Do Tell, Michelle: Being Not White, But White Enough
I am mixed race. I am half-British and half-Chinese. It's a fairly simple fact that holds a lot of broader implications on my life.
I was brought up in Hong Kong where race is rarely an issue. There are only a handful of people that are actually Hong Kong Chinese and therefore Hong Kong is this unique blend of all races. Hong Kong is a rather transient place, because most people are only there temporarily; as a result, everyone is very welcoming to newbies. The beauty standard there is very different: being mixed race is actually seen as the epitome of beauty.
'You get the best of both worlds' is the most common phrase I was told when I was growing up. That was until I moved to London, where instead I was told that I was 'half of everything but actually nothing' and that I wasn't 'one of them'. Despite living here since I was 11, having a British accent, a British passport and being half-British, I was constantly told I didn't belong, and that was largely down to the fact that I didn't look like them.
When I go back to Hong Kong to visit family and jump into a taxi, the taxi driver often asks me where I'm from, because 'you don't look like you're from here'. So if I'm not from London, and I'm not from Hong Kong, where am I from? Since when did strangers get to dictate this for me?
The messaging around my race has always been a difficult topic for me. I never felt like I could discuss it because after all, I'm only half. But even in being half, I've been fed the same messages.
When it comes to intellect, the stereotype of being Chinese was to be smart. With that, I was often made fun of in my school for being the only Chinese girl in my school to not be in the top division at Maths, yet if someone's calculator or computer broke, someone would yell 'Michelle can fix it'. It's just plain racist.
I've been shamed more times than I can count for being Chinese and not speaking the language. People told me that I should be ashamed of that. Yet, any time I made a spelling or grammar mistake at school, a teacher would say, 'don't worry, this isn't your first language.' Actually, it is. Not just my first language, but my only language. That's dyslexia, not a language barrier.
My best friend at school used to say I was 'Chinese, but not really'. What she actually meant by that was I was Chinese but I didn't fit the Asian stereotype that our school held, the one of equating Asian to geeky, uncool and boring. There were even times she would introduce me saying 'she's Chinese, but don't worry you'll like her'. Unsurprisingly, she isn't my friend anymore.
I'm single, and I use dating apps like Bumble to meet guys. I'm also well aware that Asian women are fetishised, and I'm reminded of that every time a guy tells me that they'd like to 'tick an Asian off of their bucket list.' I also found this fetishism in my relationships; I had an ex-boyfriend who was always joking that he had 'yellow fever'. The worst part of all of this is that Asians are stereotyped as being submissive sexually. I've had one too many grope in a club, followed by the person claiming me to be a 'bad Asian' for pushing them off of me. Because to them, submissive equates to sexual assault?
And yet, I rarely talk about any of this. Not because I don't face it, but because I know that if I get it this kind of treatment, then it must be worse for people who aren't just half. It took me a really long time to be truly proud of my race and yet, when someone told me this week that I reeked of white privilege, it was really easy for me to be transported back to a place of shame. To people, I was not white but white enough, and that's why I spent most of my childhood wishing away my Chinese half, desperate wanting to just be white. Unconsciously, due to both the level of white privilege I have and the messages that I received from society growing up, I found myself identifying more with my white side, rather than that of my Chinese. It didn't take me long to learn that the more westernised I was, the more society accepted me.
If you're fed encouragement to deny half of your race - so, essentially half of your existence - how are you supposed to have self-love, or self-acceptance if you choose to not recognise or embrace all aspects of yourself?