This is an embarrassing story of racism that caused me to feel some shame.
- A distinguished scholar tells me a story of racism in Australia
- I’m embarrassed as an Australian
- I was embarrassed as a Queenslander
- You should read Mabel Kwong’s blog
This week I had the privilege to be involved in a multi-day meeting of experts in a field I feel quite passionate about. These experts came from many different countries. We also had a very distinguished guest. A man from USA, a full professor from a prestigious university, a man who is quite brilliant with a special knack to take very complex cutting edge scientific concepts and translate them into strategic policy for global consideration. He has the ear of senior decision makers in USA and the confidence of scientific giants.
An awkward conversation
He approached me during a break and we had this conversation…
“Gary, can I tell you a story?”
“I was in Sydney on a train, seated next to a window. A couple, a man and a woman got on, the woman sat next to me and her partner sat in the seat in front. I don’t think she really noticed me when she sat down.”
“Boarding behind them were a crowd of tourists from China. “There are too many of them in our country!””
Fred turned to the woman and politely said, “Ma’am, would you prefer me to move so you can sit next to your partner?”
The man turned around and said, “No, it’s okay.”
The woman sneered at Fred, “You don’t speak like them, but your accent is different.”
“Yes Ma’am, I’m American.”
“But you look like them.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I’m American born Chinese.”
The woman huffed.
Fred told me that after a while he could chat with the woman’s husband and found out they were from Brisbane. It turns out Fred’s assistant is from Brisbane so fortunately, he didn’t feel this woman was a typical example of a person from Brisbane.
Fred asked me if this was common in Australia.
I was so embarrassed. I was embarrassed as an Australian that Fred had to experience this. I was embarrassed as a Queenslander, that people from my hometown had insulted Fred. Fred is well spoken and while I’m not a linguist, I guess his accent is more northeast USA in origin. Fred is also about ten years’ senior to me, so not old, but a mature man who has aged well.
We chatted for a while and we discovered our upbringing had similarities. At primary (or elementary) school, we both suffered at the hands of bullies. Usually, older boys who would pick on us. There were also high school experiences. Like when a history master told my class that the ‘Japs’ didn’t fly at night because they couldn’t see that well. The inference being that slant eyed oriental fighter pilots were somehow disabled by their almond eyes.
Fred and I pondered the current state of affairs in terms of global politics. I make it a policy of my writing not to comment on politics, suffice to say, the attitudes of people to others who look different and speak a different language appear to be more pronounced of late.
Fred’s a good bloke, I look forward to reading more of his published work.
As I write this I’m reminded of a blogger friend from Melbourne. Mabel Kwong writes about her experiences as an Australian born Chinese. Like me, she’s an ABC. Fred also knows himself as an ABC although American born Chinese.
Mabel’s blog posts are always well thought out, considered and heartfelt pieces. If you like good writing and want to learn what it’s like for a young woman with a Chinese background growing up in Australia and Malaysia, please subscribe to Mabel’s blog.
Do people still see me this way?
So, I took this selfie and want to know, when you see me is it the Chinese that stands out? I’d prefer it was the multiple chins, although that does pose that funny but still racist joke about being called Dr Chin 😜 Given how much I eat, I’m surprised I don’t have more ‘chins’.
I’ve also recorded this so for those who haven’t heard my voice on my Yummy Lummy YouTube videos#, you can hear my accent. The audio widget is at the top of this post or you can hear it on iTunes too.
*Not his real name. I won’t reveal his name or the nature of the meeting because it is work related. I am conscious not to discuss the details of my work on social media.
#The associated blog posts can be found at my Food Blog, Yummy Lummy