At the start of this academic year, I've been honoured to be given the title as editor for my school's student newspaper. Here's the first ever article I've written for them.
"The unknown truth of what it takes to be Asian, not only at school, but around the world."
I don’t know about you, but have you ever reflected on your race during your years at school? I know I have. Perhaps you might have too, maybe not. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky.
But sometimes this sort of luck can blind you from reality. It might be because you aren’t aware of your privilege, which could in turn lead to you being unable to empathise with others. Of course, I can’t speak on behalf of other races as this varies within race and experience, but growing up Asian, the racism and stereotypes we receive have never truly got out of hand, but have always been there lurking around the corner.
I still have peers asking me what teacher I have for A-level maths, not knowing I am completely terrible at it and that I don’t even do maths as a subject anymore. I know. Shocking. And once I tell people that I am actually studying two European languages and Business Studies, they are taken aback (not in a good way, I don’t think). Maybe they were genuinely impressed, or maybe they thought I was weird because I’m not authentically Asian enough. Just watch 'Crazy Rich Asians'. You'll get the idea.
It’s common for most people to assume that an “average” Asian studies physics, chemistry, biology, maths, Further Maths or economics for A-levels; biochemistry, dentistry, maths, economics, or even gets a PhD in medicine at university. All of this is because Asian traditional families expect their children to become professional doctors, dentists or business people. And yet they still call this “average”. I mean, do we look like human calculators to you?
Most of the time, Asians are expected to get 100% in all school subjects. But once you get 95% or below, there’s a high chance you’ll be seen as a disappointment and a disgrace to your family and friends. Surprisingly, nowadays, a lot of Chinese children aged seven sit Cambridge English exams that are designed for eleven-year-olds. As an Asian, you’ll be spending most of your childhood in tutor lessons, calligraphy classes, badminton training or in a music school playing at least one of three instruments: the violin, the cello or the piano, or even all three. The more the merrier, right? And oh, don’t forget, you must at least achieve Grade 8 by the time you turn 10 years old.
In conclusion, life gets pretty tough and expectations can skyrocket. But to be honest, all of the above are such great assumptions that people make about us as a race. However, today let’s focus on the Asian stereotypes that aren’t so positive because it’s safe to say that not much attention has been brought to this side of the topic.
First and foremost, I would just like to raise awareness of things that not many people are conscious of — struggles that Asian people face, particularly the Chinese. If you’re Asian, you might smile and nod your head in agreement as you read the following paragraphs.
Let’s start by looking at the biggest worldwide event this past year. When COVID-19 first broke out, everyone freaked and no one remained calm — which is normal because it’s literally a global pandemic. Everything was chaotic, and this soon escalated to a build-up of emotion and anger, which was then lashed out unto Asian people. It wasn’t even about bats anymore. It seemed like it was just because people held this grudge and hatred against Asian people.
I remember — like it was yesterday — sitting speechless in class whilst hearing my own classmates ask each other questions like, ‘Why doesn’t Ling Ling just eat normal food?’ and ‘Why can’t the Asians just go back to their country?’. How ignorant. People only feel comfortable saying all this about Asians because the racism we receive is and forever will be irrelevant, buried and neglected. They know well enough that no one has the platform to discuss this issue, and so they get away with anything at all.
It’s funny how there is so much ignorance surrounding the term ‘Asian’. Once people hear this word, they automatically assume that Asians are all Chinese and that the Chinese represent the whole continent of Asia. But hey, you do know that the Philippines, Vietnam, Mongolia, India, etc. are also Asian countries, right? Why do you use our country to define the whole of Asia? Because we all “look the same”?
Secondly, who gives you the excuse to make fun of the name ‘Ling Ling’? All this does is lower people’s self-esteem and make them ashamed of who they are. I’m Chinese. I’ve got a Chinese name. It’s normal for my Chinese friends and family to call me by it, just like how it’s normal for other people to call me by my English name, but no one makes fun of it. Why? Because ‘Sam’ sounds normal? Because it sounds Western?
One interesting fact you probably didn’t know about Chinese names is that when parents choose names for their children, they purposely pick characters that have special meaning, so that their children can grow up and become the definition that their names bring. How cool is that? It’s very cool. So try not to mock Asian names that appear odd to you, because who knows? Maybe its meaning is more sacred than your name.
Since a lot of students are supposedly so keen, let's assume that all Asians at school returned to "their country". If we did, a huge percentage of pupils would totally disappear. Plus, who would pay the school fees in full without the international students? No offence here whatsoever, but most or even all international pupils pay school fees in full, whilst a lot of the other students have scholarships. And sometimes, when students get scholarships, this can mislead them, causing them to think they are “more privileged”, or perhaps “superior.”
