Sunday, 25 November 2012

Close encounter with the racist kind

By Nila Sweeney



The day a French woman and her friends copped verbal racist abuse that eventually went viral on the internet, I was also subjected to a racist treatment of my own.

While it may not be as high-profile as the Melbourne incident, there’s nothing trivial about being singled out and treated with contempt.

It happened on a bright and sunny morning at Hornsby rail way station where I took the train to work. As usual, I arrived just before 8am to catch my train, coffee mug in hand and walked towards the bench where a woman was sitting, doing her cross-word puzzle. She’s middle-aged Caucasian and was sitting right in the middle of the bench which normally sits at least 4 people.
Most days, I wouldn’t sit while waiting for my train but that morning I decided to do so and sat right at the very edge of the bench and waited. The woman gave me the filthiest look as she grabbed her things and angrily said “you have no right to sit there, bloody Asians should all go back home”. Then she stomped her way to the other bench, squeezing herself in a packed bench, just so she can move away from me.

She didn’t stop right there. She kept giving me that filthy look and when the train came, she made sure everyone who listens knows she was offended by my presence. She made sure I heard it too.
Instead of getting offended, I felt sad. Sad for this woman who feels so much anger for a total stranger whose only fault is having a different race. I felt enormous compassion for her for feeling such rage for something she and I had no control of.

Now, this is by no means the worst racism I’ve encountered in Australia. Since I arrived in the country in 2005, there have been countless occasions where people, mostly Caucasians would hurl abusive racist remarks on me. Most of the time, I don’t take offence. As long as it’s not life-threatening, I just smile and move on. I get it, I’m an immigrant. I’m lucky to be accepted in this country.
Racism is not new to me. Having lived in places like Hong Kong where Filipinos and other non-Chinese and non-Caucasians are treated like second-class citizens no matter how successful you are in your career, I’ve gotten used to these racist slurs and blatant discrimination.

But racism didn’t diminish the quality of life I’ve lived in this city and the love I felt for the place. I love Hong Kong so much I miss it terribly. It’s where I’ve met the most important people in my life and came across the most loving and loyal friends. Yes, you’d be right, they’re Chinese.
I feel exactly the same way here in Australia. There’s no other place I’d rather be now than here in Sydney. I love everything about the place: the geography, the weather (even if tends to go into extremes), the food and most importantly the wonderful people that I come across.   I’ve met some of the most generous people here in Australia and most of the people I encounter are fun, friendly and caring bunch.

That’s why I never let this occasional racist treatment gets in the way of my relationships and my strong connection with the place. Racism is not pleasant. But letting it run or ruin your life is to squander everything you’ve worked for to be here in this lucky country. Learning to be tolerant beats retribution any time.