When People Have To Mention Someone Is Asian

lI was talking to my coworker yesterday, and he was telling me how he gets several customers that have a conversation with him, and mention something thats quite racist. A little reference is that he is a White person, and so tends to get more customers complaining about an Asian person. The one regular customer that comes in over the past year, nearly pushed me to tears from verbally putting me down. She always complains about Chinese or Indian people, in some disrespectful way. The issue here is those who say racist remarks need to realise that most of the time it has to do with someone as a person, not their ethnicity. However, many people will say the ethnicity.

I’ve been working on an essay this week that talks about inferential and overt racism, and it felt fitting to write this post. I was also reading Mabel’s post The Racism And Discrimination Asian Australians Put Up With here. It’s something that is far more relatable with my Asian friends, because we understand many experiences that we’ve been through. As I looked for examples for my assignment, there were examples in New Zealand of inferential racism. An article talked about a dangerous driver on the road, and in the middle of it it read ‘the driver was Asian.’ I couldn’t help think why would they need to write that, and how it deepens the stereotypes that ‘Asians are bad drivers’. The comments said they must be tourists, but what if they grew up here?

Growing up, the children that bullied me or said racist remarks to me, were always White boys. Obviously I’m not saying every White male person is racist, but I feel that it’s important to address my observation. Many powerful positions in society in news media or where ever, are dominated by White men. A little side note, is that I definitely feel it’s important to travel, in order to understand different cultures. It’s good to expose yourself to different places. I find that in New Zealand, we’re quite far away from the rest of the world, and so the importance of travelling can open one’s minds to different places. I was sharing with Mabel on her article:


Even til now, as a young adult, there are many instances of casual racism. The person on the street who says ‘Ni Hao!’ or ‘Konnichiwa!’. I’ve learned to just ignore it or smile and say ‘Ni Hao’. In the past I’ve had classmates who put on Asian accents of broken English. I’ve grown up with people being impatient with my parents when they spoke English. I have to express my full opinion, but I often do feel that some White people in Asia and in Western countries, feel a sense of superiority over Asians. There is a sense that they feel more civilised. In one of my studies, they talk about the concept of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, where racism creates a sense of inferiority and superiority. Mabel mentions that ‘Despite the culturally diverse makeup of Australia, racism towards Asian Australians persists again and again.’

I consider New Zealand my home. No matter if I’m at university, work, church or other public areas, there will always be individuals who will ask me where I’m from. I’ve seen job advertisements that read “English as a first language”, and I can’t help wonder about all the different ethnicities and individuals who might have a different language as their mother tongue, but be completely fluent in English. Chinese is my mother tongue, but I’m fluent in English. There are endless stereotypes about Asian people, and I can’t tell you how many times I was asked for help in Maths in high school, when it was my worse subject. English and History were some of my best subjects, and I love writing essays.

I am sure many Asians have also experienced people saying “ching chong” growing up, or being made fun of what was in your lunch box. I’ve also previously written about my annoyance to people who have a yellow fever, and how, if I speak plainly, it really disgusts me. I previously wrote about how my friend and I have had strange experiences of older White men flirting to us. Of course, there is a difference between liking someone for who they are, and liking them because they are Asian. There is definitely still a sense of white privilege. I remember when I lived in Sydney, I would talk to my classmates at the fashion college, but I often felt that all the tall Australian White girls would keep together.

I was reading a comment on Mabel’s article, where the person said people are generally more comfortable among those from their own backgrounds. There is truth to that, from the language we speak, our culture and the perspectives we might have. As the article title suggests, it seems to me that often someone has to specify that someone is Asian. You’ll often hear “That Indian person…” or “My Chinese friend…”, or something similar a long those lines. It is extremely common in news headlines on newspapers, online and television, to see specification of race. The issue with that is that it tries to normalise it, and allows it to continue in growing a sense of putting a whole race into a group. It allows stereotypes to be ingrained in some people’s minds.

Asia is a massive continent, with many different countries, languages, culture etc. When I type Asia to Google, one of the results says Asia is Earth’s largest and most populous continent. There you have it. That’s why when people often specify that someone is Asian, it can be a huge generalisation. There are situations where perhaps it’s fine, depending on the topic. However, in most cases it’s completely not necessary to specify that the person is Asian. In most cases, as I previously mentioned, whatever may have happened has nothing to do with their ethnicity. If you ever catch yourself doing it, please ask yourself why you might feel the need to specify. Every person is an individual, most cases we don’t need to specify.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Photography by Sun Jun

17 thoughts on “When People Have To Mention Someone Is Asian

  1. I have been making an effort lately to identify someone by what they’re wearing or where they’re standing in a scene or by what they’ve said rather than their race.
    I feel like it’s so easy to be unknowingly racist as a white person because Our lives are steeped in so much privilege that sometimes, it’s just something that happens in an off the cuff moment.

    Recently i said “oh that’s different” when I met someone who said they have a North African boyfriend 🤦🏼‍♀️🤦🏼‍♀️ Like what does that even mean?? I was so embarrassed that it came out of my mouth.

    Of course There’s also instances of ignorance and ingrained racist habits like when an Aus news anchor said the N word twice while covering the royal wedding and referred to the cello soloist as “the black boy”.

