Get Woke. Stay Woke.

All over my various social timelines I see outrage over swastika graffiti, terror over Hail Trump nazi salutes, sadness over the hate being spat out against people of colour.

But a lot of what I’m seeing is also people urging everyone else to not talk about it. Let’s stop talking politics, let’s stop bringing up racism, let’s not look for fault in everything, let’s move on. Well, let’s not. The thing is, for people of colour, and I say this as a WOC internationally and a minority in Singapore which has a majority Chinese population, racism has been loud and clear through most of our lives.

When an unwoke Chinese friend tells you Singapore is free from racism and you’re all like

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Racism is here in abundance, and it comes in many forms.

When I was little, a group of older girls went around the school bus classifying our skin tones to Singapore’s various forms of coffee. I was classified as kopi (coffee with milk). A girl further down the line was kopi-O – black coffee. Howls of (derisive) laughter ensued. It wasn’t hateful, but from a young age you’re made very aware of being different from most of the rest. Your skin colour is your whole identity whether or not you want it to be.

When I was about 10, I was casually sitting on a bench, minding my own damn business when a grandmother pulled her grandson, quite innocently sitting next to me away saying (in Chinese, which I understood jussst enough of), “Don’t sit there, she’s smelly.” A favourite among Singapore-level racist remarks reserved for darker people. Ouch, but sure. Okay. Don’t let the other kids near me, my pigmentation smells. Never mind that he was a pre-teen boy after school, and anyone who has ridden the bus knows that those are the stinkiest children of all.

A few years later I was in secondary school. For language classes, the majority of the class learns Chinese and stays in the classroom. Those of us who learn Malay would move to another classroom, along with girls from other classes. One day a relief teacher came in and said something I didn’t understand while we were on our way out. I later asked a friend and found out she said something like, “Still so many black faces!” referring to the group of us who came to school in our various shades of brown. And I hated that she had invaded our safe space and tried to separate us from the rest of our friends. We were in our own multicultural space, and we were of different colours and backgrounds. And a stranger came in and tried to us-and-them the class, and I hated her for it.

At sixteen, my best friend and I were seeking part-time work and we saw a sign at a clothing store looking to hire. So we popped in and asked, and we were told they weren’t looking for people at all. So we pushed for more, pointing out the sign outside, and were finally told: They were looking for Chinese people. They weren’t going to hire people like us. Today I would have had a lot to say and do about this. I would have whipped up a name-and-shame frenzy on social media. We would’ve taken them down or we would have at least tried. This was more than 10 years ago, and we left, upset and outraged. And this was the first time an opportunity was made outrightly inaccessible to me because of my colour.

Some years ago my sister, her husband and I were at a party mostly attended by expats in Singapore, my sister and I being the only non-white people there. Somehow we, presumably by existing, pissed off an awful American woman named Alicia, who then began saying all sorts of wonderful things about us (and my sister’s white husband who was guilty by association, naturally). “If we were in my country we’d tie you to the back of a car and drag you till you were dead,” she cried, drunk, angry and full of hate.

This was the most outrightly violent of the incidents that I’ve been thinking about, and the only one, I believe, that was said with directly hateful intentions. But because it was intentional, it is also the incident that has been the least damaging of all of the above. Yes, it was awful. But she couldn’t touch us precisely because she was hateful. She had nothing but her hateful untruths. You brush yourself off and stand up taller. That’s all there was to do. But as we are seeing today, hateful untruths in large numbers are dangerous. This is where it starts.

And this is why it hurts when people tell you that you that racism isn’t as rampant as you’d think, or that you’re being too sensitive, or that these issues don’t need to be addressed. This is dangerous. It’s dangerous when people close an eye to what goes on. It adds to the problem when people blind themselves to what’s been going on to people around them for years.

“The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist”.

Charles Baudelaire

Whether in Singapore or in the US, minority groups are painfully familiar with racism. And now, people are afraid. Of travel, of existing, of all the Alicias who were there all along but are now acting out in ways once limited to their own communities. Of stupid words from bad people who in large numbers can erupt into violence. Of having once safe spaces taken away from you.

Racism is at its most dangerous when we fail to see it when it happens, when we avoid calling it out, when we don’t want to be that person who’s always going on about what’s wrong in the world.

When it happens in a big, Nazi salute swastika way, it needs to be addressed in a big way. And when it happens in small, everyday ways over lunch, on the bus, in the classroom or the office, we need to address it in our own small ways, too. The voices of the majority are now more important than ever, and allies are key in this fight.

It’s as simple as calling it out when you see it. Identifying hateful speech and actions in our own communities and making it known that it isn’t okay. Speaking up for someone who’s afraid to. Removing yourself from situations that separate and segregate and choosing to not be part of it. Your presence can be a form of resistance. Your absence can be, too.

