met this particular person, let’s call them X, a number of times and each time noticed that X didn’t seem to particularly like me. I assumed that X was shy, or nervous, or territorial, or perhaps just tired. But then we had a work meeting about a project and my husband was with me because we work together, and perhaps it was the sight of two Asians which was just too much for X. Certain words exploded out of her mouth as if she could not keep a lid on them, and when I heard them (and I don’t plan on sharing particulars as I don’t want a suit for libel), I laughed awkwardly because surely this wasn’t happening? But X did not laugh, and then went on to say several other things about groups of people who are of a similar skin colour to me (i.e. not quite white/right). So I stopped laughing.
The meeting proceeded, because what can you say to someone in power who says things like that?
Afterwards I processed what had happened. I reflected on my past exchanges with X; the physically drawing back, the not meeting my eye, the talking to my colleagues rather than me.
‘Ahah! That’s why X doesn’t like me!’ I cried to my husband. ‘Not because she is threatened by me (how cutely naive!), but because she is physically repulsed by me!’
It’s a very strange experience, to physically, viscerally repulse someone purely because of what you look like. This is what racism is: when someone doesn’t want to look at you, touch you, even smell you, because your body is slightly different to theirs around the eyes, and in the amount of melanin in your skin. That is enough to make someone recoil from your touch. It may as well have been you who let the fart rip in the lift on the way to the meeting. You would have been blamed anyway because white people don’t fart.
All my life I have been taught that if I behave properly and nicely, most rational people will respond accordingly. I was not told that sometimes, people will barely be able to look me in the eye because of the colour and shape of mine.
So when this does happen to me, as it has happened a number of times in my life and (sadly) more so in the last few years, my reaction is generally disbelief in the simple irrationality of it. Could an intelligent person really not like me because of what I look like?
Because racists aren’t always stupid or ignorant. However, they are always, always lazy. It is lazy to not fight the deep tribal urge to dislike what is different. It is lazy to not put yourself in someone else’s shoes or to not pull yourself up when you hear what your brain is saying on autopilot when you spot someone browner/yellower than you.
I too have been guilty of the visceral swerve. My Chinese mother raised me to distrust and dislike Chinese men (this type of internal racism is not uncommon). When I met and married my ABC, I had to overcome all my childhood-learned dogma. But I did, because I am not lazy (and he is super hot). And thank the gods, I was smart enough to recognise the man of my dreams, even if he looked like the type my mother and the rest of society had overtly and covertly warned me away from.
My experiences of racism seem trivial compared to the stuff many thousands of people put up with on a daily basis. Before I married my ABC, I experienced some mild racism – the occasional name-calling; one memorable egging (but to be honest, that could have simply been a random act of teenage-ness). However, since I married my ABC, I have become a secondary target for the racism which has dogged him his whole life and have come to understand that sometimes, people hate you for No Good Reason.
With him, my Eurasian-ness is no longer mistaken for whiteness and is instead fully absorbed into his Chinese skin, even though he was born in Wollongong and I in Brisbane. People think we are siblings because what Asian man can have a sexual identity? People think I can’t speak English because I am walking next to a University of Sydney LLB graduate who happens to look Chinese. People think my food smells weird and nasty because I am eating delicious cold rolls on the train and sitting with my Asian husband so therefore we are stinky and nasty (who could possibly think plum sauce is stinky?! Lazy racist people with no taste, that’s who).
The professional incident I mentioned above made me laugh, then made me feel unsafe because it made me wonder how many other people might be going around, hating me because of how I look. And then that just made me feel sad.
So I am writing this to stop feeling sad. I want to believe that each time the pendulum swings, it swings further in my direction. Right now it seems rather far off in the distance, and here I am, waving at it to come on over.
What would I say to all the racist people who make me feel unsafe because they feel unsafe because of people like me? I guess I would say this: Get you DNA checked. You’re probably just as yellow / brown / black / other as the rest of us, underneath your burnt red skin.