Saturday, July 14, 2007


For some reasons, living in a foreign land makes some people more vigilant towards racism. I personally haven't found lots of instances of racism in Melbourne, but some of my friends overseas have been telling me that racism is one of the major issues faced by international students in certain places. That intrigues me - am I the obtuse person who fails to detect racism surrounding me, or have I been really lucky to have eschewed instances of racism, or have people been too sensitive in their daily encounters?

A few days ago I read this post from Metroblogging Melbourne about a "racist" little kid, but after reading the story three times I was still entirely puzzled as to what made the author perceive the act as being racist.

They say racism starts from home. Damn right I say.

Working an evening shift in the restaurant on Tuesday night. A caucasian lady came in with two chatty caucasian boys. Very chatty and intelligent; I couldn't help but listen to their animated conversations about storybooks, schools and mobile phones.

My manager had taken their orders earlier, and had left me in charge of serving their table.

Food is prepared and ready, and I walked over to their table with three plates in hand. I was greeted with a very loud misnomer from one of the two boys.


Immediately the lady turned to him and said, "Charlie, that's rude!"

With dinner plates still in my hand, I shot back.

"I'm not Japanese. What are you?"

Visibly embarrassed, the lady replied with a half-smile.

"He's a messed-up boy. A little bit of German, Welsh, Irish..." I cut her off.

"Does he speak German? Welsh? Or Gaelic?"

"No, no, he doesn't speak Gaelic, or any of the sort."

I replied casually, while serving their dinners.

"Well best you sort out these kids here. Racism starts from home."

The family ate quickly and left.

If this was in a less restricted setting i.e I wasn't working I would have kicked up a real verbal fuss, stopping short of a Western suburb-style brawl. We Metrobloggers are too civilised for that :)

In hindsight, I shouldn't have been that rude. But I do not feel any guilt. That kid was no more than ten years old, but he was looking at me as a category, not a person. And that's just fucked up. Allowing racism to fester at a tender age will only magnify the racist's stereotypical views of a non-White as he/she grows older. But allowing racist behaviour or comments to go 'unpunished' is worse.

Whatever it is, I'm glad I put the boy in his place. It didn't matter if he understood it or not; what matters most is that I didn't put up with it. Nobody should. The lady had better sort him out.

But whatever it is, I still win. Afterall, I'm not the one with the clownish name Charlie.
What is racism?

If a friendly waiter or a butcher in the market tries to catch my attention by saying "Ni Hao", are they being racist by identifying me as a Chinese and try to make me feel good by using my language?

Of course I am not the author, so the kid may have been really rude in the way he shouted out the "Konichiwa", but even if that's the case it would have been an attitude problem, not a racism problem.

Some people who commented in the original blog say that by identifying people and "stereotyping" people by race, the kid is already learning to disrespect and discriminate - but what constitutes racism is not "recognizing / categorizing people by race"; it is judging people and make presumptive generalisations based on one's race. Shouting "Konichiwa" is not making a judgement.

So what do you guys think about this story? It intrigued me enough to make a whole post in my own blog.


day-dreamer said...

Erm, when I finish reading the quoted story (and haven't proceeded to reading what you've wrote), I was thinking, "Heck, you call that racism?"

I agree with you that this is not racism. The author took things too seriously, I suppose.

If he calls that racism, then we are victims. Why? My friends regardless of race seldom greet me with 你好. It was always, "Hi!"

ShouFarn said...

I feel that this is just an over dramatic person who sees racism everywhere. You know, the kind who would take offense at almost anything, construing it as an attack or something.

Eric Fu said...

I personally think that this waiter is the messed up party, not the little boy.

Celest said...

hmmm.... very interesting... maybe we, brought up in Msia have learnt a higher level of tolerance towards these things.... because in the quoted story, the child's mom also thought it was rude.. hehehe... but ur entry is quite intriguing...

SilverIsle said...

Need or not. So serious meh. What's wrong with the waiter. =/

Well. Can't really comment much though. As I'm not in his situation.

jasmine said...

maybe their culture is different. i read somewhere that doing the "victory" sign we all like to do in photographs is considered rude in australia? i dunno.

but if someone greets me in chinese i'll be pleased at the attempt to communicate. *shrugs*

and don't forget to write your travel notes!! =D

WP said...

