With the coronavirus up and spreading, I’ve been seeing that a lot of people have heard some casual racism coming out. Personally I haven’t, mostly because I’m lucky enough to work at a very respectful workplace with a lot of professional people and have friends that are also very aware of what is respectful and ok, and what’s not.
What surprises me is the lack of understanding around casual racism. Just because someone doesn’t hate a certain ethnic group and aren’t part of a white supremacy group doesn’t make them not racist. It’s the little comments or jokes that are said to make fun or disapprove of different ethnic group, and make someone who is a person of colour (PoC from now on) feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes the PoC doesn’t even understand why they’re upset but know that the comment made them feel shitty, and that’s what casual racism is. It’s done in everyday conversation, the commenter normally doesn’t think that they’re racist (spoiler alert; saying shit like that is) and sometimes the commenter even thinks that what they’re saying is correct or that it’s from a place of good intentions.
Before we start on how not to be casually racist, let’s clear the air about Chinese people eating weird food.
Chinese, if not Asian, people have been renown for eating food that Westernized people find gross. It can from different parts of an animal from organs to blood, different types of animals like snakes to bugs, to the way it’s prepared e.g. raw or alive. I’m not advocating, or agreeing with eating animals that are pets or wildlife and definitely not cruelty. It’s a common Chinese saying that Chinese people will eat anything that has four legs except a chair.
I just find it extremely annoying that some Westerners act like Asian people eat things that they would typically throw away because they preferred to, or that it came by a choice and that they are in a position to judge. In the same way how soul food has chittlings, porks feet and crawfish, a lot of Asian cuisine came from extreme, and recent, poverty. You think Chinese people were sitting around with chickens in the backyard, see a cockroach on the floor and think ala Action Bronson “fuck, that looks delicious?”
“While the West values freedom and other human rights, Chinese people view food as their primary need because starving is a big threat and an unforgettable part of the national memory.”
“While feeding themselves is not a problem to many Chinese nowadays, eating novel food or parts from rare animals or plants has become a measure of identity to some people.”
Starvation or famine is something that my grandparents and parents have gone through, so it’s become part of their identity, just like how my Kiwi childhood was mine. Asian cultures have managed to make recipes that work best with the types of ingredients, which is why, although no longer starving, eating dishes that the West view as ‘scraps’, they still eat those dishes and actually find them delicious (unwesternised Asians loooovvee chicken and pork feet and offal). And not even just from Asia – some of my family who immigrated to NZ in the 60s went through it. Apparently back then, chicken innards were free and tossed on the road like rubbish. Because they were really poor, one of my late relatives would go and pick them up for their family to cook and eat. He wore a wide brimmed hat to protect himself from all the white people spitting on him.
It’s pretty common knowledge that the virus came from the Wuhan markets, and for a while was thought to have come from a bat, then from a snake, or from the virus lab in Wuhan as a leaked bioweapon if you get a bit horny for a conspiracy theory.
I found this paragraph from a NZHerald article about it:
“Since Wang’s bat soup was recirculated, scores of graphic videos featuring people hoeing into live baby crabs, spurting sea cucumbers, frogs, lizards and other creatures as they wriggle helplessly, have made their way online.“
- These ‘graphic videos’ are mukbangs that I see on the video part of Facebook that have been ripped from TikTok and Youtube
- This connotation that all of these things are eaten alive?? I’m also lowkey addicted to these videos and those things are hardly all wriggling helplessly. I have not seen any lizards. Also, consider that the writer would probably happily keep mussels in supermarkets, oysters, kina, lobsters and fish in the boat tanks alive but become disgusted at seacucumbers, octopus and crabs. And if they really understood Chinese culture, they’d know that Chinese people rarely eat raw food. I only ate salad a few years ago. Most of those things in the videos are cooked and those eating it raw are doing it for the attention!
Which leads on to my whole point of this post:
how not to be casually racist in the face of coronavirus and beyond
1.It’s not weird, it’s different
With the cause of coronavirus being Chinese people eating things they shouldn’t be, it’s opened up a can of worms and judgement about what Asian and Chinese people eat as a whole. It’s time to bring up the anecdotes about the time you went to Bali, or luckily went to China and unluckily stumbled across a wet market, or a video you saw on Facebook set to sad orchestral music of a dog being boiled.
It’s ok to say that you felt out of your comfort zone. It’s ok to say you weren’t used to it.
But it’s not ok to start describing it as weird because for other people, it’s life. It would be extremely rude if someone came over to my house, saw the food I gave them and then started shooting their mouth off about how weird my food was. When someone does that with Asian food, they’re being disrespectful to Asians, whether they’re saying it in an Asian’s person’s earshot or not. They may not be physically spitting on me like predecessor, but verbally do so instead.
Also, can I call people stupid if they see videos on social media and do zero research? Because a quick google will show that eating dog meat is not common at all and that Asians are starting to love pet dogs. I mean, it does exist, but a lot of the dog cruelty in Korea is starting to be Korean mums forcing their little lapdog into wearing stripy sweaters.
I hate hearing people use the excuse “because that’s what I’m thinking in my mind but I’m too scared to say it.” Why? Why is their mind is judgemental –> prejudiced –> they need to feel normal and judge others not to be? If you’re describing an entire ethnicity’s food as ‘gross’, surely you can recognise it’s passive aggressive and casually racist.
