“Wow, your English is so good!” I smile back and sometimes force a laugh. I use to brush it off and try to change the subject but now I answer with: ‘Why wouldn’t my English be good?’ And why wouldn’t it be?
Of course my English is good, I grew up speaking the language all my life. What annoys me the most is that people assume I won’t be able to speak fluent English because I don’t look like someone who could. And this is what we call casual racism.
‘You’re from Hong Kong? I thought you would have an accent.’
Casual racism is a type of microaggression. I know that the majority of people don’t intend to be racist or offensive. Casual racism isn’t the belief that one race is superior than another, but the result of stereotypes and prejudices.
However, it can be frustrating and annoying. As I’m registered as an international student at UEA, I’m included in the mail list for an English support programme. Because casual racism often come in the forms of off-handed, inappropriate ‘jokes’, it’s not acknowledged and treated like direct racism.
I remember an incident where the owner of an animal sanctuary came to collect me for a volunteer project, and said she hadn’t recognised me immediately because she was looking for a blonde female. We had only talked on the phone once before and through that, she assumed I was a white female with blonde hair. Quite amazing really.
I was quite stumped at her comment so I just laughed it off — an automatic reaction to comments like this. I know for a fact the owner would have been mortified if I had told her I was slightly offended by her comment.
Currently, the most racial microaggresion I’ve experienced was during fresher’s week at the UEA. A vast amount of people commented on how surprised they were with my fluency in English, and lack of an accent.
Perhaps they wouldn’t make so many offhanded comments had I lived in a location that predominantly spoke English.
But because I come from Hong Kong (even though English is one of the official languages), it’s somewhat amazing that I speak with such ease.
I have many international friends and acquaintances who have also said they have experienced casual racism. I mean, how many times have I heard something along the lines of: all you Asians look the same. Really? Maybe you should have your eyes checked because it’s an undeniable fact that we, in fact, are not clones.
‘She’s from Korea’ ‘Must have undergone plastic surgery.’
‘She’s from Thailand.’ ‘Lol, what if she’s actually a he?’ Just stop. Stop.
I once watched a video explaining micro-aggression where the commentator compared it to mosquito bites; bearable but massively annoying, especially if there’s more than one. And like with any mosquito, I will swat you down. We shouldn’t have to tolerate racism of any kind, even if it’s in the form of a joke or the result of ignorance.
It’s 2018, casual racism should be dying out but unfortunately, it’s still prominent in all cultures and societies. Think before you speak.
I’m not saying to tread on eggshells twenty-four-seven but it wouldn’t hurt to discard prejudices and stereotypes. By tackling casual racism and micro-aggression, we can eventually focus on the bigger picture of racism in general.