We’re back with another issue of Tropic Takes On Racism, but this time it looks a little different. Our Founder, CEO and all-round inspiration, Susie Ma, has kindly shared with us her experience of Asian discrimination – something that’s not only impacted her directly but is apparent globally – as a tide of racist sentiment slaps the shores of the Western world.
The above photo was taken just before my mum and I left Shanghai to emigrate to Sydney to join my dad. I was six years old and couldn’t speak a word of English. On my first day of school, I remember the kids laughing and holding up their noses to my lunchbox of Chinese food. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I knew it wasn’t nice. It was the first time I felt different, I felt ashamed of who I was. I was so desperate to fit in that I got my mum to make me sandwiches for lunch instead, I’d stay up all night teaching myself English, and when someone suggested I change my birth name from ‘Sheng Jei’ (which means ‘pure happiness’) to ‘Susan’ to make myself more palatable – and my name more pronounceable – I happily obliged.
But it didn’t get easier. I was beaten and teased for being Chinese and had to move schools twice because the bullying got so bad. My parents, who were street vendors (because despite both having degrees in mechanical engineering, they struggled to get well paid jobs as immigrants) faced racism constantly. And when my grandparents came to visit Sydney, they faced discrimination too.
PROUD OF MY ROOTS
The prejudice and racism that people exhibit, both overtly and latently, can be all too easy to internalise, making us fear being openly proud of a cultural identity that’s been part of shaping who we are. But as an adult, I’m no longer ashamed of my heritage. I’m proud to be Chinese for so many reasons – from the food to the Feng Shui, the scripture to acupuncture – and I’m grateful to have a diverse network of people around me to keep me feeling that way.
I’ve tried to not talk or think about my past experiences of discrimination, it’s deeply hurtful and difficult to put into words. Although anti-Asian hate has always been an insidious facet of Western society to some degree, over the last year I’ve been quietly watching and absorbing the increase in racism towards Asians – mainly in the US – blaming us for the pandemic. My insides twisting as I see videos of elderly Asians being pushed over and attacked in the streets. They could have been my grandparents.
In the US, hate crimes against Asians have increased by 1,900 per cent since the start of the pandemic. In the UK, 300 per cent. Last year my mum faced racist slurs when she was on her stall at Greenwich Market, with people treating her as if she was a virus. Oh, how I wished I was there to put them straight.
In light of recent events, I finally see the importance of sharing my experiences. Acknowledging the problem is the first step towards tackling racism. It’s time to speak up and stand up!
You may wonder why, as CEO of a skincare brand, I feel the need to comment on such an issue. But it would be irresponsible and unethical to stand by and allow this wave of racist sentiment to flow freely through public discourse, without speaking up and making a stand against it. We have a platform here at Tropic and we’re determined to use it for good, to raise awareness and raise the voices of those who are fighting for a fairer world. I don’t think everyone realises that this is an issue that’s going on right here, right now in the UK and across the world. I don’t want my mum to experience this racism, nor my future children or any member of the Asian community, for that matter. This has to change and that change starts with us, let’s #StopAsianHate.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, I really appreciate it.
“When we allow violence against some, we enable violence against all.” ― DaShanne Stokes, Author and Activist