Recently, on a Waiheke ferry trip, my partner who I will call M (Filipino) and myself (Pākehā) grabbed a couple of coffees. As we waited for our orders, we perched on the parents’ seat. Chatting away, we didn’t notice the lycra-clad white woman approaching with a pram. Apparently, our (or rather, M’s) ignorance incensed her.
Looking squarely at my partner she explained, “this is the PRAM area, thank you very much.” We both hopped up instantly, but she was already on her tirade; “you have to learn to READ, this is meant for MUMS and BABIES!”.
“Sorry,” M replied, “we were waiting for our coffees”.
M’s non-broken English appeared to appease the woman, who nodded sharply. Returning to our seats, flat whites in hand, it sunk in what had happened.
“That…that woman was annoyed at you because you’re Asian,” I stammered. M looked at me as if I’d been born yesterday.
As a white person in an interracial relationship, you experience these exposing moments over and over. You’re exposed to other people’s racism – and you’re especially exposed to your own ignorance.
When I read about Fraser Milne, the 21-year-old Pākehā man who drove a Chinese-New Zealand family off the road while screaming racial obscenities, my stomach dropped. When I discussed it with M, she told me she feared this. When she and her family take a trip to a small Kiwi town, she lives on edge. And when a Pākehā approaches the group, she braces.
Fraser Milne chased the family who angered him so much for over 7 kilometres, presumed they were here on an “illegal Visa”, and admitted he wished to hurt “any Asian in general”. He is of a different ilk to the lady on the ferry. But their tirades stem from the same place.
Most shocking to me, in the case of Milne, was his age. At 21 years old a person is forming their world view. In my experience they’re reading the books, watching the shows, and listening to the music they’ll come to call their ‘all time favourites’. But a person has lived a lot of life by 21 too.
The disdain Milne showed toward Asian people that evening was not created in a vacuum – he will have absorbed it from the culture, jokes, and attitudes that surrounded him growing up. And these attitudes are not exclusive to small towns like Milne’s Paeroa.
I was of Primary-school age when I first heard the term ‘Asian invasion’. I was on Queen Street, and it was an adult who uttered it. I remember laughing. Anything that rhymed was funny to me at the time. I didn’t understand the negative connotations.
“Asian invasion” I repeated, “That’s a good one.”
But it’s not a good one. Neither is it funny to announce that Asian people are ‘bad drivers’, Asian people are ‘submissive’, or to make other more offensive proclamations about Asian bodies.
It’s not acceptable to talk about ‘positive stereotypes’ either.
Racism is racism. These small grievances pile up until they’re monstrous. They make life more dangerous for the people on the receiving end, but they also seep into the minds of the non-Asian people who hear them. We’ve created a culture of casual racism that has proven itself to culminate in horror. It’s well past time to confront our own stereotypes.Support Villainesse