When my friend asked me about whether I have had any experience of racism when I was in the UK as a student or anywhere, I didn’t know where to start.
I grew up in the Philippines, and in the Philippines (which is a previous colony of Spain and the United States), life is relatively easier if you have lighter skin. This is because of how the Spaniards ingrained into the locals that lighter colored skin meant a more affluent or educated background, since the person may be of Spanish descent.
This was a norm in my country and in my head at the time, this was racism but it was okay as it was ‘normal’ and that’s just the way things are.
What I had not realised was that as I grew into my teens while travelling and studying abroad, racism was actually very subtly accepted everywhere else too. It was only when I had lived in a foreign country long enough that I experienced what it really meant to be discriminated upon based on my facial features and skin color. It was only then that it started to make me feel afraid, then that I realised that allowing racism to continue was wrong, and that any form of it could lead to it affecting my own well being and self-worth.
I had a relatively happy childhood and when I was 17, I left for a gap year in France to study in a small French town. It was a great experience, one that taught me so much about good people and making lifelong friends no matter your background or race. I became best friends with a Latvian, Australian a Mexican and an American. I never really thought about how I looked different to them, as while they were all Caucasian, we had become very close friends.
This all changed when I started university in the UK, became more confident about exploring the country on my own and began dating using online dating apps. I had recently come out as a gay man and thought it may be a good idea and try the dating scene.
My very first real experience with racism was when someone told me, “you’re cute, but I’m not into Asians” as I sent them a message. I had not even been able to say where I was from, but immediately the conversation ended there. I had never considered how I look as an Asian to be a detriment to attraction because I personally never had any problems with seeing attraction based on race. If someone is attractive, they just are to me.
I thought of this as a fluke and continued showing my interest to anyone I found attractive. Surely people could not be that stuck up? It was only when it happened repeatedly, and again in real life that I realized that it was making me go for people who were less and less attractive to me. I was lowering my standards just to avoid more rejection.
I would probably get racist comments 20 percent of the time, from white people, from black people, even from Asians. At a certain point I said to myself, okay, I must be less attractive because I’m Asian, so let’s just go for less attractive people so I don’t get rejected this way any more. The funny thing is, I know I’m an attractive guy, but the comments constantly cut my confidence down.
In one of the instances I decided to instead make friends with one of these “I’m not into Asians “guys. In the end he ended up wanting to be with me because he said, “you’re much more attractive in person and not very Asian at all in personality”.
But my experiences didn’t just end in the dating scene, what a lot of people don’t realize is that they may not be racist, but they end up doing racist things when they aren’t mindful of how their actions may make someone feel, no matter how funny or casual it may be.
These are just some stories of how racism proliferates in the gay world. A world that is already so hard to be accepted in because of the pressures of social media to have the perfect face or body.
One evening as I was lining up in a bar with my friends 2 years into my university degree, two girls behind us tapped me in the shoulder and then shouted “Gangnam” style. At the time, this was a hit Korean song in the UK, and the two girls right after started dancing the dance moves in front of us, mumbling broken Chinese sounding syllables. Everyone around laughed. I smiled, and just clapped my hands pretending to be funny about it, but inside I felt awkward and a bit humiliated. I shrugged it off and did not let it affect my evening.
One of the worst experiences I had was when I was in a bar, and a drunk guy, the same age as I have nudged me as he was passing and gave me a bad look. I had never seen this person in my life, so I did not mind him. I am not the kind of person that looks for fights, but a few minutes later, the same person pulled me by my shirt and pinned me to the wall saying, “we don’t want any Chinese in our country, are you from China!?”
Again, I smiled and said in perfect English, no I am not, but if you talk to my friends, they will tell you perfectly well that you are out of line. Luckily, I was with two other guy friends who immediately pulled him off me. Nothing happened out of the situation and he apologized after, but after this instance, I am now weary of someone attacking me every time I enter a bar in any “white” country.
On another incident, I was having a heated argument with someone because of a traffic problem, and when that person realized I did not have an English accent, he shouted at me saying, “you’re not even English, no wonder you don’t know how to drive”. He then said, “they shouldn’t let people like you in this country”. At this point, my English friend in the car came out and stood up for me as he knew I was in the right. When the man realized I was with an English person, he got back into his car and left.
These encounters continued to happen, several times a year, in every part of my life, be it dating, or on the road. I thought to myself, maybe this is continuing to happen because most people are okay with it. I mean, I was kind of okay with it too… I had never really pushed back, and always politely smiled because I felt I was lucky to be in a western “white” country, and if I cause any trouble, I might get kicked out.
This thought I feel is where the problem stems from. The reality that it is always very difficult for a person from a developing country to be given a visa to work in the UK or any first world country. This makes all minorities feel like we are obliged to stay silent, that we are obliged to let these injustices happen because we are already living in your country as a ‘favor’ to us.
There are so many intricacies as to why racism still exists, and it would be far too long for me to discuss every opinion I have on it here. These are just my own thoughts and experiences that I have had to grow and learn from, and it is only now that I am in my thirties that I am starting to feel good and ‘secure’ in how I look, who I am and where I come from.
– Written by anonymous
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