If we’re Asian Australian, chances are we’ve faced racism as we live our lives in Australia. That is, chances are life is hard on some occasions because of our cultural background.
As an Asian Australian who has lived in Melbourne for most of my life, racism is something that I’ve experienced for as long as I can remember. Each racist moment I’ve experienced is memorable, unforgettable.
Racism and discrimination come in different shapes and forms. When we speak of racism, there’s the idea that a certain racial group, a certain skin colour or certain culture-specific traits are superior over others.
Race. Ethnicity. These are two words that seem similar. But they are two words that mean different things.
When I studied cultural studies at university, the terms ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ often appeared within academic texts that I read. The more I read about these two words, the more I realised they are more complicated than they sound.
Commonly, ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ encompass grouping and categorisation. But each word is its own concept. As people and culture change, history and stories rewrite themselves; each word builds upon lessons of the past and revelations of the present.
1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.
I was born in Australia to very traditional Chinese-Malaysian parents. The word “Malaysian” refers to a nationality. There are predominantly three races living in Malaysia – Chinese, Malay and Indian. A very long time ago, the Chinese came and settled in Malaysia. My grandparents – and many generations before them – were born in Malaysia. My relatives and extended family don’t know where our ancestors originated. We don’t talk about Chinese history but the history of Malaysia. We’ve always considered ourselves Chinese people living in Malaysia. We don’t identify with China the country but with Chinese culture. Chinese Malaysian is similar to the term, say, Korean American.
Do I see myself as “ethnic”? Someone of “ethnic background”?
I’m a Chinese person living in Australia, so I should, shouldn’t I?
Depending on where you are in the world, the definition of “ethnic” seems to vary slightly.
The word “ethnic” is about exclusion and segregation. Photo: Mabel Kwong
The dictionary definition of “ethnic” actually forms a firm basis to think about this word. This concept. According to these standards, “ethnic” refers to the “characteristic(s) of a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage”. Certain markers ascribe belonging to particular ethnic groups.
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.
A lot of times, it seems that all of us of the same race, e.g. Asians, seem to get along well. But sometimes underneath a peaceful facade, racism towards one another can be rife. Photo by Mabel Kwong.
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.