Your food is not automatically the “normal” and everyone else’s is “weird”. Get off your high horse and recognise that eating pickles is just as normal as eating kimchi. It’s just different.
2. If you ‘don’t mean’ your PoC friend, yes you do
I’ve definitely been in and seen a lot of situations where people are generally complaining about something to do with an ethnic group, and then say “but I don’t mean you,” to the token Westernised PoC in the conversation.
The way that PoC react to that is different. Some of them will not be offended and feel accepted. Some will accept it but it’ll leave a bitter taste in their mouth. And some of them like me, will not be happy with that at all.
The way I see it, the PoC that aren’t offended value the acceptance of the group more than an insult to their ethnic group. This is totally an extreme example, but it’s like Tila Tequila, a very Vietnamese woman who supports white supremacy to feel like they belong and a part of a special club.
Some of them will feel a bit shit but not be sure why, since the comment was apparently not directed at them.
I’ve been in the midst of someone complaining about how Vodafone’s answerphone had a Chinese option, prompting comments about how Chinese people are “taking over us.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I don’t mean you,” she said.
And that is exactly the type of casually racist conversation that happens. It annoys me because YES. You do mean me. If you didn’t know me, it would mean me. You mean my parents who are classic immigrants, my family and anyone who is Chinese.
If you think making a joke or comment about an ethnic group is ok because your friend is Kiwi/Westernised and it doesn’t apply to them, think again. It actually does because you mean people like them who don’t have a Western accent.
Then some people like saying “but does that mean I can’t make any jokes then?” No! More like respect your friend, attempt to understand their culture, and don’t make negative generalisations and judgements about a culture?
I find jokes about being a good Chinese daughter, strict parents and Chinese attitude to money funny, because it means that the person knows me and they’re joking about me, not all Chinese people.
So if you know me and you’re going to say some racist shit about Chinese people, then you do mean me, and we’re not friends.
3. Don’t tell someone to go back to their own country, or that they should leave
Well they’re already here, aren’t they? It’s completely ironic for white people to say this while we’re floating in the Asian- Pacific, it’s like… no. I also get disappointed at indigenous people who say it, because they normally have experience a ton of racism and so should know what it feels like. People are allowed to go to different countries. Obviously they had bought a ticket to come to the country and was allowed in because they looked healthy enough recently. You can bet if they were blowing their nose on the plane the surrounding passengers would be freaking out. Yes, I know the incubation period is 2-10 days, that’s why they’re supposed to be in quarantine.
Go ahead and tell them off if they look sick and go back to their own… room in their home.
3. Reverse racism is not a thing
Someone (a white person) literally said I was being a racist toward white people for saying that a place had too many white people the other day. They tried to hit me with the textbook definition of racism of how it’s believing one race is better than another because I said yes, I would not be happy if a white person said there were too many Asians but I wouldn’t be offended at the reverse if Asians were the most powerful ethnicity in the world and a white person said there were too many Asians then. So I was therefore racist -___- A WHITE MAN CALLED ME RACIST HELLO
Racism is about power structure. I don’t believe Asians deserve to be treated better than anyone else. I know that white people hold all the power and leadership positions in the world. I know that the oppression that PoC face from racist systems and beliefs were created by white people.
PoC can definitely be racist towards others. Asians can be racist amongst each other. But PoC can’t be racist against white people because white people hold the power (sidenote: white people are typically treated well around the world).
If someone was poor and walked into a room and said “there’s too many rich people in here”, hits a lot different to if someone was rich and said “there’s too many poor people in here”. You know it’s not the same.
People that are offended about being called privileged, or white, really need more struggle in their life. Has there ever been in history a period where ‘crackers’ were denied jobs for being white at every place in town, or paid less than their coloured counterparts? I mean, it’s still in place, white-run takeaways, and beauty salons typically cost more than those run by PoC. Very few Boards, CEOs, executive teams and leaders are diverse ethnically or with gender.
White people may individually have their struggles, but they’ve never collectively suffered under another ethnicity. There’s a difference. PoC deal with both.
5. Asians wear masks to prevent themselves getting sick, not because they are sick
There seems to be a lot of edging away from Asians wearing masks and on public transport, but the Western vs Asian attitude toward masks are different.
Asians wear masks to prevent breathing what’s in the air; the masks come out when there’s too much smog or dust. They don’t wear it when they’re sick but to try protect themselves from germs (although I think most of them wear it incorrectly).
Edging away from someone because they’re Chinese and/or wearing a mask is not nice. It’s not nice to act like someone is diseased because of their ethnicity, it’s called *drumroll* casual rraaccciissmm!
Feel free to edge away from anyone who is coughing, sniffing and doesn’t wash their hands (official health advice on how to stop the spread of coronavirus).
Basically : there’s an epidemic going around. It’s not an excuse to be casually racist now, or ever. If you’re reacting in a racist way because you’re stressed or scared, that’s what’s in your heart and you need to get it rid of it.
If you or a loved one is still struggling with the concept of casual racism, and what is racist and what is not, click on this great site to find information here because arguing with strangers on the internet about race is like trying to win a staring contest with the sun.
Featured image by @tikkafromeast on instagram.