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This is a response piece addressed to I Dated White Guys As An Asian Girl – Here’s Why It Can Suck by Zarrah Morden.
I’ll just come out and say it – Malaysians are racist AF. Also, we really like to pull the racism card and complain about being the victims of racism, especially when things go wrong.
Heck, as a nation, we seem oddly fixated on interracial dating fails. And why not – it’s easy to assign blame to another race’s different-ness.
OK, I won’t deny that the cultural differences can be tricky to navigate. That, perhaps, adds to the additional effort of reconciling contradictory perspectives.
But also, perhaps someone in the relationship was being a d*ck. Or maybe both of you were a*sholes to each other.
‘But how about white privilege?!’
Yep, white privilege does exist, but so does male privilege, and let’s not get me started on social class privilege. We really can’t dictate our genetic makeup, nor can we pick the families that we were born into.
Our circumstances at birth, the people we were surrounded with during our formative years, all those contribute to many of the deeply-ingrained ideas that become part of our personal identity and affect our life perspectives.
My current partner is white-passing and grew up strongly identifying with Brit culture. You know, boarding school, cups of (milky) tea, and Sunday roasts at the pub.
Stereotyping is easy – see what I did in the previous paragraph? But those are exactly the things he grew up with (and still enjoys).
When he met me I was already a pretty outspoken feminist. And he was more familiar with the traditionally male perspective, more so growing up in an all-boy family. Some of his views were troublingly harmful and misogynist to me.
And of course, there was the casual racism.
Sounds like a recipe for trouble, no?
The first year was often tough. We liked each other but often had views that clashed dramatically.
We eventually managed to navigate much of our differences, but it occasionally involved getting into… impassioned debates with each other.
He was upset that his world-view and personal identity were challenged by my opinions. I felt that he was inconsiderate and couldn’t understand the vulnerability of being a woman, or the discrimination faced by a person of colour.
There were many occasions where I abruptly broke off the conversation and ran off in tears, but we generally handled this by respectfully listening to what each other had to say.
And by respectfully listening, I mean the sort of listening where you try hard not to invalidate – or make attempts to kill – each other.
Have issues with your partner’s racist or sexist remarks?
Perhaps they are the beneficiaries of institutional privilege. And they’re completely unaware of being low-key racist. So why not just bring it up with them?
Without sounding angry or accusatory, let them know it is how it impacts you and how it makes you feel.
My partner used to make fun of Malaysian accents, including mine. I eventually pointed out that what he was doing was racist and offensive, and often made me feel uncomfortable.
I told him he was free to offer constructive feedback and let me know what “proper” pronunciation sounded like. But otherwise, belittling or making fun of people for their diversity of linguistic influences was way uncool.
That conversation cleared up a few things, and he’s now a lot less likely to make carelessly discriminatory remarks.
Unconscious prejudices aren’t merely the domain of Western, cis-male folks – many Malaysians are guilty of making thoughtless jokes about racial stereotypes.
Laughed at Chinese/Malay/Indian/etc accents and stereotypes recently? It probably felt like harmless fun, didn’t it?
There you go. We aren’t exempt from acting in similar ways to those inconsiderate angmohs either.
All relationships sorta suck sometimes.
Relationships always involve conflict because no two brains can be 100% on the same wavelength, even if you date someone of the same race or upbringing.
Eventually, you will disagree on something.
Heck, you could come from the same culture and upbringing, but just by being of different genders/age/etc means that the lens you view the world through can vary by a lot!
As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve found that it’s possible to agree to disagree with people and still – gasp! – like them.
Compiling a Hurt Museum as a conflict resolution strategy has helped my relationship with my partner a lot. It sounds radical and scary to sit through a catalogue of your partner’s hurts and disappointments, but it has been an extremely effective way to address issues for us.
It’s also a great way to learn how to practice empathy and active listening, both super-underrated life skills.
By doing this we’ve learnt that we often don’t actually need the other to agree that we are right. It seems that most people’s base desire is really to be empathised with, and feel validated – just by being heard.
