I am a person of colour. It is, admittedly, a strange feeling to realise that I am encompassed in that umbrella term - a strange feeling that most of you reading this will probably share, with the majority of you being from the same culture, ethnicity and country as I am.
All my life, I've been surrounded by people who look like me - ethnicity-wise - and I have grown up in an environment where I belong to the majority race, something that I realise I've taken for granted, having (fortunately) never been shortchanged due to my race. And then I grew older, travelled wider, and realised that outside of Asia, I'm considered the minority. I never once thought that that term would be used to describe me in any way, but the truth is that it is. And along with that categorisation came the unspoken label - "P.O.C.", and with the label came the assumptions, the stereotypes, and the subtle racism.
It's the sort of racism that you don't feel too offended by the first time - the kind that is disguised as a compliment and completely unintentional, the kind that you smile at and laugh off and occasionally even thank them for, the kind that makes you stop in your tracks and wonder, five minutes later, Why did the sweet lady at the cookie dough shop even ask me that? - the most poisonous kind. Because you never realise it's there, until you slowly begin to understand the implications of what was said to you, and the indignation creeps in ever so slowly before gnawing away for the next three days, creating a nest of resentment. Something like 'Your English is really good, where did you learn it from?'
And this is what concerns me the most - unintentional racism. If you so much as thought, Yes, I've had that said to me before, then you've been a victim of unintentional racism too, whether you've realised that beforehand or not. And chances are, you probably have. Now, the above example is just my own experience with unintentional racism and merely one of the many, because such racism can take many different forms - and, more often than not - is used with humorous intent. Racism is not a one-way street, it comes from people of many different ethnic groups and is directed towards people from just as many other ethnic groups. People often hear about racism and think that it must be from a majority group to a minority group, but that's not true, because racism is defined as 'the unfair treatment of people who belong to a different race', and all races and ethnicities are capable of exhibiting such behaviour towards another. Members of minority races can be racist to members of other minorities, or even the majority race, and it would serve us well to remember this when we make meaningless remarks - something even I am guilty of from time to time.
Which brings me to one of my points: racist slurs. As a teenager in high school, I have the same fears that most other teenagers do - losing my friends, being judged by others around me, being labelled as overly-sensitive and uptight, etc. - and all these fears have stopped me, time and time again, from speaking out against casual racist comments that have been thrown around carelessly by my own friends (who, I know, mean no harm). And I am embarrassed to admit that most, if not all, of the time, I have forced myself to turn a blind eye to such language, feigning ignorance and oblivion, with the but-I-know-they-didn't-mean-it mindset (a highly dangerous one, might I add).
But the recent cold-blooded murder of George Floyd has once again spurred the world into action, and me along with it. The fire of racism is being fed by small, seemingly harmless jokes like these, and will raze everything to the ground unless we take a firm stance against such behaviour. We might not intend it, but those (rather poor) attempts at humour are part of the reason why people still see racist behaviour as acceptable, when it clearly is not. By using or not speaking out against usage of the n-word, for example (or any variations of it and other forms of derogatory language at all, regardless of lack of malicious intent), we're propagating racist sentiments and partaking in the spread of casual racism. And by using it as a joke, we're downplaying the severity of one of the most hate-filled, shameful periods of American history, as well as trivialising the plights of all who suffered through it, which is disrespectful in every sense of the word. And most definitely not okay.
Being part of the ethnic group that has been highly targeted in recent months due to xenophobia should have made us more aware of the impacts that our statements have on the groups of people they concern, but the collective fury that we directed together against Chinese-oriented racist sentiments seems to have dissipated when it comes to our treatment of other races. Hypocrites, indeed.
But unintentional racism goes way beyond bad jokes and name-calling - it enters the territory of cultural dilution. To many of us in the East, if someone asked us for our race, we'd identify as Chinese, or Japanese, or Korean, Thai, Indian... the list goes on. But ask someone from the West, and they might simply refer to the whole lot of us from the East as Asian. And ask someone white from the West, and we might become just a small composition under the umbrella term 'people of colour'. You see where I'm going with this - as we zoom out further and further on a demographic scale, our cultural identity becomes lost in the sea of colour, eventually becoming one of two blobs: white, or not-white.
And this is where I draw the line.
For those of you who stubbornly insist that white superiority no longer exists - wake up. The very fact that terms such as 'people of colour' are still being used to separate the global population into 'white' and 'not-white' is proof that white superiority is prevalent. And the very fact that terms such as 'people of colour' are being used by politicians and prominent figures in statements addressed to specific ethnic groups such as black and Latinx folk shows that there are many who simply lump the not-white's together in a bland monochrome, as artfully described by Jason Parham.
But we are more than one singular colour, and should not be labelled as such. We are each different, defined by our unique cultural heritage that sets us apart - we are far richer, and far more diverse than the term 'people of colour' gives us credit for. 'People of colour' had been coined to be a safe, non-racist alternative, and its emergence as a go-to term was well-meaning. But what people don't realise is that continued usage of this term deviously, inconspicuously sketches seemingly unnoticeable lines between the whites and the not-whites until the lines are layered on top of each other and a glaringly obvious divide is formed, cementing the foundation of an us-versus-them mentality that was unknowingly created by the 'POC' label. And now that we know this, it's high time we destroy that foundation, to dig up the seeds of casual and unintentional racism before they're allowed to be sown any further.
I am a person of colour. But that does not, and should not, define me. Because beyond that, I am also Asian. And I am also Chinese. And I am, undoubtedly, still myself.
Love, Ashley x
What We Get Wrong About 'People of Colour', by Jason Parham
These are the images of George Floyd you should see, by Alisha Ebrahimji
The Death of George Floyd, In Context, by Jelani Cobb