Coming To Terms With My Race

It’s…kind of strange talking about what it’s like growing up as someone who looks Asian in a country like Australia. We often tout our nation as a multicultural haven, and whenever I mention any form of racism to foreigners they’re shocked that such things happen in Australia, yet many Aussies I met on my travels apologised for our country being so racist.

The even stranger thing, though, was that I thought it was…normal.

Growing up in Sydney my life, it can often be difficult to see beyond what I know as life. As I’ve written about previously, Australian media is full of white people. I know I don’t watch much TV anymore, but when all the people you look up to growing up are white, that is automatically who you aspire to be. And when you know you’ll never look like those people, it’s hard not to feel slightly inadequate.

I remember always wanting to be friends with the “cool” kids, and of course the “cool” kids were a bunch of white, sporty, good looking kids. Not that I got that many blatantly racist remarks, but there was a lot of the white kids sticking together, and the Asian kids being less able to integrate well with the other kids unless they were super sporty.

It could be that it was all in my head – that I felt somehow lacking because I was Asian – but because that’s how things were in my childhood and I didn’t know any better, I honestly thought that we, as Asians, were always to be slightly inferior. It’s all well and good to be told that racism is wrong and we’re all equal, but when your life experience tells you otherwise, it’s hard to really believe that.

At the beginning of my trip when people asked me if Australia is racist, I thought for a second and replied, “no, not really.” But as I met many different Aussies on my travels and the topic of race came up, I was actually kind of surprised to hear them say “uh, yeah, Australia is super racist.”

One Aussie-Asian friend overseas mentioned how on a trip to QLD he was yelled “ching-chong ching-chong” on the streets as he was walking by. This shocked me. I really didn’t think Australia was this bad. And a Canadian-Asian told me that on exchange he was told to “go home.”

This is what first clued me in that maybe how I was viewing the world was a bit wrong. Combine this with the fact that I got along really well with people of all colours (including white guys and girls) and that I wasn’t being completely ignored online by relatively attractive guys who are white, but that I’m actually managing to meet and get along with them and…oh my gosh. Australia is bloody racist!

And the more this continued to happen – the more I met people who didn’t see me for the colour of my hair and skin but actually just got to know me, and the more I was told I was interesting and, dare I say, attractive by the sort of people who would never even give me a reply back home – the more Australia left a bitter taste in my mouth.

But more so than that, I realised that my weird inferiority complex for being Asian was really unwarranted. No longer did I feel the need to hide the more “Asian” parts of my life and try and portray a more “white” self to fit in. I think I would used to downplay or bag out things like having to go back to Malaysia or pretending not to enjoy Asian food, but now, I’m so much more okay with my heritage and who I am. Dare I say, I even have a sense of pride in my heritage.

I have been so excited this trip to tell people how awesome Malaysian food is (since so much of the world has no idea what it is) and have enjoyed any discussion about culture and what it was like growing up with immigrant parents. And I have been really proud to say that I’m heading back to Malaysia for Chinese New Year to spend time with my extended family.

Yes, I really don’t feel like a second class human anymore. As one guy I met said, “we’re all the same species. Racism doesn’t make sense,” and I can actually say I actually believe this now, especially in how I perceive myself.

Cover image by Alfonso Cárdenas Ortega used under Creative Commons license


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