Vancouver is a very interesting place to be Asian.
There are so many pockets of the city where speaking Cantonese or Mandarin is the norm; there are Chinese supermarkets on every corner, the quality of dim sum is renown – compared to many other places in the Western world. It can be much easier to navigate being a minority in this city if you are of Asian descent. This is something that I really have taken for granted, being a Canadian born Chinese person (aka “CBC”), living in Vancouver.
In 2010, I moved to South Africa to pursue graduate studies with the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. In my two years that I lived in Cape Town, one of the things that I really struggled with, was how I was navigating race in my new home. At the beginning, I really had a hard time adjusting. There are very few Asians in the city, and even fewer that looked like me. Everywhere I went, people were constantly making comments about my race. I was asked on a regular basis if I was related to Bruce Lee, if I eat anything other than rice, and if I could do “kung fu”. It was very frustrating.
That being said, I quickly started to understand how much social mobility I had as well, despite some of these racist experiences directed at me. My Canadian citizenship – and accent – granted me a ton of access to different social circles. And even though I incurred a massive student loan to study in South Africa, my financial situation (including have a bank account in dollars as opposed to rands) – compared to most (black) people in Cape Town – granted me a access to a lifestyle that was above and beyond most people around me.
Also, despite my own experience being racialized in South Africa, I had to come to terms with my own white privilege that I embodied, simply from being of a lighter skin tone then most people. It was so easy to just hide under the “POC” (People of Colour) banner, that I also “belonged to” alongside black and brown people. In fact, due to affirmative action policies at the university, I actually had to select the racial category that I fit under apartheid…Chinese people were technically under the “black” category. But something about hiding behind the POC banner didn’t sit well with me – in fact, I came to realize that without engaging with the privilege that my lighter skin granted me, assuming solidarity with other, darker skinned, POC’s was disingenuous, and in fact silenced the experience of white supremacy by my darker skinned allies.
Moving back to Vancouver in 2012, I have tried to bring that lens of engaging with my own racial privilege, as a POC, with me. I really have to remember that while yes, I may experience the back hand of white supremacy on a daily basis – but in many ways I also benefit from it, and am privileged by it – because I have “lighter” skin.
If I truly want to talk about racism, I have to begin with the reality of my own relationship with white supremacy, before I can even begin to dismantle it.
In love and solidarity,