*This article contains language some people may find offensive*
Since the death of George Floyd brought a world changing movement to life, racism has been the topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue right now. When racism is the only thing people talk about everyone has their own experience of it and different things to say. I felt very confused about if I should be putting a cap on how far I go when talking about how I felt regarding racism and I found it hard to articulate to people. So I spoke to some people who I respected and trusted and it resulted in me deciding to write a stream of consciousness that at first I didn’t want to give out to more than a few close friends, but every time I sent it to one more person they told me how incredible and eye opening it was and that it needed to be heard by more than just my friends. If we weren’t in a world where everything had to come to a halt because of a virus I don’t think any of this would have had the time to happen, this intensely any way. In a normal world I don’t think I would have written anything like this let alone share it with a bunch of people that don’t even know me but sometimes you have to take advantage of the ears and eyes you suddenly have the attention of. A few months ago if I’d voiced something like this I think it would have been dismissed completely but now people are ready to listen. I also would never be able to have this conversation with so many people separately so it proves how important social media is to the growing success of this light bulb moment for a lot of people and I’m proud to have switched so many more of them on.
So I have spent a long time thinking about how to say this in the right way without offending others and get the correct message across.
It’s been however long since we stopped talking about racism, however long since the world voiced the fact it stood up against racism. And yet here we are, I go on to Facebook and I see someone blaming China for a virus again, I go on to Instagram and I see a meme about a muslim and bombing, I go over to Twitter and I see more racist jokes about more cultures and more races.
But its okay now! the world understands racism now, yes you believe you understand your white privilege now!
To an extent I suppose we do, I along with many others tried my hardest to create change and become an activist for the BLM movement. I am proud I was loud, I am proud I stood by black lives. You want to know something sad though, I fought so hard for that movement because I wanted to make more of a change than just people finally caring for black lives, more than police brutality, I wanted people to understand RACISM. I kept incredibly quiet about my own issues during that time, like I always do, mainly because I didn’t want to take away focus from black lives, but also because I do not like to speak about my feelings or emotions on anything, it makes me feel vulnerable and I hate it, I think there’s many reasons for that one of which I'll touch on later. So yes what’s sad is that despite me trying so hard I knew this would still be a problem, I got extremely caught up in my head about the fact that at the time it was black and white, but no in-between, me a girl who is by no means black or faced the truly terrible struggles they do but has known racism all her life, yet also a girl who is by no means white nor has the white privilege we speak of but has been amongst it all her life. I got extremely confused about where I fit in to the equation… am I allowed to voice my anger at racism or am I too privileged? I came to the conclusion I should and I would, at the same time Il’l educate myself on back oppression just as everyone else did but I wouldn’t talk specifically about Asian racism.
As I came to that conclusion on where I should stand I grew angry and upset and confused, I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t stop thinking about everything racist anyone has ever said to me, all the times I took it and kept quite because I’ve been repeatedly told before “it’s not racist”.The fact growing up I didn’t exactly know anyone else Chinese apart from my family, which is so large and spread out I'm not super close with, so when nobody else but you is offended by something you start to believe you shouldn’t be, especially as a child trying to fit in.
I sat uncontrollably crying to my mum about all my horrible angry thoughts, I said to her “Why aren’t you as angry as me?” she said “Im 54 I’ve had it all my life, it's something I've learned to accept” That, that made my blood boil, My mum explained to me that it’s very much in Chinese peoples nature to stay quiet, which I believe, my grandad was the most quiet man I've ever known, yet somehow still the wisest and my biggest hero to this day. I sat on this statement “it's in our nature to keep quiet” as my mum continued to tell me life isn’t fair, we have to understand that must learn how to react to what people say to us not expect them to change. Well you know what, NO. Half of my identity may be Chinese and emotionally reserved, but Im also a bunch of other ethnicities and Incredibly outspoken and I'll use that.
So I hope you’re still listening because that was just the intro. Let me explain to you how I feel, let me make you understand what 22 years of racism and oppression, but no outlet or sources for me to see/read and validate thoughts and feelings does to a person.