When other privileged people such as leaders around the world started calling coronavirus "the Chinese virus" or the "kung-flu", I thought there would be more people standing up for us, especially those who know exactly what it's like to experience racism. But I was mistaken. Everyone laughed it off and said it was a joke, and even started making fun of the virus by following the bad examples led by their own leaders. The most heartbreaking part was witnessing those who raised so much awareness on racial injustice also being the ones taking part in this circus.
If only you could put a little effort into imagining how we felt, not just by the term "kung-flu", but also when this deadly virus was made fun of and associated with one of our finest, most traditional and respected representatives of the Chinese culture, the Kung Fu. Also, word of advice, don't look down on a country that is predicted to dominate the 21st Century.
Thirdly, I would like to publicly announce that no, we don’t eat bats. No, we don’t eat dogs, or cats, or snakes. Surprisingly, not the whole of the Chinese population eats this sort of stuff. And if you don’t know, people actually find it disgusting. So, assuming that some people were to blame someone for this pandemic, they shouldn’t be blaming the whole of 1.4 billion people just for one person’s supposed wrongdoing. I say “supposed” because there is no clear evidence as to how COVID-19 started, which makes you more of a fool if you have spread the wrong information.
In terms of food, some people are actually forced to eat animals that aren’t “labelled” as edible because they don’t have enough money to access meat like chicken, beef, pork, lamb and seafood like us privileged people do. Until this very day, there are still cannibal tribes who live in the wild and eat humans. This isn’t much of a surprise to many, but how is this not worse than eating bats? Plus, you wouldn’t be badmouthing people for eating bats unless something like this pandemic happened.
But if you think about it, let’s reverse this narrative and think back to the ancient days. If the cavemen decided to eat bats instead of cows, we would have adapted to eating bats by now. And if someone ate beef (assuming that it is a “non-edible” animal like bats) which accidentally caused a virus to spread globally, we would have said the exact same thing about bats, but about cows this time, wouldn’t we?
Setting this aside, Asian cuisine is arguably the best in the world. If you search ‘Top 10 Best Cuisines in the World’, the majority of that list would be Asian cuisines. Most of all, isn’t it funny how Asians can nail authentic and traditional Asian food as well as Western cuisines, whilst Westerners can’t even ace one Asian dish at all, even if they tried?
But why is it so hard? Well, Asian cuisine consists of cooking methods such as steaming, boiling, braising, red-stewing, roasting, deep-frying and stir-frying (famously known as the ‘wok’). Not many people have the talent to work with all these methods, let alone professional chefs. What we produce as a final result is absolutely breathtaking, but people just can’t accept that fact because of their blinding arrogance.
This is why I’m so disappointed that people of different nations would have the guts to bash mine. When you are of a race that tends to be seen as perfect, it's normal not to have the slightest idea of what it takes to never be treated equally. There‘s never a day that people are not looked down upon just because of stereotypes that may not hold true. But since every day is a school day, and since life is all about learning and being educated, I would like to say one final thing on behalf of myself and the Asian community.
It's not easy being us. Be careful when choosing what you say because words cause more damage than you think, and it can deeply scar someone for the rest of their life. Yes, maybe you'll never understand what it takes to be one of our kind, and you may never even wish to be. But one can only dream to be one of yours.
I didn’t write this article for you to pity me. I say all of this because we need change in society’s mindset. But I hope you know that nothing will change unless we do, since the only source of change is from within us.
For those who are lost and silent, now is the time to speak up. Initially, I kept quiet and only spoke to family and friends about this issue because I believed that no one else would be able to relate or sympathise with me. This is the main reason why I never really thought of seeking help and advice from members of staff at my school. I only did so recently, and I have never felt any better. This is why when it comes to situations like these, where you believe you are left unheard, it’s so important to reach out to someone. You’ll never know until you try. The more you keep quiet and stay in the dark, the more you are delaying what should be done with the situation. I can’t stress this enough, but it’s true. Hence why I have joined the EDIB (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging) Committee and am now one of the representatives. Maybe you should try something like this out too. Be a part of change.
At the end of the day, I've never been more proud of being Asian, particularly Chinese. Though you might not see why I should be proud, what matters most are the beauties and treasures hidden behind a race — things that make one unique. Today, you have a choice. You can still target, scapegoat and bully people for something they can't change about themselves, or you can choose to embrace the beautiful gift of diversity and, along the way, uplift one another. As I have previously said, every day is a school day and life is all about learning. Use this time you have wisely to educate yourself and improve yourself as a person. The more you do this, the higher the chance that we are all able to live in a more accepting and loving society. Don’t you want that? Anyhow, the choice is yours. Just remember one thing:
You get what you give.