My Father in the 70's: Sinophobia and Instutionalised Racism in Academia

TW: Physical Abuse, Bullying, Racial Slurs

Dear Asian Youth,

My father immigrated to North England when he was six years of age. He arrived with no prior experience with the English language, lived in a working class family, and was the youngest of six. His experiences growing up as a ‘minority’ in the Western hemisphere had a large impact on the person he is today, and a lot of these encounters have made their way into anecdotes that he would tell during my childhood. Although not all the stories he told were necessarily positive, they still resonate with me.

I recall one story in particular that struck me due to the overt racism my father was subjected to. He was around seven when a group of Caucasian boys from his year started to hurl racial insults at him daily. One day, however, the boys became physically aggressive, and my outnumbered father had no choice but to defend himself. The teachers eventually split them up, and they were taken to the headmaster’s office. My father and the boys involved were asked to explain the events that led to the fight. Unable to do so due to his limited English abilities, my father was suspended. Despite being an academically competent man, the headmaster had somehow concluded that the singular, scrawny (at the time), person of colour who was also according to my father himself was “the butt of the jokes”, was completely responsible for the brawl against three, larger-sized, Caucasian boys. When my father reflects back on this experience, there is always one point in particular that he highlights: the headmaster knew that my father was being bullied, yet he chose to turn a blind eye and support the racist antics of the boys bullying him. A man in charge of an educational institute, a place of learning and general betterment taught those boys that what they were doing was right and that their racism was justified. To this day, it is an experience that my father remembers with resentment--it is a reminder of how although societal attitudes have improved dramatically in terms of racism, there was a time when racism was normalised.

This story falls under the subject of sinophobia (hatred or fear of China, its people, its diaspora, or its culture) and institutionalised racism, and taught me that my racial experiences pale in comparison to my father’s due to the era in which I live in. Campbell reports amidst the outbreak of Covid-19 that “Britain’s 390,000-strong Chinese community have noticed a markedly racist response to the global health crisis”, highlighting the underlying prejudice that still exists amongst us. Although it may not be acceptable to be openly racist nowadays, what people believe internally is always adjacent--ready to be locked and loaded for when an issue arises. This behaviour is normalised through stereotypes and microaggressions which are further perpetuated by academic institutions. Some of this normalisation is due to a common institutional attitude that liberal academics are “over race”, an attitude which implies that racism is such an archaic belief, that it no longer exists at all. Professor of Sociology at Duke University Eduardo Bonilla Silva describes this as ‘colourblind racism’. Sian adds to this, writing that “the liberal, post-racial culture of denial… has meant the daily realities of racism experienced by non-white academics are obscured, as white faculty members are unable to conceive themselves as perpetrators of racism”.

Only through holding those who display microaggressions accountable will we be able to denormalise these attitudes in institutions. Educating those unaware of their wrongdoings can be a positive experience when we educate in a respectful and non-patronising way with clear and concise reasoning. If you are a white academic, the best way to combat your own underlying prejudice is by educating yourself further on your own subconscious behaviour surrounding your colleagues of colour. This does not mean being so “mindful” that you treat them differently though. Adopting self-awareness is powerful and can affect those around you positively when you put it to use. This is what true education is.

- Cathay Lau


Cover Photo Source: Daily Californian