I have been debating for a while now whether or not to write this post. I’ve only told a few people about the incident because it upset me so much and quite frankly, left me in a state of shock.
So, as many of you already know, I am half Chinese (on my mother’s side) and half Scottish (my father) and it’s something I’ve always been proud of. Two nationalities? Two New Years? Two different cultures to enjoy? Hell yeah!
I mean, a lot of the time it has been difficult- and not to do with anyone else. Growing up in Scotland when the woman raising you does so with an iron fist and traditional Chinese values can be confusing, frustrating, and downright infuriating.
I wasn’t allowed to wear any form of makeup (not even clear lipgloss) throughout my high school years; I didn’t drink properly for the first time until I was 16 (and even then my mum was present), when all my friends were frequently out drinking most weekends; and I didn’t go on my first night out until I was 19 years old- and even on that night my mother almost got her way to come and pick me up at the end of the night. (I won though, and stayed at my friend’s instead… who wants their ma to come pick them up at 3am outside a nightclub? Not me.)
The stereotypical pressures of having to get amazing grades was put on me from an early age- in primary school if I got 9/10 in a spelling test I’d be asked why the heck I didn’t get 10. Anything less that 85-90% on a test or exam was deemed unacceptable, and to be honest, at the time it wasn’t ideal because I constantly had this weight on my shoulders and a need to do well and impress my mum, but at the same time I just wanted to be a kid and get up to mischief and play Chap-Door-Run** with my mates and not worry about anything. To make it more confusing, my dad is such a laid back guy he’s literally horizontal, and whenever I had a test coming up, he’d say:
“Don’t worry, princess. As long as you try your best, that’s all that matters.’
Now, I know the two of them were looking out for me in their own ways- my dad trying to keep me happy and not have me upset if he could help it, and my mum wanting me to excel academically in order to do whatever I wanted in the future- but imagine living in a household where your parents held such different values and reacted to your day-to-day school and social life in such different ways? (This was before they were separated, and literally, I could tell them both something at the same time and could watch two completely different repercussions manifest themselves right before my eyes. Confusing for a child/preteen.
I remember once, in high school, my music class had been given an assignment to do, and no one apart from a couple of other people and I finished it on time, and instead of sending letters home to the parents of the kids who hadn’t finished, my teacher sent out a mass letter to the parents of every single child, and for about a week after I learned she had done this, I raced home each day after school in order to beat my mum to the mail. I eventually got the letter before she saw it, and, knowing she wouldn’t listen to reason or believe that I had, in fact, finished the assignment (because in what world would a teacher not take the time and only send out warning letters to kids that hadn’t done as they were told imma right?) gave it to my dad instead, and explained what had happened before getting rid of the letter by putting it in a bin in the street. Honestly, the strictest parents create the most discreet of people.
ANYWAY all that was just a roundabout way of telling you that, growing up, although family life was tough and to be absolutely transparent, I am still quite scared of my mum (she’s really good at using words to cut people), I have always been hugely proud of my background.
I love how it confuses people that my full name is as Scottish as can be yet I don’t look like a typical person from there; I love how I get to choose between putting Scottish, Asian, or Mixed White/Asian on forms, solely depending on how I’m feeling on a particular day; I love the surprised look on people’s faces when I launch into a full-blown conversation with my mum in Cantonese; and to be honest, I adore being able to naturally be a part of two different cultures, and being accepted by both sides no matter what.
So, last month, I was quietly working away in a little cafe in Sydney… I say quietly working away, but really I was noisily (in the best way) making conversation and coffee for customers who were rushing around on their own lunch breaks searching for their caffeine hit and perhaps a brownie on the side. It was a typical day. The people round where I live in Sydney are generally really nice, so I’d never had any problem with anyone at all.
As I turn to serve the next customer, she looks a bit confused and asks me the price of the different coffees. I explain to her that it depends on the type of coffee, the type of milk, and the size of coffee she wants, so if she would like to to tell me what she wanted I could tell her how much it was going to be. This is how the conversation then went down:
(C being me and L being her… L for lady because I don’t know her name nor do I ever want to know her name.)
L: I’m sorry but I feel really uncomfortable right now.
C: (confused)… sorry what?
L: I just don’t really feel comfortable being served by you.
C: Okay, I’m sorry to hear that, but I don’t understand why.
L: You just don’t seem very professional- you’re wearing a singlet (to my UK readers this means a vest top) to work, rather than a uniform. Why?
C: We’re not actually required to wear a uniform around here, we just need to wear something comfortable, because of how hot it gets. If you have a wee look around you’ll see that most of the other restaurants and cafes round here are the same.
L: I just think it’s really unprofessional, and I mean, no respectable person would wear a singlet to work. I don’t really want to be served by you.
Now, at this point I was thinking, right okay, if you don’t want me to serve you, go to another f*****g cafe please. Also, the cafe was quite full at this point and I was nervous about other customers hearing what was going on, and was beginning to get a bit embarrassed.
C: Okay, I’m sorry you feel that way. There are other cafes if you prefer to go somewhere else.
L: You’re accent isn’t from here, are you Australian?
C: Nope, I’m from Scotland.
L: You don’t look like a Scottish person.
C: (cringing) Yeah, my mum is from Hong Kong so I’m half Chinese half Scottish actually.
