I am mixed race. There. I said it.
It’s usually a burning question people have when they first meet me, but they never know how to ask and it’s usually me who brings it up, easing their curiosity and leaving them with a sense of smugness that they knew I am mixed – bonus points if they guessed what my heritage actually is.
Half Scottish, half Chinese, brought up in Stirling, Scotland. I always knew I was different to other kids – how could I not? My mum didn’t look the way other mums did, we spoke to each other in a language that other kids and their parents didn’t understand, and, apart from the one other Chinese girl I went to school with, almost everyone else was white.
With the precarious situation surrounding race at the moment, I debated whether or not to add my two pence in. On one hand, I have felt the pain, endured the name calling and hatred directed towards me because I wasn’t white, because I looked different, but on the other hand, I didn’t feel like it was my time to speak. In amongst the #blacklivesmatter movement, I would have felt like a fraud. The time just now is theirs, and all I feel I can really do at this present time is educate myself, and support local businesses run by members of the BAME community.
I do, however want to talk a bit about the weird situation that my brother and I find ourselves in. Yes, we are mixed race, and of course, we have tolerated our fair share of racist comments, but, at the end of the day there is no denying the fact that we too, have been able to us the ‘white’ part of us to our advantage.
I won’t get into every little thing, but to me, what we have most definitely benefited from is quite simply, our names. Our surname is MacDonald, both of us have pretty run-of-the-mill, what would be associated as ‘white’ first names. My dad used to love joking to me that my mum had actually really wanted us to have Chinese names as our first names, but ‘thank god that didn’t happen because no-one would ever know how to say them’.
I didn’t really give this a second thought until quite recently. I began to wonder how different people might feel if they saw a CV for a job application with the name Catherine MacDonald, versus how they would feel if they got the same CV with the name Hiusin Leung (my Chinese name plus my mother’s maiden name). It actually hurts to have to admit it, but if both CVs were exactly the same, I would almost be certain in my bet to you that the first CV would be the one to be contacted about the job. In this sense, I am under no illusion as to where my white privilege kicks in.
How many times have you heard of members of the BAME community having to ‘adopt’ new names because their peers ‘cannot’ pronounce (or don’t try to learn to pronounce) the names they were given at birth? I know of someone who is ‘called’ Joe. Not because it says anywhere on any of his documents that his name is Joe, but someone once said years ago, ‘I don’t know how to say your name so we’ll just call you Joe.’ To a grown man. Who probably would have picked a better name than Joe had he actually wanted an English name in the first place. Which he didn’t.
Still, it stuck, and now everyone calls him Joe and it’s what he introduces himself as to others because it’s easier for him to do that than go through the whole rigmarole of repeating his actual name more than once to people who feel like they can’t say it because it’s not a nice white name.
Our names are our identity – but not when they’re difficult for white people to pronounce, because then they feel they have the right to take our identity and change it to suit them and their mother tongue.
I don’t identify as white. I never have. On forms I always tick the ‘mixed’ box, and if people ask me, the answer is always half Scottish, half Chinese. But I cannot deny the fact that my name – my very identity has most likely given me an edge over other people throughout my life, whether it be in job applications, flat rental applications, whatever. That is my white privilege at its most obvious.
Halsey, the singer, recently put into words what I have previously been unable to articulate in a meaningful way myself. As a biracial woman herself, she has said that she is ‘white passing’- though she feels the pain that black people have been going through, she would be doing them a disservice by saying ‘we’ in light of the violence that black people are subjected to, because she fully understands the privilege the colour of her skin brings her. She’s never going to be killed because of her skin tone.
Because of this, I agree with Halsey – at this moment in time, it’s not my time to speak out. I have never been subjected to violence at the hands of people who have been trained to protect myself and others in my community, because I don’t look different enough. What I can do right now is continue to educate myself, help in any way I possibly can and learn to be comfortable with calling people out when they use racial slurs in front of me- even if they think they’re being ‘funny’.
For too many years the word ‘chinky’ has been thrown around in my presence with me doing nothing about it. I’ve laughed it off; pretended I didn’t hear it; said ‘it’s okay, it’s just a word’ – but it isn’t okay. Every time someone says it I feel sick. Disgusted that someone with whom I associate would say it and despising myself even more for letting them think it was acceptable.
It is time to make a change, and though I understand my own white privilege and can’t even begin to say I can understand the pain and fear that the black community go through on a daily basis, I can say that I stand against racism, and I stand for racial equality in a world that has gone too long without it.