    And then there’s just plain hate and maliciousness which is not cool.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Em, I feel like we’ve all been guilty of saying something unintentionally. But then as you said, there are also many ignorant people who will blatantly say phrases that have to refer to someone’s race, when it’s not necessary.

  2. What a great post!

    I’m really sorry to hear you’ve faced racist remarks in the past. However, I’d like to think that this makes people stronger. In the end, tears bring joy.

    And as you said, travelling can help. Although some people stick to what they know when they go abroad, exploring the world can help people escape from the bubble of their ignorance.

    Sadly, that’s a common phenomenon in many “developed” countries. Generalisations and racism have always been a problem, which now, at least in Europe, is something really scary… “Thanks”, mass media.

    I can say the same for people who talk about Eastern Europe. There are more countries in Eastern Europe because according to some genius, everything beyond Austria is oriental and communist.
    I’m from Bulgaria; well, the Balkans are so mixed that it makes me sad when people say that we are all the same. Btw, I had a colleague in the UK – a white boy – who would always say something about my English or the “fact” I speak Russian (which I don’t).

    It’s a sad world… but still, I hope there is still beauty in everything. For instance, my husband embraced the challenge and a few years ago we moved to Sofia.

    Hugs x

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Elitsa, Definitely, it builds a level of tolerance. At the same time, it is too common that some Asian people will keep quiet and just let it slide by. I hope we can speak up about it more. That’s true, people tend to see things from their perspective of what they know. I definitely think the news media has a huge influence on perception of different race.

  3. Thanks for the shout out, Katie. This is a wonderful, well-rounded post on the focus on the word Asian, and how being Asian is something others look down upon. Sorry to hear you faced racist customers. It does sound like they think they are always right. You do have to wonder why certain fields are dominated by a certain race even after all these years. Is it because people of other cultures aren’t good enough or lack the skill to go in a certain direction? I most certainly think so because one can learn how to do anything really. While stereotypes exist, not all of us fit the stereotype.

    I think the ‘Us’ vs ‘Them’ concept will always be around. We are all different and can learn from each other. But that doesn’t mean we should put down each other.

  4. I always like reading your articles Mabel. Absolutely, unfortunately many people who are always racist towards certain races, tend to not think they are saying anything wrong. Very true, I always appreciate organisations that are diverse, because many people of different backgrounds have the skills, ability and experience.

  5. Beautiful piece, easy to see that English was one your top subjects :). Agreed on your point about what does someone’s ethnicity have to do with their actions or them as a person.
    I remember back in NZ the stereotype was indeed that Asians were bad drivers. If a car cut them up or just did something that another driver did not like, the automatic response was stupid Asian (even before confirmation of the driver was Asian or not). I’m ashamed to say I also fell into this terrible assumption, many other Asian people I knew in NZ did this too, and it just shows how much our environment can affect us. There was this news article a long time ago in NZ that brought up this exact subject and there were Asian people in it who said they did this as well – I’m not proud of myself, but I try to remember that I was only a child and I did not grow up to fall into these bad habits.
    In the UK, what I’ve noticed is that the Asians are bad driver stereotype doesn’t appear to be apparent. What is apparent is that women are bad drivers. Keep writing, I love your posts!

  6. Thank you so much! I have to admit, that’s why when I’m learning to drive, I feel nervous that people will think of these stereotypes. I remember my first time being beeped at, and I just thought, they obviously don’t know I’m a beginner at driving despite the L plate. That’s true, I’ve noticed it here as well, that some people will say woman are bad drivers. always love reading your comments and blog posts :D

  7. I remember in college flipping through a fashion magazine at work. I decided to share my mag with a coworker because we were SO bored. We started talking about who’s pretty and he said, “She’s pretty for a black girl.” And boy, did he regret ever saying that to me! I was like, “Why did you have to add ‘for a black girl’?” What the heck is that all about? And basically badgered him until I felt as though I had thoroughly made my point :P

    So then I started to say this “white guy” or “white girl” to make it a point because I, too, found it annoying that color had to be attached to a description of someone. I think it’s an unconscious reaction because we were/are in predominately white countries where if you did encounter someone of a different “race” then it was deemed worthy of pointing it out. Now, I just laugh.

    Actually, because I live in Asia, it is interesting to note who you are talking about. Ah well.

    BTW, found you through Ash’s blog, but I’ve known Mabel for years!

  8. Hi Lani, thank you so much for your comment. I understand, I noticed more girls at uni say ‘White girl’ now, because it’s probably because lots of people constantly say ‘Asian girl’ etc. Yes, I notice it’s different in Asian countries, for example in Taiwan, we usually say a White person is a foreigner. It’s just the term to say that they are originally from overseas. That’s so good to know! I love reading her blog!

  9. I love this article so much! I hear stories about Filipinos living in Western countries telling other people they’re Filipino and it immediately being followed up by a “so are Filipinos really Asian?” debate. I guess we’re still casually erasing an entire ethnic group’s identity in 2018 lol.

    I love your blog though, and I hope to read more from you! :)

    1. Thank you so much Summer :) I feel that there is definitely an emphasis on being Asian when you live in a Western country, in terms of being asked certain questions in regard to your ethnicity. Thank you for your comment!

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