To me, that isn't first I also thought that the author was overreacting, but it seems that the mother thought it was rude as well. Weird.

crushedguava said...

he wants to be treated like any other person.

the fact that the kid looked at him and immediately identified him as 'non-white' and therefore used a different language to greet him offended him, cos he wanted to be identified as a person, and not by his skin colour.

basically he is saying that in a racism free world, everyone would be treated equally regardless of race, and he does not want kids as young as 10 years old to start identifying ppl as caucasian and 'non caucasian'

Neptune Chye said...

Responding to the main idea of this post, "RACISM", I thought it's sth very common. I've grown up in a rather racist environment. My family moved to a taman area where Malays predominate (a very high majority), and certainly my neighbors are all malays kids.

And you know what they used to call us, "CINA BABI" & "CINA BODOH" or "CINA MAKAN BABI". They even come to seize our surrounding land (outside the fence) to grow coconut trees and stuff and give such excuse to my parents, "Kau Cina Kaya lagi nak tanah banyak buat apa?"

And the kids are mean, they address me as "Cina babi" and of course won't play with me. They even showed some kind of "perpaduan" when it comes to bullying us with stone throwing to my house! F**k them. Many bad things like that happen, even now.

When I was in secondary school, I swore to show that Cina is not stupid at all, and with some of my friends (chinese ones), we strived to dorminate the top 1 to 10 in each tingkatan just to show our pride as CINA whenever there is "Hari Anugerah Cemerlang" when the Malay parents are invited to see how chinese students outshine in the Malay-dorminant school, S.M.K.Aman Jaya!

Now U must have thought that "Yeah, Neptune is a great racist!" But I think it's the environment that shape a person/a community to act racistly,even though it is now labelled as a very condemnable norm via general public education.

Also, I think racism is still sth that would exist as long as the mankind is catergonised into the rigid cultures and race. I reckon it's rather an instinct subconsciousness coming from the fear of being conquered/harmed by people from other kinds/groups. So to me, this world is not gotta be a completely racism-free world, dunno.

Neptune Chye said...

And the coconut trees, now grown up and tall enough, collapsed and fell down to "rock" the Malay family that seized my family's outside property. And neither of my family members felt even a sense of sympathy to them (which is bad). Instead... "Hooray, good on them. Haha, am I racist to make such comment? I thought it's more like a revenge kind of response.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I am only a reader. But surly I think there is something wrong with you attitude.
What's wrong with all of you. You complained all the people surrounding you of being racist. have you ever stopped all considered yourself for one minute.
Sure there is time when the people surrounding act stupidly and their behaviour do not have the decency of a human being. But, look at this. The moment you start to react and fight back in a fashion similar to them, are you not the same kind as they are.
What that 10-year old kid did was inexcusable. However, he is only a kid. When you are in high school and having have to lead the younger kids, are you not told that children need discipline, not punshihment.
You are going to be a doctor, pal. Remember this: not all patients are sympathetic to you. Some even have the notion that doctors are there to look after your money, not your health. I mean it, I have seen people like that.
If you let them triumph over you and lose your cool, you and them are not getting anywhere.
That kid needs help, not comdemning.

youngyew said...

Thanks for your comment, anonymous. I take it that this comment is directed towards Neptune? I agree that two wrongs don't make a right, and perpetuated mutual hatred will only worsen the matter. So we should all strive not to commit the mistake of the very people we are accusing.

However, I still don't get why you said the 10-year-old was guilty of racism. As I mentioned in the post itself, I don't think using Japanese to greet people is rude. Or do you think that people saying "Ni Hao" to me in the market is a rude thing?

youngyew said...

Thanks for your comments!

Celest, wp: The mum might have thought greeting a stranger loudly is rude, or the mum realizes that the waiter is a chinese instead of a japanese. I can't be sure though.

Jasmine: I have never heard that the "v" sign is considered rude in Australia worr.. And ya, I will write the travel notes. :P

Crushedguava: I would think that identifying people by race is innate, and is rather benign as long as it's not tainted by prejudice. It's just like identifying people by hair length, hair colour, favourite colour, supported football team etc - as long as you don't have thoughts such as "liverpool fans are idiots", it's always fine to identify Jian Wey as a Liverpool fan. It should be the same with race, I think.

Neptune: Two wrongs don't make a right, so we should be more magnanimous. Don't let revengeful thoughts cloud our sanity.