At this point, the woman actually recoiled. I was stunned, because it looked as if I’d gone to hit her or something which I 100% had not done.
L: Now I understand.
C: I don’t. What is it you understand?
L: The way you’re dressed and everything.
C: Right okay. The way I dress is how I choose to express myself, and isn’t really anything to do with anyone else. It’s much like the way you dress yourself in the way you like to do in the morning, you don’t really think about other people when you’re doing it right? What I choose to wear and how I choose to wear it is entirely up to me, there’s no other factor involved.
L: I was raised to dress respectfully and not indecently, and the vibe I’m getting from you just isn’t nice.
C: That’s fair enough, but there isn’t anything indecent about the way I’m dressed (I was in a vest top and leggings and trainers, I’ve seen people dress to go to work waaayyyy worse) so I don’t get where you’re getting a bad vibe from.
At this point a queue had started to form and I was getting nervous that other customers were getting impatient, so I told her once again if she didn’t want coffee from me then that was fine, she could go somewhere else.
L: Don’t you love yourself?
C: Excuse me, what?
L: You have a nose piercing, and I know how much those hurt, so from that I can tell you don’t love yourself. God created you, so why don’t you have the respect to not harm your body in that way?
She then paused to think.
To be honest, you’re not even really fully a human being are you? You’re just a mix of two different things so to be honest, if I were in your shoes I wouldn’t love myself either. How can you bear the fact that you’re not one of anything, that you can never be whole?
Now, hearing this (and I know other people heard too because someone gasped and people were looking at each other like what the f**k is this woman saying?) my blood started to boil.
C: Right, you’ve already criticised the way I dress, which I can deal with because if it isn’t to your liking, that’s your own opinion, but please do not start criticising my physical appearance, or my background, because that has nothing to do with you, and to be frank, you’re beginning to make me feel uncomfortable.
L: I don’t want you to make my coffee. Please. I don’t want you to curse it. Please have someone else serve it to me. I know what your people do. I was raised by God, and hear me when I say that if you curse me and my family, I will do it back to you.
C: I’m not going to curse your coffee I’m not a witch. And I doubt God would like you to reciprocate bad actions.
L: Please get your colleague to serve me.
So I did. I walked away from this woman who had told me I wasn’t good enough to serve her coffee, and let my colleague deal with her. And, angry as I was, I walked into the bathroom, and I cried. I sobbed for a good 10 minutes because I didn’t know how to react to such an overt show of racism and judgement from a total stranger. I eventually came to the conclusion she was a nutcase (even if she wasn’t it was a good way of making myself feel better) and walked back into the cafe, where my colleague was waiting for me to see if I was okay.
And I just burst out laughing.
No, I hadn’t had a psychotic break, I just realised that by asking for my colleague, we had had the last laugh, as he is Colombian, and apparently when he served her, her jaw dropped and she asked him not to perform black magic on her and fled the cafe.
It didn’t take me long to pull myself together after that, I just got on with my job. But honestly, though I don’t like to let things get me down, it really did play on my mind all day. I went from being angry to upset, to being angry again, as well as confused, and downright hurt that my day had been marred by someone who didn’t even know me, and had asked me not to serve her purely on the grounds of firstly, the way I looked, and then, my heritage.
Now, I know this is practically nothing compared to what other people have been through in their lives. I know racism takes on many facets and forms in our world, and I am incredibly lucky to have only experienced it this one time. People go through this sort of thing every single day, and unfortunately, I’ve always taken it for granted that it just didn’t happen to me.
But we are in the 21st century!
How is this even happening? And in a country as ‘apparently’ forward thinking and progressive as Australia. I have never been made to feel less human in my life.
‘Not one whole’?! What the f**k does that even mean? Last time I checked, I have a head, two arms, two legs, I can walk around and jump up and down, I can talk and hear, smell, touch and think. If that’s not a ‘whole’ human there for you then I don’t know what is.
Can I just clarify that Chinese people are not witches? I mean, I don’t even know where she got that gem piece of information from but if it’s going about I’d quite like to quell that now, thanks.
I am Scottish. I am Chinese. I am both. And, some people might not like it but guess what? As far as I’m concerned, I’m a f*****g delight, and I freaking love who I am. That lady may have been a nutjob and completely nasty for no reason at all, and unfortunately there are people like her in the world.
The good thing is, there are more nice people in the world than horrid ones (I’d really like to think so anyway) and we cannot let people like that bring down our positivity or light.
Black, white, red, brown, yellow, heck, green if you want; big, small, fat, thin, bald, straight teeth, wonky teeth, spotty, freshfaced, bearded.. we’re all human.
And do you know what? We’re all fucking beautiful.
** For those of you who don’t know, Chap-Door Run is a game we used to play where we would scuttle up to someone’s front door, chap it, then run the fuck away. It was a game that required skill (navigating the path to and from the door); athletic capabilities (you can’t run? You lose, your parents are called and you’re in trouble); investigative skills (is there a car in the drive? Because if there isn’t then there probably isn’t anyone at home and then your attempt is void because no one was ever going to catch you anyway); and chance… there was always the element of not knowing whether or not the person in the house would be near the door or not, thus giving you an unknown amount of time to make your swift exit.