Here is a very, very honest confession: I suffer—at least to some degree—from internalized racism.
I grew up in Hong Kong. Not the fancy, expat, English-speaking side, but the very raw and real side where you can get cussed out just for conversing with your buddy in English. It happened once—this simple act of xenophobia, this simple phrase of “fuck you, speak Chinese, you’re Chinese” fueled my hatred for the city for the next 4/5 years of my life. Because I’ve always had an affinity for English. I have been hooked since my mother started reading fairy tales for me at bedtime when I was three years old.
And I hated the way some people carried themselves– like they simultaneously worshipped whiteness and hated it at the same time. In high school, I had put whiteness on a pedestal. It symbolized hope for me as if I would one day be able to escape this conservative hellhole.
And escape I did. I took the first chance I got. When the University of British Columbia offered me a place, I snatched it and ran with it. There I was, 18, young, and very Asian, despite what everyone in high school had thought (that I was whitewashed).
I adapted quickly. As a girl who went through English novels at astonishing speeds, it was hardly a difficult transition. In a year, I had begun dressing differently, speaking differently, and made completely different friends.
In Vancouver, where Asians made up almost half of the population, I quickly realized that whiteness had no place on the pedestal. With help from general open-mindedness, extremely politically correct speeches, and academia, I took whiteness off the elevated step.
Yet there was something that remained embedded inside of me. Cultivated by years and years of imperialism and colonialism, it continued to chip away at the fundamental levels of what it meant to be Chinese.
This small piece witnessed my hair becoming lighter and lighter until it was platinum blonde. This small piece witnessed my continued aversion to seeking out people from my city, even though half of my social circle were international students from all over the world. This small piece witnessed my preference for Western values and ways-of-thinking.
Even now, after 4 years of university and having returned to Hong Kong, I have found that the way I carry myself is telling of the “whiteness” that I have adopted.
When I fell on my ass the other day, onlookers asked “are you okay” instead of “yau mo si ah.” Strangers still speak to me in English when they encounter me on the streets.
This is not a humble-brag, because there is absolutely nothing worth bragging about in being whitewashed.
In fact, it is more an inquiry into why and how we have been taught to consider this a brag at all.
I am not proud of how I have rejected my culture. Nowadays, I try to right it when I catch myself falling into the patterns of internalized racism. Some of this I do by claiming ceasefire against the prejudices most Hong Kong people have against Mainlanders through recruiting basic human empathy. It’s not easy, not when this society is literally built on British colonialism. But it seems necessary to recognize all the nuances of the various cultures that make you who you are.