Speak up for those who are targeted around you. Get woke. Stay woke. Now is the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heartbreak of a Non-American WOC Feminist

America has voted, and I am shattered, shaken to my very core. A man so openly misogynistic, racist, hopelessly hateful and ignorant has been selected. Selected. And this hurts.

I am not an American. But I am a feminist, and my heart hurts for and with the women of the world. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how so many of our gender roles are taught to us just by being present in society and consumers of the media. We are taught how we should be by what we see. And it makes me want to scream right out loud to think that a little girl, a six-year-old in a Trump-supporting family in the US, is looking towards her chosen leader and learning that this is how a man behaves; this is how I, as a girl and one day a woman, should expect to be treated.

I am a woman of colour, and seeing the outpouring of responses from Trump’s supporters is terrifying. Online, I saw the N word more than I ever have in my whole life last night. I saw Hillary being called a slut. I saw awful things about Muslims. I saw so much hate against women and people of colour, and I observed as the hate continued to grow with the hateful applauding each other for their words.

The quest to be America’s most hateful! Wait, you have love and respect in your heart? You’re fired. 

People have a lot to say about America. We always have and likely always will, as you tend to do with individuals, organisations, and countries in power. But the thing is, the rest of the world makes fun of Americans because we know the power America holds. We know that as far as influential, powerful nations go, America sits right at the top of the charts. Many of us look to America as the world’s example of democracy and how to be free. While complaining about loud American tourists and contemplating the point of football (that’s not a ball that’s an egg amirite?) we admire America’s freedom.

So, while I am not an American who got to vote, this result hurts. I thought the US was going to be the world’s template on how to move forward. I thought Hillary was going to change the world for little girls everywhere (more so than she already has, #stillwithher) If America takes a step backwards, will you take the rest of us with you?

So here’s what we have to do. We have to take the hurting and the pain, the anger and the rage, and push it forward, fuelling what we do and how we love. We, as citizens of the world, have to fight harder than we ever have before. We have to brush away our tears, take a deep breath, and channel this mess the world is in and the confusion we’re all experiencing, and turn it into something constructive.

I sat down to write yesterday and I could not. I felt like my words were inconsequential and I felt insignificant amid all the importance of what the world is going through. Today, this changes. If it is in my heart to write, I must. And if it is in yours to paint, to sing, to create, then you must. Now, more than ever. Right now is the time the world needs our voices.

Now is the time to keep ourselves informed and educated. About the rules of our own countries and how our governments work, about the women and men who have made the freedom each of us enjoys possible, and the things we are still fighting for, about how we can keep our own communities moving forward. We can only change the way things are when we know the good and the bad. #knowyourenemy

Now is the time to donate to organisations that fund the causes you believe in. Now is the time to join networks (or to start one), to become an ally, to volunteer, to speak out. Now is the time to become involved. Now is the time we need to act. And now is also the time when we need to be kindest to each other.

Because maybe the best revenge response we have will be when we take the blow we have been dealt – the setback women’s equality has already begun to bear, to horrors of hate crimes and xenophobia, the trauma of victims of sexual abuse, and fear that people of colour in America now face – if we take all the emotions that come with this tragedy and use it to connect, to create, to inform.

Start writing your book. Join an open mic night and sing your song or read your poetry. Learn a new language. Talk to people. Make friends outside your demographic. Learn about the cultures around you.

Our resistance, our rebellion, can simply be to love and to learn. 

More men than ever before have begun to realise the importance of their role in equality. People who were passive are stating to take action. From this we can only get better, we can only get stronger together, and we can start to heal.

I am a non-American woman of colour. I am a feminist, I am an activist, and today I am heartbroken. But though all of it, I am hopeful. And if there’s one thing America has taught us time and time again, it’s that you’re a great nation of survivors. And even this time, we know you will.

We can survive this, together.

 

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We can do it

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The City Remembers, The City Forgets

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Two and a half years after I first arrived in Beijing, I set off with the sun, heading far from the city that has become home. Its vastness stretches out farther than I can see, a dirty window I can hardly see out of fails to diminish the lights that can make your heart skip the slightest beat: The big city. The big smog. The Jing. Whatever you want to call it; the biggest and best cities go by many names.

How strange and how foreign, I first thought when I entered the capital with its strangely shaped skyscrapers and pushy people. That sense that you could be anyone you wanted. You wanted to know everyone but no one knew you; the perfect equation for the empowered anonymity that a city brings. You could change your name and no one would ask twice. Years later some people I see all the time still don’t know my first name. Introduce yourself by a nickname and no one has reason to ask more.

