As a person of Chinese descent who has lived in different places and acquaints myself with various cultures, I am always discriminated by people of the same race as I am.
To put it more simply, I am a Chinese-Australian who often see other Chinese people, especially those from East Asia, constantly distancing themselves from me.
Distancing themselves from me because at times I do not fulfil the conventional Chinese/Asian persona as a result of having resided in many countries and having several cultures rub off my personality.
There is no one universal definition of racism and it is known to exist in varied forms. The phrase “racial discrimination” has come to mean any exclusion or preference based on race, ethnicity and colour, nullifying the exercise of equal footing as one group asserts superiority over another.
“Racism towards your own race” manifests when an individual expresses loathing or hatred towards people of the same race for particular reasons be it knowingly or unknowingly. It also manifests when a person is embarrassed and ashamed of his/her own race.
More often than not, such behaviour emphatically rears its head when one of us does not conform to cultural stereotypical ideals. This somehow irks another of the same race, interpolating them to hold prejudices against the former who is “different” and does not fit the “proper” mould.
In hindsight, many third-culture kids like me and those of us who have mixed-race parents tend to have racist behaviour thrown our way and told that we do not belong by people of the same ethnicity. Sometimes we are even called a “racist of your own people”.
And it is usually inconspicuous yet unique differences in terms of appearance and personality which “different” people possess that continually drive such ‘racism against own race’ behaviour within those who reckon everyone has to fit cookie-cutter façades.
Today there is the expectation and assumption that we are all fluent in our mother tongue. But fact is, some of us just are not.
I was brought up speaking English. At university, international students from China or Malaysia always spoke without hesitation to me in either Mandarin or Cantonese, both of which I have a basic understanding of. But I usually never understood what they said to me and uttered, “I don’t speak Chinese”.
From that point onwards, knowing perfectly that I am a Chinese person who doesn’t speak Mandarin, most of the time these fellow classmates of mine never welcomed me into their conversations when I was around. When I did understood strands of what they said, I added my two cents worth in simple English. One of them would always curtly say a few things in broken but comprehensible English to me and go back to chatting with his/her friend in Mandarin, leaving me all lonely.
This situation – and many other situations alike – perpetuates the ridiculous idea that if one doesn’t speak, say, Mandarin, one is not really part of Chinese culture.
Similarly, having a particular trait or being good at something that your race is not usually known to be good at can be rather off-putting to those of the same ethnicity.
Asians typically tend to excel in science-focused subjects and not so much the humanities ones. I aced everything calculus and was also very good at English, always proudly mentioning to my friends and relatives back in East Asia that I study Arts at university.
Upon hearing this, many of them frequently muttered, “Oh”, and attempt to detract talk about what I do. And I have seen with my very own eyes how these acquaintances of mine literally jump all over those who boast about studying medicine or working as a lawyer.
It is definitely unjust and racist for one to insist or imply “you’re Asian, you can’t do this” when each and everyone of us – no matter our background – has every right to be good at any abilities or skills that we desire, abilities and skills relevant and needed in society.
There is nothing wrong with not being able to speak a certain language or being good at something one does not expect you to shine at just because of your racial background. It is not a crime. And it is understandable how one can feel belittled and demoralised.
Skin colour can be a frequent factor in stimulating “racism against one’s own race”. In many Asian countries, alabaster white skin is considered beautiful and ferociously sought after.
I am very fair-skinned for an Asian person and my family in East Asia never fail to haughtily point this out along with my funny non-Malaysian/Singaporean accent when I visit – and that I have become a “gwei-mui” in Cantonese. In a sense, I’m looked-down upon as an Asian girl who has become rich and forgotten her roots, which is really not the case.
And that is racist, bigoted behaviour on their part: generally most of us are not inclined to change our natural features we are born with and genuinely think we are beautiful the way we are.
There are apparent reasons as to why some people consciously or subconsciously discriminate against those of the same race as them who are “different”. For starters, some of us, Asians especially, are inclined to stick to long-held beliefs or customs which perhaps, just perhaps, have brought good fortune. It is apt these traditional beliefs can influence our perception of what is admirable and not admirable, what is beautiful and not beautiful.
It is most likely because of this that some consider looking a certain way is attractive. Or have grown so comfortable speaking and expressing their opinions in a particular language and have deemed it esteemed in their cultures.
And so being “different” can be inevitably seen as a threat to their traditions and recoiling from such differences seems the most natural thing to do for some. The idea that stereotypes are the “best” moral standards to aspire to thus perpetuates.
Ignorance is also another possible reason behind this “racism against own race” phenomenon. In this modern era, tons of contemporary lifestyles and ways of thought – think yoga and organic eating – have cropped up.
Anything is possible and it does not hurt to be a little bit more open-minded towards them.
It does not hurt to respect the fact that not all of us speak our mother tongue and some of us are unexpectedly good at certain activities. It does not hurt to toy with the idea that all skin colours are beautiful.
In addition, seeing one of the same race who does not fit their ethnicity’s narrow-minded stereotypical moulds can harbour insecurities and hence prejudicial behaviour in an individual.
That is, one can instinctively feel jealous of individuals of the same race who are “different” and possess traits or characteristics that the former lacks (case point me having pale skin). As the phrase goes, “jealousy is the root of all evil” and it is not surprising that the emotion envy is capable of fostering hostilities and even racism between one another.
To be completely frank, on a few occasions I caught myself with racist thoughts swirling around my head about those who arguably exhibit racist attitudes towards me, and it is during these moments that you can call me a racist of my own people.
Every now and then, I irritably question why some Chinese people have to stubbornly conform to stereotypical norms, thinking less favourably of a culture that is part and parcel of who I am.
However, in reality I have never looked down upon my fellow Asian friends and acquaintances who adamantly think negatively of me in terms of them as people. Never thought less of their personal strengths and capabilities.
But it does throw up the idea that perhaps some of us are not just victims of “racism towards one’s own race”. Maybe we are also judgmental of other cultures, and this is somehow reflected in our attitudes.
Perhaps we purposely distance ourselves from those of the same race who are racist towards us just because we want to avoid people who do not like us very much, up until the point we forget about their perspectives and positions?
Perhaps at the end of the day we are all racists in some way?