Sat in a steam room after a heavy workout at the gym, I breathed a sigh of relief as the heat immersed my aching muscles. Until I heard a voice pierce through the relaxing aromas of the steam.
“It’s people like you stealing my Grandchildren’s jobs.” I was taken aback. Not only had I become lost in my own everyday thoughts but I was being accused of something absurd, yet again.
But it wasn’t the first time that I have been singled out due to my dual heritage of being English and Chinese and that was a ‘light’ comment in comparison.
You become accustomed to the questions: “Where are you from?” To which I always reply: “Sheffield, South Yorkshire.”
Then you get: “Where are you really from?” Sometimes I put them out of their misery by explaining my family are English and some are Chinese but live in Malaysia. Other times, I simply say: “I live in Wakefield, West Yorkshire,” or “my mum’s womb,” just for my own amusement.
Whilst I find it funny sometimes, it is somewhat bizarre because I could not be more to be more “Yorkshire,” as I was born and bred here.
But whilst you get used to the odd comments with people assuming “you must be a hard worker then” or “good at maths” or questions asking whether you’re related to film-star Lucy Liu or Chef Ken Hom… What I have noticed recently is a real outpouring of racist language towards Chinese people or those from South East Asian backgrounds. It’s nothing new, however, but since the Coronavirus pandemic hit the UK, it has given people an opportunity to air their views, that they were probably already holding, about people from a Chinese heritage.
I have heard of horrifying stories of attacks and abuse to South East Asian people.
I am fortunate to not have not experienced anything that awful but I alone have been blamed for this pandemic or even been chatted up with the line: “Are you Chinese? You can give Corona to me, love.”
But then comes another complexity for me personally is being mixed race or as I have been described as a “cocktail.” I have been told that any insults I receive are not racist because I am not ‘that’ Chinese. To be honest, often, I don’t feel part of any one culture because here in the UK I am often pointed out as being different but when I see relatives abroad, I am also ‘different’ over there too.
I was recently featured in a film on the pandemic called “I am not a virus” as British Chinese women were standing up against the stereotypes. But I even questioned myself whether I could stand up and be heard as I am mixed race. Now I would always encourage other people of dual heritage to stand up and be heard but the fact that I always question my own voice has made me realise that I still don’t feel like I “fit in” or belong anywhere.
That said, I am a lot stronger these days of owning my diverse background and being proud to be a ‘complex’ human being and after years of battling with my identity as a youngster, I love the fact that I am different.
And as for my response to the man in the sauna, I took great pleasure of explaining that actually through my businesses I employ people and have created over 20 jobs. So yes, I fit the ‘hard working’ stereotype but I am certainly not good at maths or for that matter martial arts.
Sophie blogs and vlogs about mental health and wellbeing at YouTube.com/sophiemeilan
She also runs YorkshireFamilies.co.uk to help all families get active and enable them to experience the best of the region regardless of barriers.