When you live in Asia, we are already born deep inside racial issues, even in Japan where their population is relatively homogeneous.
It’s a really painful issue to talk about because it’s not something you can exit from, like teenage awkwardness, poverty or being fat.
Even talking about it can be more taboo than talking about the latest birth control device because we’re so keen to just drive things under the carpet here.
I’d like to share Mei Lin’s story with you today.
She grew up as a Chinese Indonesian in a relatively sheltered environment. She thought her community had progressed past the racial discrimination and all, however racial issues still run deep.
Read on and think about whether we as Singaporeans also have such prejudices against each other, how did these prejudices start and should we teach our kids otherwise?
Source: The Verge
Here’s Mei Lin’s reply to a quora:
My story is pretty ironic, my parents are the least racist people, my mom loathed that famous ‘fankui’ slur, for them race is nothing but skin color and they believe that nothing good will come out off telling me about racial discrimination and if we give it time, one day Indonesia will become a beautiful multi-racial multi-cultural country, that’s what they believed in, rich or poor, white or black, all of it doesn’t matter. Even when the 1998 riot happened (I was 8) they didn’t tell me anything about the natives trying to kill us, I was oblivious about racism for the first 22 years of my life and I grew up as a very happy and carefree xenophile.
That was a very bad decision. I will explain later.
My parents sent me to a predominantly chinese private school (for no other reason than the english level is WAY better than public school) and lived in a predominantly chinese neighbourhood, but they had nice native friends outside of the community, so everything was fine and ‘peaceful’ for me. In 2006 I became a cosplayer and went to countless cosplay events in east Jakarta, including UI, you could say that I finally ventured outside the safe bubble that my family had unconciously created for me. 70% of my cosplay friends were natives, I even fell in love with one guy (they were very nice to me, and now I’m wondering if they actually had ‘yellow fever’!! i read on a blog somewhere that some natives do have ‘yellow fever’). One day I was about to go out with my 70% native friends and my aunt interrogated me “who are your friends? are they chinese? because if they are not, they might be bad people, you have to choose friends carefully.”, I said “no my friends are natives but what’s the difference anyway? why do I have to play with chinese only? my friends are very nice people, even nicer than some snobbish chinese kids that I know” (still completely oblivious about racial discrimination), my aunt didn’t want to argue so she said “remember this conversation, someday you will understand”.
Fast forward to 2012, My friends were still 70–80% natives. I hangout with them most of the week at warungs or at my bff’s wooden house (it was literally made out of wood but she owned a 22″ tv that she only use to watch kpop dvds lol). One day me and my native friends were eating at a warung, and then the leader of our gank invited a new girl, she said she just moved from Padang to Jakarta. Her first reaction to being introduced to our gank was looking at me from head to toe with disgust and say “ why do you guys play with chinese?” and none of my ‘friends’, NO ONE, not even my bff, defended me or even said anything, not one word, they just smiled bitterly and shrugged it off. I was in a limbo for a few weeks, I was in shock, and after a while, it dawned on me, the real truth about Indonesia, I literally lost my shit and went batshit crazy, I remembered what my aunt said all those years ago, and I blamed my parents for hiding the truth from me, but they were still trying to convince me that not all people are like that, so I gave them another chance.
One day I was at Car Free Day with my dad, and 2 native kids shouted “BABI HARAM” at me, they were following us from behind. My mom said “the parents probably hate Ahok, so they teach their kids to attack chinese people verbally, just give it time it will die down eventually.”
Not long after that I was sitting at a public area and a rich native old woman (she looked rich…like south Jakarta rich) beside me purposely talked about the 1998 riot with her friends loudly, she told them that her husband was involved in the riot, destroyed some chinese rukos, he stole 2 packs of Rinso, and she said to him, “you stupid man why didn’t you steal something more expensive”. That’s where I draw the line. Nothing my parents try to teach me could ever change my mind.
Whoever posted this question, I don’t know what you aimed for, but not telling kids the truth doesn’t always have a positive outcome. And It will never change the truth, the kids will somehow find out about it one day, you can’t always protect them and make them stay inside the safe bubble. It’s harder to deal with when you’re older, to think about all the lost years (living in an imaginary world created by your parents) that you will never get back. It would be better if parents teach their kids about the truth and let them deal with it in their own way.
Think about this you go to school, learn pancasila, sumpah pemuda, wear kebaya at hari kartini and other events, you don’t know anything about china and you don’t speak mandarin, then some random natives could just come up to you and scream in your face “THIS IS NOT YOUR COUNTRY GO BACK TO CHINA”. what the hell is that?? My great great grandparents moved here since the dutch colonialism era. My grandparents were born during the dutch colonialism, they spent their childhood hiding and running from the japanese, they loathed the dutch and japanese just like other native Indonesians. It is ridiculous to think that we the chinese descendants cannot fight for our rights as a citizen, we are not like the chinese descendants in America, We’ve been living here since before the country was formed.
It made me laugh everytime a native person on Quora posted questions such as “Why do the chinese indonesians only marry their own people? Why do the chinese indonesians refuse to assimilate with us? Why are the chinese indonesians very exclusive?” Because when we tried to make friends with the natives, you said “why do you guys play with chinese?” because when we stood/sat side by side at public areas you shouted racial slurs at us or tried to hurt us with the 1998 riot stories, we cannot assimilate because you always rejected us first when we reached out our hands.
TL;DR: my parents thought that not teaching me about the truth would make me the least racist person just like them, instead it made the whole experience even more chaotic and painful. If they taught me about racial discrimination since very young age, the outcome might be different, and a lot better.
Also published on Medium.