You’re probably a douche too sometimes.
And why not? You gotta look out for your own self-importance, no?
Definitely. And sometimes that might make you come across as being unlikeable.
I can’t stress on self-care and self-respect enough. You have a responsibility to yourself to take care of the most important person in your life – you.
Communicating well and learning to set personal boundaries are invaluable tools in the Self-Care Starter Kit.
While you can’t – and shouldn’t – force others to agree with your views, you can definitely set personal boundaries. And it’s perfectly reasonable to expect those boundaries to be respected.
If your partner is subjecting you to racial microaggressions, mansplaining, or even inflicting unpalatable cuisine on you, perhaps you should empower yourself, and shoulder some of the responsibility for pointing it out.
Let them know how to meet you halfway. Instead of picking on their race and culture.
Relationships shouldn’t become a game of tit-for-tat.
Then again, perhaps they’re simply entitled racist a*sholes.
I’ve been based in Thailand for over a year now, and some (but not all) of the Westerners that I’ve met here can be pretty obnoxious.
Imagine someone being entitled enough to bitterly complain about a local wife who isn’t great at cooking Western meals, calling her preferred tom yam goong “vile” and “disgusting”… When she spent most of her life growing up in an impoverished village.
She would have no idea how a proper meatloaf tastes like, much less be able to make one well. It would be rather unfair to expect her to whip up a roast beef complete with Yorkshire pudding!
I’ve met many entitled Malaysians too.
There’s probably a sliding scale for different levels of racism. And then there’s the matter of accidental/casual racism versus overt/intentional racism.
While people sometimes don’t mean to be racist, it’s true that racism is as much about impact as it is about intention.
However, I don’t see how discriminating the race of a person – or people – who were racist contributes towards our progress towards a more tolerant society.
Being racist in response to racism just seems like a problematic way to deal with the matter.
Maybe they’re just horrible individuals.
Race and culture are not necessarily the sole reasons for your partner’s unpleasantness.
If your partner is still picking on you despite clear communication and boundary-setting on your part, that’s clearly being inconsiderate AF.
Perhaps this could be caused by wilful malice rather than ignorance stemming from their mat salleh upbringing.
If that’s the case, you might be dealing with a case of good ole’ garden variety incompatibility (a.k.a. sh*tty person at odds with your life and your happiness).
The problem could just be with the individual, not an entire race of people.
And perhaps a relationship with this person might not be worth pursuing.
We are often unaware of our own racist behaviours.
As oxymoronic as it sounds, I’ve heard Malaysia being described as a multi-cultural nation of institutionalised racism.
It’s ironic that growing up here has made most of us keenly aware of the discrimination that exists, while at the same time strangely inured to our own racist behaviours.
It’s easy to laugh them off, but these are the things that can perpetuate prejudice and discrimination.
Pinpointing matters of race, all races – particularly of people of a different background – IS racism.
Disparaging any particular race has no productive effect on eradicating this intolerance.
It is neither ethical nor possible to force people to amend their uninformed bigotry. What we all can do to address this is to first check ourselves. We should recognise that all of us are accountable for the things we say or do.
Even if it takes time, awareness and change will eventually follow.
Dealing with people is often tough AF.
It’s hard enough to connect with someone on any meaningful level without having to filter for race, religion and culture.
Relationships are hard, conflicts suck, and sometimes people are cretins – that’s just a fact of life.
Many couples make it work despite being complete opposites in personalities. This is because they choose to focus on the common ground they share rather than incessantly picking at the differences.
Relationships are a collaboration between two people and constant work in progress – more so if there are cultural clashes thrown into the mix.
Here’s a thought: instead of simply highlighting the problems and dwelling in an impotent zero-sum mindset, why not focus on the solutions instead?
For more articles on casual racism in dating, read The Racism I Experienced Dating In Malaysia, and I Dated White Guys As An Asian Girl – Here’s Why It Can Suck.