I’m very fortunate to live in London (well, the London Borough of Croydon) and I’m so glad that I can look to any corner of my city and see diversity. I don’t just mean race. I mean religion, political views, ethics, gender, sexual orientation. The lot. Being involved in the work that I do is a real insight into how this part of town is run. So many people I know are activists, campaigners, socially and politically aware and active.
It’s great and there’s no doubt about it.
One thing I have noticed though, which upsets me sometimes is that even though our city is so diverse, there’s one group that doesn’t seem to mobilise as much as others. We have a huge feminist movement. A huge LGBTQI movement. A huge black rights movement. A huge immigration movement. But my community, the one I grew up in is no where to be seen and if it can be seen, it’s not been seen by me. Even tonight at the Border Talk event in Vauxhall, I’m pretty sure I was the only Chinese person here.
I’m Chinese by blood and proud of it. Only in the last few years have I really started to talk about being Chinese and talk about being Chinese. In that time I’ve been so proud. I see the Chinese community taking care of each other like we’re all family. People I don’t even know will support us when/if we ever need it. But we’re not, I don’t feel, fully integrated.
Who’s fault is this? No one’s in particular. We’re partly to blame, of course, but so is society. I’m not saying we have it hard as a people but we’re still subjected to stereotypes and unintentional racism. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked “do you live above a takeaway?”, “do you know martial arts?”, “so, who would win in a fight between Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee?”. People actively avoid saying the “N” word but the words “chink” and “yellow” are still banded around like nothing.
We’re often stereotyped as the people that work in takeaways. The people that sell pirate DVDs. The people that speak with that hilarious accent. We’re good at maths and all play the violin and piano. Well, no, for a start. But I get it. A lot of Chinese people do work in takeaways. But why is that?
You tell a child enough times as a society that they’re the spawn of Satan and they’ll believe it. You tell the Chinese community, directly or indirectly that they’re best placed working in a takeaway, where do you think they’re going to end up?
We’re often seen as the meek, mild people who are happy to get on with our work in the classroom quietly but that’s not all we are. We’re proud people who value community and we are so much more than our race. We are youth workers, graphic designers, carers, creators, writers, philosophers, artists, rappers, actors, and China also happens to be one of the fastest developing economies in the world.
So my message is twofold here.
1. Society needs to acknowledge the Chinese community as more than the people on the other side of the counter when they order their egg fried rice and spring rolls. We are people with stories.
2. As Chinese people, we need to stop letting ourselves be ignored. We need to speak up on the issues that matter to us as British Chinese people and we need to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters here in the UK. This is our home now too, lets look after it.
Yeah, Chinese, and what?