Let’s start with my name. My full name is Caitlin Jade Ming Chie Lee-Wilcox, something for a very long time I hated people to know, something I hated to say. Why? I think just about 90% of the time when people find this information out they laugh. HAHAH what was that “Mingey”? “Can I call you that now?” “But that’s your name isn’t it why can’t I call you it?”. People love to laugh at Chinese names, the language, the inflections, the speed. I'm sure you’ve all tried to imitate it at some point haven’t you. Well while that's been a lifetime joke I've sat there in the corner not laughing, watching everyone else laugh and look at me not laughing and brand me as miserable. Reality is I’m looking at you very poorly, imitate a language I may not speak but grew up listening to, a normality for me, not weird, not funny at all, a language my loved ones speak in so yes I’m uncomfortable that you’re mocking it.
I think this leads nicely in to my next point, being only a quarter Chinese I don’t look typically Chinese, I don’t speak Chinese and people expect me not to be offended a lot of the time because of these factors, well nope. I'm pretty proud of my culture and it still hurts me very deeply on the inside if you must know. Another issue that comes along with being mixed raced is that honestly nobody knows what I am until I state it, have you ever gotten on to the topic of your race when no one knows it’s yours, anxiety, that’s a word we shouldn’t use lightly. The amount of anxiety I still get to this day when people that don’t know me start joking around about race, hoping Chinese doesn’t come into it and I have to sit through the jokes while everyone around me is oblivious and then hold on wait for it...“OH, you’re not Chinese are you?” everyone looks at me, the room is suddenly filled with awkwardness, pity, but unsurprisingly no remorse another thing I’m used to now.
I think as I've gotten older I've surrounded myself with better people, ones I trust, ones that listen, ones that try to understand. But these things still remain outside of my safety net, the way I’ve decided to write this I think I'll keep going further back as we move on.
In my first year of University at the age of 18, I left home and braved the big old City of London. I met so so many great people and I grew so much, I loved my first year a lot, I don’t regret the people I spent it with, I don’t regret the times I had with them. But and there always has to be a but, toxically the core group I called my friends back then were actually some of the worst culprits when I think about my personal oppressors whether they meant to be or not. Let me continue to tell you why. A lot of my time was spent with a group of boys, boys known for being funny but controversial and always getting away with that too because they voiced it was in the name of comedy. Some of the things they used to do/say to me were the standard imitation of the language, call me derogatory words, jokes on the food Chinese families like to eat and how we all look the same to name a few. That was a huge one that year, how we look the same. We could be on the tube and one of them would say “Caitlin look that must be your uncle over there” everyone laughs, standard, everyone looks at me, standard, everyone notices I’m not laughing. “You’re so sensitive.” “Nahh come on Caitlin, we’re only messing” and If I said it wasn’t funny and sounded the slightest bit unhappy about it, I'm just an aggressive person who needs to understand a joke when it's made. Well that’s me told, over and over, shut up and take it you’re the only person not laughing, lighten up there’s a problem with you not us. Sounds horrible which it was, but they did have redeeming qualities so I put up with it, funny isn’t it, how I had to tell myself I know they make you upset a lot but look past it.
So I’ll go the furthest back i’m willing to go, back to what I think was the absolute height of my racial abuse and a time I look back on and feel physically sick. Middle and Upper School. Specifically years 6-10 give or take. Now I don’t know what was in the air back then but on top of all the things Ive already spoken on people loved to throw the C word around. When I say the C word, I'm not talking about the C word you're thinking. I'm talking about a word that sounds so sharp to my ears, sends shivers down my spine, see red, makes me feel sick and so very small. I actually can’t bring myself to say it aloud but I'll type it for context of this aritcle: “C***k” or “C***ky”. To so many, you might read that and feel nothing but I don’t take any of what I just said lightly, that word to me is, well it’s just the worst and I shouldn’t have to explain it any more than I have. Anyway so, the C word - oh how people loved that word and, oh how every time someone said it another piece of me whittled away. I can think of two times I actually said something, I must of been around 12. The first time I was with two boys, one white, one black, we’d just been to the cinema and it was that time after maccies when you sit waiting for your mum to come and collect you in the car park. They asked me what race I was, I said Chinese. The black boy says “Oh you mean you’re a C***ky?” The white boy laughs. I said “Well I don’t really like that word, it would be the same as calling you the N word.” He didn’t say sorry, instead he simply said “No it’s not, It’s a descriptive word, you’re a C***k, your family are C***ky’s that’s a fact.” “The N word is a racist slur, nothing like the word C***k” The white boy agrees, I am outnumbered I am silenced. The second time got a bit more heated…
Lunch time at school, a girl who i’m sure only said this word to fit in, didn’t address me she just said “Oooo yeah I love a C***ky.” She was talking about Chinese takeaways, I didn’t particularly get along with this individual so I lost all control in front of everyone. I shouted at her saying the word is racist, it upsets me, you wouldn’t say the N word to a black person the same you wouldn’t say the P word to Pakistani person. Again, the immediate response was not to understand and apologise, but to deny and defend, I’ll never understand that. The situation ended in what Im very much used to, they say its not the same as the N word at all and I shouldn’t be upset, only difference I started to cry out of both anger and pain but even then no one thought I had the right to cry, they genuinely stared at me like I was crazy and just felt awkward about it. So from then on I never spoke up.
