By Esther Loi
Growing up in an environment where I was part of the racial majority, I was oblivious to how pervasive racism was in our society until I moved to the United Kingdom for university. I was slapped in the face with first-hand experiences of racial prejudice that made me realise how being an ethnic minority actually reduced me to someone small and insignificant.
As an Asian, I have lost count of the number of times someone has approached me on the streets to shout Chinese greetings at me and laugh hysterically, or to automatically assume that I am from China due to my skin colour. I am tired of stereotypes of Asians only originating from China, as though Asia is a region with only one country – China.
While I get offended by overtly and outrageously racist statements, what perturbs me the most is the unintentional racism weaved into daily conversations, better known as microaggression, simply because these stereotypes have been confused with reality. There was once when I was in class and my tutor brought up an example of the Chinese government’s economic policies, looked at me, referred to me as a Chinese student and asked me to elaborate on “my president’s actions”.
I understand that she genuinely did not know that I was Singaporean, that my first language is not Chinese, and that I was a complete stranger to Chinese politics just like her. Nonetheless, I felt wronged, like my identity was set by a racial stereotype.
Is racism so inherently embedded in our society that rude behaviour is not only excused, but normalised?
For anyone experiencing racism, the most logical thing to do is to dispel these assumptions, and to allow other people to understand that their actions were wrong. Racist comments might sometimes stem from ignorance, and this is the best timing to rectify the perpetrator’s mistakes.
Always stay calm and begin by politely informing the perpetrator of your discomfort. Clarify their intent behind their words, as they might not have understood the true implications of their statements.
In some situations, especially if the perpetrator is not receptive to learning from their mistakes or is aggressive, it is better to ignore your intuitive feelings of anger, and not waste your efforts preaching to them.
While directly speaking up and defending yourself is the best course of action, it may not be ideal if you are not calm enough to have a productive conversation or if you are in an unsafe environment in public.
Individual incidents of racism actually amount to a larger societal issue that many people, besides yourself, experience in different forms and degrees. It is important to raise awareness for racism because of how insidiously prevalent this social phenomenon is. You can do this by sharing your personal encounters with racism online to generate some open conversations and to enlighten others on certain micro-aggressive misconceptions. Find someone, a community group or an organisation that is willing to help if racism takes on a serious persistent form of racial bullying.
Speaking from personal experience, I usually do not feel comfortable enough to verbalise my responses to racist remarks. It is honestly quite a frightening experience being on the receiving end of racism, and I often choose to walk away and not retaliate in order to stay safe. Instead, I would confide in someone I trust about the incident to gain some form of emotional support.
Ultimately, when you are dealing with racism, it is very important to remember that you are never the one at fault and you should not feel wronged for someone else’s insensitive comments.