I fell in love with Beijing’s chaos immediately. Its noise was overwhelming, its impatience exciting, its stubbornness rousing, and demanding of a reaction. Beijing makes you angrier than you knew you could be, louder than you thought you knew how. It had a way of knocking you off your feet and just when you were ready to surrender, one of its quirks would cajole you enough to suggest that surely, Beijing was just teasing, and of course you should stay. You feel a bit silly for getting all upset – you were meant to be here.

Quite soon you’re adding as many Beijingren bragging rights as you can, boasting of how you don’t care if the toilet has doors or not, and just look how unfazed you are by the mess and mayhem that constantly surrounds you. You’re part of the city now. It has changed you, it has consumed you, and you are part of the chaos that makes it so wonderful.

It’s only when you leave that you realise Beijing, still shining away from your increasing distance, will continue to exist, to breathe, to charm and to infuriate just fine without you.

All you can really hope for is that of all the stories the changing streets and its people remember, retell, and have already started to forget – perhaps one of them might be yours.

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Activism When It’s Not Your Battle To Fight

I was recently at a women’s networking event in Beijing which included a talk followed by a dinner. The first event I’d attend by a network I’ve admired and respected for some time, I was keen to see what a roomful of empowered and inspiring women (many of whom I would get a chance to connect with that evening) would have to share and to discuss.

Enter a young man who pushes past me and a friend as we made our way to our seats. “Gotta make sure I get myself a seat ahead of you all!” he joked. Except he wasn’t, and proceeded to settle himself in a seat right in front of the speaker.

Over the course of the evening, the young man would go on to respond to many of the questions asked with questions, comments, jokes and the occasional wisecrack. It eventually came to a stage where the speaker would look to him for an opinion first— understandably, since he was increasingly vocal and not many of the rest of us were.

But, the resentment of male presence in a community event meant for women is surely contradictory to my strong beliefs of equality. In issues surrounding gender discrimination, men are our biggest allies and potentially powerful spokespeople, in the same way white people’s voices are needed in the quest for racial equality and straight voices are loud in standing up for the LGBT community.

This in turn led me to think about why exactly this young man got under my skin so quickly. Surely I should have been pleased at his enthusiasm and questions, supporting his participation in a women’s community?

And I would have been, except for one underlying fact: Way too often when men (or just the one man) are talking the loudest, women clam up. We’re so used to being talked over, or unheard, or underheard, that many of us slip into “perhaps this isn’t my time to talk” mode. As someone who’s quite capable of talking a lot, I know I do this too, and at an event meant to connect women, it made me even angrier than it usually does. This was supposed to be our space.   

Now, this leads me to more discussions that have come up recently. An article I recently read in the New Yorker discusses the exclusivity of activism, among many other things. You wouldn’t understand because you’re not an East Asian immigrant. Unless you’re a woman of colour, this isn’t your battle to fight. Try being a gay black male and then we’ll talk. The list goes on; we’re protective of everything that we are, including how we are discriminated against.

A recent conversation I had on Facebook saw me (an ethnic minority) arguing against the idea that other ethnic minorities had no place in movements like #BlackLivesMatter, only to be put down by other ethnic minorities for suggesting that my voice was valid. I always begin any suggestion of solidarity with the assurance that  I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man who has been pulled over for no reason too many times (which is once and above), but I sure do know what it’s like to be treated with scorn, disgust, or hate because of my ethnicity. Surely in this shared discrimination — with the vast difference of their scale in mind, always — we can find solace in each other as fellow recipients and opponents of injustice.

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je suis charlie in China

I recently shared these thoughts with a gay friend, and we agreed that allies are essential, as is knowing that the experiences you bring are not comparable to those you stand in support of. I’m not about to say I know what it’s like to be with a gay partner in a place that’s hostile to your love, or to worry about where I can marry, but my own experiences with discrimination of race and gender, if nothing else, allow me a (shadow of an) understanding of those with a struggle far greater than I could ever face.

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my multiracial love is a walk in the park

At the women’s talk, there was another man. He sat further to the back, and he participated by listening; he was present, but he never took the spotlight. At LGBT rallies and events, I wear my rainbows with pride and I march along as an LGBT ally. But when there’s a time to talk, I spend most of it listening. And sure, I can tweet the hell out of #BlackLivesMatter and have a better understanding of the issue as a brown woman and co-recipient of racial discrimination. But you won’t find me at the front of the line because I don’t believe this is my podium to stand on. You will find me behind you, as an ally — and as an activist.

Before we jump on the latest activism bandwagon — or before we push anyone off it — let’s stop to think about the role we, as individuals, have to play in any cause, in any protest, or in any fight and decide if our place is as a leader, a supporter, or an ally.

Might we then march together, stronger, with the understanding that perhaps not every battle is ours to fight, but every battle is better fought with one more voice behind it?