Maybe i’ll go just one step further back to when I was a lot younger maybe 7 or 8 when the biggest joke in school was to pull the corners of the eyes to make your eyes thin like a Chinese persons. You know I was so young I don’t think I understood why I didn’t find it funny, but I’d laugh a long eager to fit in with everyone else. When I said I didn’t know anyone else Chinese other than family growing up I meant that, I had no one to relate too in that sense, no one to understand me and my feelings, no one to share concerns that would give me the time of day to try and make sense of it. That is how its been for almost all my life, silence, keep it in, you’re making it up its in your head, these feelings aren’t valid. Being told all of the above does something to a young emotionally developing kid, truly I believe that’s why I never talk about my deepest feelings and emotions much and when I do I struggle because I always always think they are wrong or weird, no one would be feeling the way I am that’s embarrassing people will laugh keep it to yourself.
That's enough about me though, I never nearly had It as bad as my mum. So let me tell you a few things about my mums childhood. My Mum's name is Suzannah Sui Lin Lee, she was born in 1966. Mixed raced families back then where extremely frowned upon, throughout her school life she was the only mixed race child in her year, not just that but the only Chinese person too. There’s a song by Miguel called “whats normal anyway?” It’s about being mixed raced, not fitting in to either races you hear that saying “Too black for the white kids, too white for the black kids” he feels alone and all he wants it to feel like he belongs to something. I don’t think there is a song that could sum it it up much better, so please listen to that. That was it for my mum she was heavily bullied by black kids and white kids because she was a kind of different no one understood or approved of. When my mum was around 13 a girl who was horrible but her only “friend” said to meet up after school. Mum went very happily, she got to where the girl had asked her to meet and there was lots of people there, but this was no surprise party, my mum got beaten out of by everyone this “friend” told to be there and ran home crying. After that her older brother who people actually liked because girls thought he was fit was her only friend for a long time, he had to walk her to and from school so she felt safe. My mum has told me many other stories but that’s always the one I can’t quite believe.
So if you see, without trying to sound offensive to black people and the type of inequalities they face on a day to day basis. For me and my race it’s never been clear that the things people say are racist at all, a very different type of oppression, maybe that’s because as my mum says Chinese culture is to keep quiet and bury it deep. None the less it’s a hardship, one that I have to face a lot, one people still deny, one that not many understand and even the ones that do wouldn’t want to make it a big deal.
As I come to the end of my speech if you will on some of my personal racist experiences and how that effected me long term and how my mum is so used to it she doesn’t say anything any more. I hope you are shocked, to be honest I hope you feel bad, I want you to know how that made me feel. I want you to know that as woke as you think you are from posting BLM on your instagram you are far far from understanding racism and how to be truly anti racist. I hope you read this and want to be more aware, I hope to god you DO BETTER, better than what you are shown better should be, because if you have to be forced to see through movements as visible as BLM, if that’s really what it takes for each race to have justice and equality I’m already tired.
My name is Caitlin Jade Ming Chie Lee-Wilcox and if you dare leave the LEE out of my last name one more time Il’l sue.