The thing I call Everyday Racism Jabs

This is just a glimpse of my everyday life as an Asian Australian:


Day 1
As I walked along the train’s platform, a guy walks past and says “Wo Ai Ni”.

Jab translation: It’s Chinese and translates to “I love you”. I have a Vietnamese background and I’m not Chinese.

Day Two
A new acquaintance asks me “Where are you from?”
I replied with Sydney and she follows up with “No, no… where are you really from?”

Jab explanation: Her intentions might come from a curiosity standpoint but what she doesn’t realise is that she’s implying that I don’t belong in Australia.

Day 3
“You’re really cute for an Asian”

Jab translation: The backhanded compliment has ‘race’ and suggests I was never cute in the first place. Nice.

Day 4
lady: “How do you say ‘Thank You’ in your language?
me (in English): “Thank You.”
lady: I know how to say thank you in English. How do you say it in Chinese.
me: I’m not Chinese.

lady: Oh, if you’re not Chinese, you’re Vietnamese? You really do all the same to me. So what’s that in ‘thank you’
me: …..

Jab translation: She assumes and groups all Asian as Chinese and when I try to say that English is my first language. She continues to persist and try to make me talk in my ‘ethnic’ language, hence treats me like a foreigner.

Day 5
“Where are you from?”
“I live down the street?”
“Oh, that’s nice. Where are you and your family from?”

Jab explanation: It’s a repeat of Day 2.

Day 6
“You’re English is articulate, where did you learn it?”
“That’s awesome considering I was born here”

Jab translation: It is unusual of someone of your race to be so intelligent
Day 7
A colleague is having trouble with calculating a cost and he turns to me, “hey, you’re good with math. Do this for me.”

Jab translation: Assumes and believes in the misconception that Asians are good in math. By the way, my forte is not with numbers.

The above diary is a small glimpse of my life. It might document a mere seven days but think of it as an everyday occurrence. The experience happens so frequently that many would brush it off as insignificant, which is why in many ways that it’s aptly called ‘Everyday Racism’. There’s another cool term to describe my experience, the academics coin it as ‘Microaggressive Racism’.

I collaborated and co-wrote with Dan Reeders, where we defined and help discussed the differences between casual and everyday racism.

Here’s an extract of the article.

Everyday racism consists of experiences of commonplace interactions with people, services or systems that leave a non-White person feeling they have been racially judged or categorised in a covert or deniable way.

Our starting point for the discussion leading up to this definition was Derald Wing Sue’s work on Asian-Americans’ experience of racial microaggressions, which he defined as: brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults that potentially have harmful or unpleasant psychological impact on the target person or group (Sue et al, 2007).

Suzanne describes them as repetitive psychological ‘jabs’ that have an oppressive energy. The word experiences really matters.  It signals whose perspective matters most when talking about everyday racism – the people who experience it.

Read the full article here.

We felt that the conversation is important to clarify as many like to lump subtle, casual and everyday racism together. A positive side note has come during the whole debate of racism, we are one step closer to saying there’s more to racism than the overt kind (ie racist rants on public transport).

Next time you meet someone new have a little consideration, don’t jump down their throat and make them feel like an alien and ask them ‘Where are you from?’. How about starting the conversation with something more mundane like “What kind of ice cream do you prefer?”

-Suzanne Nguyen
Found of The Two Chairs, works as an artist and cultural facilitator and is interested in the intersections of community engagement, art and digital mediums. She believes in cultivating in creative conversations about race.


3 thoughts on “The thing I call Everyday Racism Jabs”

    1. So, I finally looked through my comments (ummm one year later, my bad) and I found your poignant poem and while I have a different experience, I was born here in Australia, I feel a sense of familiarity because your story is my mother’s story. Looking back, I only wanted to speak in English, ironically when I grow older, I want to speak more Vietnamese.

      Thanks for sharing your story with us 😀

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