On Wednesday the 20th of March, 2019, I was the subject of random racial targeting.
I won’t even begin to attempt to explain how I felt in that moment. I can’t. But if you can imagine a complete stranger abusing you absolutely unprovoked, try. Try to imagine the worst hatred ever conceived; something irreconcilable. You know those Neo-Nazi protests, the ones with all those angry white men and women standing around a figure like Fraser Anning type protests? Those viral videos on Facebook where you’re just wondering “how the fuck do these people exist?” Imagine a hatred so deep, a disgust so potent, it repels an individual from an entire race. One so deep that it spits abuse and violence upon others who have merely crossed their path.
Can you imagine someone I have had no relation to, not a single conversation nor glance shared, saying this:
“Hurry up you fucking bitch. You fucking Asians.”
I cannot fathom the loathing that has possessed this woman. I cannot fathom her unapologetic shamelessness in inciting hate at eight o’clock in the morning in the eye of the public.
I have been verbally abused before. I have been catcalled, screamed at work by people who clearly thought I was incompetent in doing my own job, been very ignorantly mistaken as “that Chinese girl” at work, been called a “chink” by a boy on a bike while I was walking home minding my own business. I have experienced micraggressions in the form of looks, comments and simply in the way people treat me. All of this on the premise of my skin colour, my Asian heritage, my religion, the fact that I am a woman — and an outspoken, young one at that.
I am absolutely, unequivocally shaken. Most of all, I am so scared.
Wars are being waged on the clash of ideologies. My people have just been murdered in the Christchurch attack. Innocent people are being killed everyday for having no participation in these wars — for merely existing. Personal agendas have seeped their way into policies, so as a result entire structures have been built upon prejudice, discrimination, oppression. What is the consequence of this?
‘Everyday’ people like the random woman who abused my sister and I on that day.
I realised that this is not about me at all. This is an us issue.
What is terrifying is that these people are aware that they can freely spout hatred with no consequences. They can walk away — hands free, guilt free. What was I going to do? Go the police station? Tell the cafe owner?
I cannot help but feel that every humiliating, degrading experience I’ve had has been very closely tied to racism. How can I not, when it feels as if my entire existence is being questioned every single day? As if I have to prove myself to the public each time I set foot outside my door that I’m a good human being — a normal human being at that.
I am officially fearful. I was always aware of Australia’s thinly veiled racism, yet I am now cautious. I fear those who I do not know. These perpetrators could be anyone.
In that moment, all I can say is that I was shocked to the point of an inability to retaliate.
I looked around (we were in front of Mr Tulk on the corner of La Trobe and Swanston Street) to see if anyone had heard, or witnessed the incident. No one had. And in that moment, my heart broke, my soul felt crushed. No, I was not surprised that this had happened to my sister and I. In fact, it happens to people of colour every single day. That’s the whole point though isn’t it — sure, racism has its favourites, but no one is an exception as long as they are different.
How ironic that less than 24 hours previous, I was at the same spot on Swanston Street rallying with my brothers and sisters in solidarity against racism and Islamaphobia. I can only imagine what the woman’s reaction would have been if she knew that I was Muslim too.
My sister and I continued on our day. I attempted to consciously push out the memory of what had happened out of my mind.
I know that many of my friends will read this and think: this happens to me on a daily basis.
And you know what? It’s true.
I have been witness to and have had personal stories of discrimination relayed to me so often; a casual topic of discussion for my ‘ethnic’ friends and I. I have been present when my friends had multiple cop cars unnecessarily pull up on them for simply celebrating a birthday at a fully paid for apartment. The security’s reasoning? “Too many people”. Realistically, there were ‘too many black people’, and this made him uncomfortable . I have stood right next to my black friends at clubs (one Melbourne club in particular that loves to exploit black culture) while they’ve ironically been denied entry for no plausible reason, while white girls in faux braids and tracksuit pants walked in with no complication. My experience was only a little slice of the very, very big cake.
As my sister said to me, we are privileged to not walk around with any “stereotypical identifiable” features. Imagine if we wore the hijab. Imagine if we were dark South-East Asians. Imagine if we were black. Imagine if our English was not fluent — or any of the other things that racists love to stereotype us on.
Then again, the mere fact that we are different — that is reason alone for discrimination, for abuse.
Somewhere in Australia, a kid is being left out of classroom activities because the other kids don’t want to play with someone who’s black. Somewhere in Australia, a teenager is coming home from school with nothing to say to his parents because all he can think about is how he’s found out his classmates have nicknamed him the “curry kid” behind his back. Somewhere in Australia, a young woman is being approached by her boss to discuss her “braids” in the office. Somewhere in Australia, an interracial couple are having dinner at the boyfriend’s parents’ house for the first time. There’s a weight on the woman’s shoulders; one that she’s felt before but doesn’t want to accept. The family joke and laugh in their language. She attempts to chime in. A pause. The mother clears her throat. “It’s an old family joke. Not really something you Asians would understand.”
Somewhere in Australia, at about eight o’clock in the morning, two women are on their way to a productive day. A bit haggard from a less than ideal sleep, but grateful either way for a new day, one of them is approached a bit too close for comfort. Very aggressively, she hears a voice from behind her shout “Hurry up you bitch.” With an unwillingness to turn around, and with surprise at being called a bitch, the young woman sheepishly shifts the direction of her head. What the young woman doesn’t know is that she will soon hear words that would not only catch her by surprise the second time, but trigger a deep, sensitive spot in her heart: “You fucking Asians.”
And with those three words, Sarah feels the demons of her past come up to laugh in her face. The years of conflict — am I Malaysian? am I Australian? can I actually be both? — and time spent pondering the reason for people not liking her. The endless amount of minutes spent questioning what was wrong with her: why don’t I fit in, why don’t the girls at school like me no matter how hard I try? The attempts at altering her features — ‘home DIY nose surgery’, whereby she’d pin her nose with a clothes peg for hours with the objective of having a thinner nose — and berating god for her non-European luscious hair that brought upon stupid taunts as a child that later spawned into a long battle of self-hatred and low self-esteem. Everything from name calling, to lewd remarks by strange men, to laughing off jokes that she’d heard a million times by every type of white person on the earth — these memories crushed down on her in that instance. All the years of learning and unlearning: relinquishing Eurocentric beauty standards; the throwing away of idolisation of white men in a facade of ‘preference’; scouring the internet with alternative perspectives on race, religion, history, politics; conversations held with so many different kinds of individuals in an attempt to understand the lived experiences of real people; family arguments; confrontations with friends over their use of the ’n’ word — all of these felt like they had amounted to nothing in that few moments that that stranger of a woman verbally abused her.
In the end, however, Sarah had to realise — and to never forget — that this cause was one worth fighting for. That no matter how unrewarding it would feel at times, that it was her responsibility, as an able bodied, Asian woman who’s had the opportunity to grow up in a privileged society, to consciously care about these social issues; not because they affect her, but because they affect all the people she cares for, the people who she has never even met, and the voiceless individuals all across the broader diaspora.
In her heart, and in the bigger scheme of the world, she knew that any person of colour’s struggle was hers too.
I have been feeling very sensitive this past week. The Christchurch attack. Being verbally abused on the streets of my own city. On Friday the 22nd of March, after serving a customer at the registers at work, he stayed in his spot and muttered: “May God protect us all from Islam”.
My heart sank. I felt devastated. I wanted to leave work right then and there.
These incidents are real, and it felt as if God was trying to show me (all in the same week) that this is only the beginning.
People like this exist. To all my Muslim brothers and sisters, to all my people of colour, I only wish you safety and prosperity. We must stick together.