The Tale of Two Cultures

This article was originally published by MoCha, the ANU Ethnocultural Department’s new online magazine, created by Men of Colour, for Men of Colour. Click this link to view the full site: themochamagazine.com.

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Three years ago, I jokingly said to my ex-partner, “Hey, I am going to Australia to pursue my studies, and of course, I want to stay there.” He glanced at me and said in an aggressive tone, “Well congratulations, I heard that it is hard for Asians to be successful there. Good luck.” I rolled my eyes so hard that I think they reached the back of my head.

At the time, I had never seen a white person in real life, despite 18 years of living in Hong Kong where there is a sound number of expats. The only white people I knew were from Mission Impossible, Avatar, and, of course, porn.

I had a fictional imagination of how a white person behaved; they were gentle, educated and rich. Looking back I realise that these ideas were constructed by the Eurocentric education syllabus I was taught from, as well as all the ‘beautiful and successful white people’ I saw in the media.

My parents – immigrants from mainland China – were also implicitly indoctrinated by the colonial government that was in power between the 1980’s and 90’s. They said things like, “White people are always more civilised and put together because their countries have a democratic political system and more egalitarian social values.” Needless to say, when I was young, such impressions of Western countries made me believe they were a paradise-like parallel universe vis-a-vis where I was born.

So when I first landed in Sydney two and half years ago, I took a deep breath and thought my new life had started. What I did not know was the fact that an identity crisis was just at my doorstep. When I first walked in a high-end restaurant, almost all of the floor staff was white. When I turned on the TV or flipped through a beauty magazine, it got even worse.

I struggled quite a lot with the fact that my English was pretty bad and I used very weird phrases. This did not only bar me from communicating with people fluently, but uncovered the racial and cultural dynamics that existed here. I did not realise how it would affect my life, and that my body would gradually become a political site.

On the façade, this country was proud of its multicultural demographics, but the claim of multiculturalism might have swept all the unjust social relations under its grand narrative. While I was shocked by this as an international student who was born and raised in Hong Kong, the ongoing debate surrounding racial and cultural dynamics was too foreign to me.

As racial stereotypes became apparent to me, the way I used to conceive my body has encountered a massive change.

Although white supremacy manifested itself in Hong Kong, I was in a relatively privileged position as white supremacy was manifested only through colonial imagination; Asians were the majority. In Australia, the supremacy was so concrete and intact that it ranged from a lack of diversity in media to racial stereotypes people used in front of me on an everyday basis. It could be everyday micro-aggressions where people assumed that I could not speak English properly, or in a more disguised way where they spoke on my behalf.

A sentiment of self-hatred was slowly emerging within me because of the manifestation of racism. I started to become very unconfident in my appearance, and even in my personality.

I hated myself for not articulating myself well enough.

I hated myself of being too political all the time.

I hated myself not being considered physically attractive or masculine.

Those thoughts lingered in my head and I knew very well that if I gave in, I would become one of the people who helped perpetuate these stereotypes. I thought I could laugh it all off but it tore a rift in my mind. As I was told, I was not “assimilated” enough to understand such dynamics. Does assimilation mean that diaspora populations are required to subscribe to the residuals of colonialism’s nasty past?

Some may argue that the racist days in Australia left when the Racial Discrimination Act was established back in 1976. However, the feelings of segregation and being stereotyped shifted from the political sphere and the parliament to my body and my mind.

Charles Chu is an Eastern Asian MoC who studies a Bachelor of International Relations at the ANU.