Is it racism?

May 15, 2010

If someone were rude to you on the bus, was it racism or was he simply ill-mannered? If someone didn’t like you, was it racism or were you not his type of friend? If someone took advantage of you, was it racism or was he plain sleazy? If someone gave you an offensive look, was it racism or was he irritated? In short, do you respond to every unpleasant and unfortunate event with racism? Do you see everything through the tinted glass of racism?

After spending 13 years of my life in Britain, I have a very different view on racism compared to most of my fellow foreign friends. When people ask me whether I encounter a lot of racism in this country, I honestly don’t think so. However, it is often a very different matter when I ask other migrants. I have always wondered why.

The best example to demonstrate this would be my mother. She was a well educated scientist who gained prestigious recognition in the field of chemistry. Three years ago she came over to Britain, and suddenly for the first time, I was aware of the oppressive existence of racism through the experiences my mother. Within two months of arriving in the country, my mother had concluded this country was very racist. Eventually she broke lose and told me why. Among many tales, she said people would ignore her when she asked for help. I asked her whether she queued or waited for her turn. The answer was no. These behaviors would be perfectly acceptable in many situations back in China, but not so in Britain. There were obvious customs difference between the two cultures. I told her to Imagine that she were paying a visit to her friends’ house, as a courtesy, she would behave within the rules of the house as a sign of respect. So she should do the same while she was in Britain. She accepted my suggestion of adapting the local culture, and soon she found people were much easy to get along with, and she felt more confident and happier as a result.

There was another example where she bought a bottle of pepsi in a hot summer. Somehow the plastic bag broke and the bottle fell to the ground and was broken . She went back to the shop and tried to ask for a replacement from the same person who sold it to her. The assistant refused and there was nothing she could do but went home. She was very upset and told me how racist the person was. I told her it might not be the case. I asked her whether she ever saw some foreigners in China been ripped off by street traders? She said yes. It was the same thing, I told her. If you didn’t know the language to communicate and the rights you have in any country around the world, there was a good chance that you would be cheated, dismissed or neglected by the locals. There are always some people somewhere who will take advantage of you if you don’t know the rules. I told her if she could speak better English and insist to speak to the manager, that would be more than enough to get thing sorted.

The way I see racism is that it makes you angry, makes you filled with grudges; it defeats you without a battle; it makes you insignificant and prone to more attacks. Who would want to live a life like this? Yes, you might think it makes your life easier because you can blame every unpalatable thing on racism, but it also limit you chance of progress and having a better quality of life.

It is all in the attitude. My mother certainly enjoyed her life much more in Britain after she concentrated on more self improvements and less on finding fault in others. In comparison, Her friend who was in a same club could not see the other side of the coin. Auntie Ng was born in Hong Kong and lived most of her life in Britain. She was over competitive and often discourteous. Eventually, there were so many people who refused to be involved in any activities with her, and she ended up being very isolated. Instead of reflecting on her own behaviours, she constantly complained to my mum about how all the British people in the class had turned against her because they were racist. My mother knew that was utterly untrue since everyone was friendly and respectable to her. Being a friend, she told Autie Ng the truth and urged her to restrain her competitive behaviour and to treat others with more consideration. But Autie Ng would not listen, by the end the atmosphere was so unbearable for her she was forced out of the class. The outlook of racism did not do any favour for Autie Ng but made her life more miserable.

If every morning you woke up thinking everyone you encountered that day would be racist, you are not going to have a good day. You would give out this vibe of being a target and some people would pick up on that vulnerable emotion and indeed attack you. However, if you woke up thinking you were as equal as everyone else, you would have more confidence and self esteem that you would influence people around in a positive way. Treat unpleasant encounters as individual cases, either there is something you could improve on, or agree that there are always some bad peas in a pod and just move on. It may not make life as easy as labeling everything as racism, but it will give you more satisfaction as a human being. Remember that we choose to come to this country to experience and learn about different life and cultures not the other way around.

Of course there will always be some pathetic losers who call out names, but they do it to everyone, to women who look sexy, to men who look trendy, to anyone who is obese, to anyone is any different or better than themselves. Life is too short to waste a second of thought over those wretched creatures. If someone did ask to buy DVDs off you, just give them a bright smile and say: Yes, I have a lot, but I am just not interested in selling any to you.