By Kai Teo
Recently, I overheard a conversation amongst some colleagues regarding a certain Chinese client. Her name was Ling Ling (a pretty common Chinese name). For some reason whatsoever, they refused to pronounce her name right, or they just refused to remember it. Just so that they could share a little chuckle every time they try so hard to say it right.
Yea, all those little jokes are popping up in your mind now eh? “Haha. The fire alarm was going off when she was born. And in China, bells go Ling Ling Ling instead of Ring Ring Ring.” Or “Every time someone calls her name, her colleague would pick up the telephone.”
So there I was, sitting in my corner, eating my fried rice, squinting my eyes at the racist remarks flying around the small office space.
Racism is a big no-no in Sweden. The country is too squeaky clean in terms of political correctness. Majority of the population would rather be caught in an S&M orgy than be termed a racist.
I mean, try coming up with a dumb idea at a conference, the Swedes will be too polite to tell you that it’s stupid. You’d get a little nervous laugh, followed by a not-so-subtle change of topic.
You can’t trust people like that when they tell you they don’t hate you.
However, besides the dogs at Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden’s right-wing party), there’s hardly any overt racism in Sweden.
But if you dig a little deeper, and look at the society through little slits on your face, you’d realise quite a bit of subtle, fiercely denied racism going on.
1. Hipsters love being my friends.
Not because I’m a nice person. Those who know me will quickly come to realise that I’m quite an asshole. Hipsters love having me around because having an Asian (I know it’s a fucking continent, but yes, I’m talking about the yellow kind that goes “Ching chong chong ching ching la” in Hollywood) friend is hip. Like eating organic rice and drinking Oolong tea.
I’m the token Asian in the group, along with the rare token black friend, and the occasional token Arab. Who doesn’t wanna show that they’re non-racist? “Look at all the yellow, brown and black friends I have! I can’t be racist!” We will never know if we’re being used this way. I think a good way to discern this would be to see if anyone of them hang out with you in private, one-on-one, without anyone else knowing. No posting on Facebook, no tagging, no fucking #chillinwithchinks. When you have one friend like that, high chance he or she isn’t a racist.
Even my housemate refers to me as “The Chinese”.
2. Companies want to hire me.
What better way to boost your company’s international profile and PR than to hire an ethnic minority? I know the term is kinda weird, Chinese are hardly the minority in the world, there’s a Chinese Takeout on every corner.
Think of hiring me as a strategic move to break into the huge Chinese market. “You go drink tea and eat rice with them, come back with the signed contract.” Taadaa! Simple as that.
I’ve long suspected that I’m being employed for this purpose.
3. “You speak English so well. I’m surprised.”
Well, fuck you. Just because I’m yellow doesn’t mean I’m supposed to say “Harrow” instead of “Hello”. What the Swedes package to look like a genuine expression of delight and being impressed is actually pretty racist. That surprise came from a misconception that yellow people no speak good engrish.
4. English beats Swedish. Any day.
This is pretty sick. Every time you speak good English in this country, people seem to suddenly develop a real interest towards you. You might have to explain your puns, but once you’ve done so, they would be smitten. Even bartenders can’t wait to serve you. Knowing that it’s their chance to impress you with their Game-of-Thrones-inspired accent.
But try speaking your shitty Swedish that you learnt from SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) and you’d see an attitude change. Yes, these fucks taught us to speak stupid. No, we don’t learn how the Swedes speak their own language, we learn how to speak like immigrants.
So yes, once you open your mouth to utter any Swedish word, you are immediately labeled “immigrant” instead of “expat”. And interest towards you drops significantly, and your importance as a person is suddenly likened to the Swede’s relationship with the Asian store’s cashier – not much. So instead of speaking shit Swedish, I’d stick to my ok English. I’m funnier in English too.
5. I get laid because they get to check off a box.
Everyone wants to say, “I fucked an Asian once”. Perhaps they wanted to confirm the myth of whether we do have tiny penises. Hey, it’s not about the size. Ok yes, we’re smaller. That’s because the nutrients that were supposed to go there went to fuel our algebra and calculus prowess.
I’m glad to know that until today, after helping some women check off their boxes, no one has giggled when my pants came down.
6. You actually see “Asian friend collectors”.
No shit. I’m not sure if I would actually term it racism. But there’s certainly a fetish going on in this country. Random stranger tries to add you on Facebook, her name’s “Emma Yamakazi Svensson”, and all the pictures she has are of Korean pop stars, anime characters and sushi with her Asian friends.
That’s when you know someone wants to be your friend just because you’re Asian. Not because of your humour, your wit, and needless to say, your abilities in bed.
7. Different immigrant groups are perceived differently.
Swedes don’t really have much issues with the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Malaysians, Indonesians… (like you’d know the difference).
We’re all lumped into one giant group called Asians and we’re considered to be hardworking people who are good in math, keep to ourselves, eat a lot of rice, sometimes cats, and own a corner shop. We don’t get much shit from them, maybe because they still rely on our culinary expertise for late night takeaways.
The Latin community has it good here. They’re seen as exotic lovers, passionate about life, open hearted, loving people. Yes, there might be some domestic violence once in a while, but that is usually overlooked as a by-product of overly passionate romantic relationships.
The Arabs and the Blacks (I know we’re doing this whole “all you same colour go together” thing, but hey, this is how white people see us, you know it) have it the worst. They’re seldom even in those hipster groups as the token minority, and are usually hanging out in their own ethnic circles.
You see, no Swede would admit this. That’s because it’s not politically correct to even think that. It slips into their subconscious minds and it reveals itself in many other ways, which few would even dare to admit.
8. Racist remarks are passed off as compliments
I’ve gotten it countless times. “You look like Steve Aoki.” Just because we’re both Asian and have long hair doesn’t mean we look alike. That’s as good as saying Samuel L. Jackson looks like Michael Jordan. You might have meant that as a compliment, but honestly, it comes off as ignorance and insensitivity.
Ok, here’s another one. “Hello Jackie Chan.” Yes, definitely spot on! The only Chinese guy you’ve seen in Hollywood movies immediately gets associated with the first Asian guy you see on the streets. Oh, did I tell you I know kung fu and can kill you just by tapping two fingers on your neck?
9. Yet somehow, we keep confirming these stereotypes.
Every time someone rattles off any numbers that need to be calculated, I never fail to step up to the challenge and give the answer. Be it at the supermarket cashier or at the bar, I just can’t fucking help it. It’s in my nature!
There’s even this Asian Fetish Party called… wait for it… yes! Fried Rice! And Asians love going to it. I was invited a few times, but I turned it down, it just felt weird. It’s like white people came up with this shit to gather us all in one place just so that they can look at us.
Not gonna fall for it. Haha!
10. But I’ve never felt more Chinese anywhere else in the world.
Maybe because I’m the minority. Maybe because I miss home. But I’ve never felt such a profound love for rice and noodles ever since I’ve moved here. I beam with pride every time I’m at the supermarket checkout counter and no one else in the queue have a fucking clue what’s in my basket.
And with all that being said, the racism towards Asians in Sweden isn’t all that bad. We get hired, we get laid, and nobody messes with us because they think we know martial arts. We’re fucking lucky, and I’m thankful for it.
Racism gets much worse here. And these observations merely point out the rather funny, harmless, subconscious ones. White people, don’t take it too hard on yourselves. We’re more concerned about the concrete actions taken to drive immigrants out of this country than these nitty gritty stuff. Stereotypes are fun, so lighten up, laugh at other people, laugh at yourselves.
But when it gets hostile and people get deported, it stops being a laughing matter. That’s where we need to draw the line and blur the lines, and be one.