I remember saying to someone last term in 2016, “I’ve never felt more Asian, I’ve never felt more Chinese [than now, being here in the UK].” I’m still not sure how I feel about the persistent sense of Otherness that I’m almost becoming used to. Kind of like a pebble in your shoe, only this shoe is sealed shut onto your foot.
I am proud to be Asian, and Chinese. And I think there is a sort of reverse supremacy mentality in me, a belief that the East trumps the West. I feel ambivalent and even unapologetic about it, I guess because reverse racism isn’t a thing. I became aware of this even before coming to the UK, and it’s always been a mentality coloured by indignance, even anger. It’s not an indignance I fully understand yet – because where could I have acquired it? Giving my privileged status as one of the racial majority in Singapore, plus my middle (or upper-middle, I’d argue, though tbh I’m not concretely clear as to my family’s financial status) class background, where did this inferiority complex and accompanying anger come from? Why do I feel belittled and underappreciated by/ in comparison to white people?
(disclamatory thought – that my concept of ‘Asian’ is likely skewed because I largely identify with Chinese, Japanese and Koreans despite coming from a multicultural nation, + I haven’t educated myself proper yet in terms of definitions, geography, etc. still processing my prejudices, blind spots.)
Perhaps it stems in part from my existing inferiority complex with regards to achievement (of all kinds: intellectual, aesthetic, etc.). Or perhaps it comes from consuming media that largely depicts Chinese people as subservient/ aesthetically inferior/ ‘uncool’/ nerdy. The one thing I can be sure of is that I am angry, and being here has only sharpened my indignance. It’s rather productive – I think soon I will use my rage to carve out something meaningful.
My thoughts are still scattered, so for now I will employ a list, for the sake of compartmentalizing ideas.
I dislike it when I am treated differently because of my race – whether unkindly or otherwise. “Konnichiwa” is unacceptable (and utterly infuriating), but over-attentiveness and over-sensitivity is equally troubling. It still Others me, places a warped hierachy between us – a king tiptoeing around a prince for fear of being seen as overbearing or abusing power. (bad analogy. still working on it ya.) A fear of being seen as a disrespectful privileged person – isn’t that more for your own sake than for mine?
*this thought must be credited to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who put into words a discomfort that has been plaguing me
**therefore tq english department + modes of reading for making us read her interview ha hahhah ahaha i can’t deal, i’m so nerdy i love and hate myself at the same time so much cringing and cackling in my head
I will quite often say, ‘You know, in my culture it shows interest and respect if someone interrupts’: and immediately there are these very pious faces, and people allow me to interrupt. It is not as if we don’t perceive the homogenization; we exploit it, why not?
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Tokenism – I know it’s kind of inevitable given the absence of Asians in the drama societies and my course (okay actually no – probably need to think more about this given how many Asians speak – surprise! – English nowadays and take up such a large portion of the student body) and partially my over-sensitivity but God it feels so weird and troubling to be the one Asian person in a rehearsal/ seminar room/ helping out at school events. I’m always there thinking, “wow I really diversify the look of this class/show/event/school.” I feel reduced to my physical body, which is something I’ve never had to experience in Singapore.
And there is guilt here, to be whining about this when Singaporeans of non-majority races have endured this for so much of their lives. When I have grown up safe and unthreatened by, even unconscious of, race.
Really resent how conscious I become of my English when speaking to British students. Hell, I’m deeply proud of my command of English and the quality of writing I can produce both academically and creatively. Still I alter my accent out of fear, self-consciousness, and precisely out of a desire to be recognized as someone with an elegant grasp of English, language I love and have known all my life.
Then: why must someone who is good at English sound/speak in a certain way, in a particular accent? Why are white people preferred as teachers of the English language even when they are less adept and qualified than an English-educated Asian person? What does it mean to be a “native” speaker of any language? Why should it matter?
Tangentially from 2.: who gets to have blonde hair? Because bleaching my hair has made me conscious of a fear of looking like a “white wannabe”. Just as some people regard Asian beauty standards as reflective of a desire to look “white”, I feel going blonde as a Chinese person (i.e. someone who hair genetically pretty much only occurs as black or a dark brown) can be read in a similar way. (But then again what is Chinese? What is race? (a construct! okay i’ll stop for now) )
no good conclusion to this post. still processing and thinking and mulling and reading and eventually i will have better answers. also after this personality/style experiment with hair colour (i could do a post on this, maybe i will), i might do another by either 1. growing my hair really long and girly, or 2. chopping it to a pixie/masculine hairstyle. woo hoo.
p.s. really want to share poems here but am saving them for other platforms at the moment; will put something up in due time!!! promise