All posts tagged: race

Shape-Shifting

At the end of last year, I went to see author Sreedhevi Iyer speak about her short story collection at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. A member of the audience asked Iyer, an Indian-Malaysian-Australian writer, if she felt she behaved differently according to the different countries or cultures she was active in. She said that she found herself unconsciously adapting a lot, and wanted to focus on consciously ‘un-adapting’ more. While Iyer went on to give specific, personal examples, this general notion of auto-pilot adapting is a sentiment familiar to most people of mixed race. Adjusting is defined as: ‘becoming adjusted to new conditions’. But for those who belong to more than one race, adapting is a way of life, a survival strategy, not a temporary spell during which you acclimatise. Being mixed-race is not a condition, after all (although looking at the racial micro-aggressions — and maxi-aggressions — hurled at many mixed-race people, perhaps lots of folk think otherwise). I’ve spent the majority of my life adapting. Nobody told me to, per se. I was not verbally instructed …

When Culture Is Appropriated

It’s 2010, and I’m looking through an old friend’s gap year photos on Facebook. I stop at a photo of him and three friends, all of them wearing conical bamboo hats on a busy street in South East Asia, grinning jokingly at the camera, their faces shiny from the humidity. It makes me feel uneasy. The many times I see a version of this same image over the next few years, whether it’s at the airport or a fancy dress party, I am still bothered. But I don’t know what to call it, what it means, what it is — until now. Last week, two accusations of cultural appropriation were brought to the media. The first was a black student arguing with a white student who had dreadlocks. The second was Justin Bieber, sporting cornrows and saying he looked like a douchebag. Celebrities, particularly musicians, getting interrogated over their choice of props, outfits, music videos etc, is nothing new. Gwen Stefani raised eyebrows in the ‘90s when she wore a bindi, but nobody knew how to have …

Can I Ask Where You’re From?

I’m standing at the till, and I’m torn. The cashier has, without a word, glanced at the washing up liquid on the counter, looked up at my face, and then squeaked, ‘where are you from?’. This, technically, isn’t a difficult question. I know where I was born, I know where I live, I know where my parents are from. But it’s difficult in a lot of other ways. I’m extremely proud of my mixed heritage and everything both it, and I, stand for. It’s taken me a good few years of diversions and confusion to get to this point. But I’m here and I’m proud. I would happily talk about my history and my family until the cows come home, and then when they’ve bedded down, too. But that isn’t what the cashier is asking for. And even though I’ve been asked this same question in this exact circumstance a million times before, something in me feels frustrated this time. Maybe it’s a culmination of all of those incidents before, finally reaching a head. The …

Race As A Prefix

I still remember the exact moment, over ten years ago, when I was called a ‘chinky bitch’. I remember the toxicity snaking through the smile of the perpetrator, not much older than me, as he cycled around me, my apologetic face truly sorry for crossing the road without seeing him. I remember the moment he looked back to make sure he’d delivered the fatal blow and I’d received it. I pretended not to have heard, but he could probably see it in the way my wavy face began to panic, all affected. I don’t know if it upset me as much as punctured an innocent, wide-eyed part of me. After that, it was hard to fill it back up, keep the air in. From that moment on, I started to notice that race was often pointedly used as a prefix, just the thing to twist the knife into an insult already sharp enough. Of course, there are plenty of incidences where the focal point is the race, and the secondary word – think ‘asshole’, or …