 

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Be a Bit Like Bowie

To Be a Bit Like David Bowie

It’s been almost a week since we found out about the death of David Bowie and like many all around the world, I still can’t quite believe this. On a Sunday morning in bed with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars making its way though my turntable at full blast, overwhelming sadness is giving way to “surely this can’t be”.

Even for celebrities far younger than David was, there’s sadness and shock, and then there’s gradual acceptance. Maybe we don’t think about it, but I guess we are aware of the mortality of those we admire, of those around us.

Like many around the world, we never really thought of David Bowie as a mere mortal; he was a star, a light, a musical mischief maker, an inventor, an entire galaxy of a brightness than few, if any, can match. We never thought about David Bowie dying because we weren’t aware that he could.

On my rock n roll-themed 21st birthday, I used blue and grey lenses to try and be a little like Bowie. On Halloween a few years later I proudly wore the signature Aladdin Sane lightning bolt on my face (beautifully drawn by mum). Years later I’d move to China to the tunes of China Girl and Changes on a playlist created for me by Noelle and Craig; Bowie was the only artist who made the list twice. Two years later All The Young Dudes would feature in the soundtrack of Martin and myself.

 

David-Bowie

 

Everything changes, but a Bowie song to fit wherever you are in your life remains, and for me, an inner desire to be just a little bit like him has remained.

Being a bit like Bowie means a million different things in thousands of different ways. To shine brighter, to laugh harder, to think you can get away with wearing those pants and to then confidently do so, to change it up throughout the course of your life, to create, to recreate, to keep creating, to love, and to love fiercely.

To be a bit like Bowie means an irreverence for dimmed lights and staying still. To be a bit like Bowie means being unafraid to be magnificent. To be a bit like Bowie means bringing your ideas to life.

The stars do look different today as Starman returns to the stars and the world looks up and keeps our eyes to the skies; our assumptions of his immortality have at last been confirmed.

A gateway to somewhere else.

China Calling: Everything Changes (and it’s scary but it’s cool)

Basically, absolutely nothing has gone according to plan.


So it’s been a while since I’ve even been to my blog, and so much has happened in these past 3 months. It’s now been almost 6 months in China now. In that time, I’ve started a new job, left it, started another new job, been through a breakup, started a new relationship, lived away from family for the first time, left my apartment, found a new one, and the list goes on.

It’s been like Real Life 101, and much of that has been on my own (though more recently I’ve had help. And support. And a lot of it, too.). It hasn’t been easy, but it has been one hell of a ride.

Nothing has gone according to plan. But everything is going, and in quite a wonderful way. I’ve parted ways with the company I originally moved to China for, which was a big blow to me. It took an incredible amount of thought and decisions and I desperately wanted this to work; it didn’t. We wanted different things. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.

What I’m glad for though, besides the great friends I made in the past six months, is that we tried. I’ll never, ever have to look back and wonder, what if? And because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Fortunately, I quite quickly found a new job, and it’s one that I’m immensely excited about. I recently started work with a leading lifestyle and entertainment English magazine and website in Beijing. As the Web Editor, I get to both live out my mad love for digital while going back to my roots of writing stories.

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My new hipster hutong.

I’ve moved out of my first apartment and deep into one the the famous Beijing hutongs. It’s full of old people and their grandkids, street food, tiny shops, and nooks and crannies. Needless to say, I kind of love it just a little bit.

I don’t know what’s ahead, but I do know for certain that I can take an arrow to the knee a good few hits, and still keep swimming. I’m excited about the uncertainty. I’m making new friends. I have someone. And the future is looking bright.

The dark days are over, and she’s coming up. 

My new crew chilling in da hood.

My new crew chilling in da hood.

TLDR: New job, new house, new fella, new what-the-hell-is-going-on moments.

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China Calling [B-Side]: The Dark Days

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It’s been a rough couple of weeks. The excitement of being in a big new city eventually wears off, and real life kicks in; sometimes it kicks you right in the head.

The bigger the city is, the lonelier it gets. Friendships made are often fleeting or intermittent, and you don’t really want to pour your heart out to people you haven’t known for very long. You want to be the fun party girl who people want around, not the girl who’s doing her best to keep it together. And what do you do when you can’t be that girl?

[Edited to remove whiney paragraph about breakup blahblah sadness blahblah no friends in China yet and so on] 

The city gets lonelier the bigger it gets.

I want to stay in Beijing because we could be best friends if we gave each other a chance, and I haven’t given up on her bright lights yet. I want my job to work because I’m really only just getting started and I had/have such great plans for this. I want to be able to trust new friends enough to let them in. And I desperately want to be happy again.

For now I’m keeping my chin up.
Because somewhere in there, there’s still sunshine in her eyes.

L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.
What you don’t have now will come back again
You’ve got heart and you go in your own way