I’ve always taken incredible pride in my last name Cheung. My parents always ensured that I knew of my heritage despite my Chinese grandad dying long before I was born. I was taught about the Cheung village in Hong Kong where our family originates from and I was always aware of my Chinese name ‘Wenying’, what it meant and why it was picked. I was also taught that my Grandad helped protect royalty during the Chinese war with Japan, with his efforts acknowledged in the payment of rice, which spoiled during a thunderstorm grandad got caught in whilst travelling home.
I was always sad that I didn’t look more Chinese, but I always took so much pride in the fact that I had that heritage and the name to prove it. But I pass as white – sure, when I was younger kids would mock my ‘Chinese’ eyes, but they were seven. The worst I’ve experience was my ex introducing me as the ‘chinky’ to his family and his church.
And I don’t really think I understood the significance of this until the start of Coronavirus. The ‘Chinese Virus’ (thanks Trump) resulted in an increase of 21% in anti-Asian hate crimes across Britain. I had a friend (Chinese, but Scotland born) refusing to come into university, in the fear that her cough would result in this emerging stereotype of Chinese people creating and spreading the virus. Not one joke was made in my direction regarding ‘my kind’ causing this worldwide pandemic. Why? Because I pass as white.
Can you imagine, a bisexual with the last name of Cheung applies for a job at a company, with management knowing they have a diversity quota to achieve, and then I turn up? I’m like a fast pass at Disneyland, fulfilling their diversity quota whilst being white. I’ve known about my privilege, but I only framed that in relation to races I’m not part of. I will never know what it’s like to fear being killed by a police officer because I have white skin, But what about my privilege within my own race? By passing as white I need to harness my privilege to help stop prejudice towards those who look Chinese.
So, what do I need to do? Be like any other ally – call people out for making jokes about coronavirus being the ‘Chinese Virus’ or using the term chinky when ordering a Chinese takeaway. It’s about holding our government, as well as foreign governments (uh hum, America) accountable for how they perpetuate racial discrimination through their language and policies. It may be the small things, but they pave the way for more serious and detrimental effects for the Asian community.
By Rebekah Cheung