By Zoe Lee

Zoe Lee’s personal essay talks about her personal experience with race and highlights the rise of Asian discrimination in the UK.

I remember at the age of 7 bringing a packed lunch my mum had prepared for me to school. Bright-eyed and excited, I was elated when the hands of the clock struck lunchtime and it was finally time to eat. When I lifted the lid, the comforting smell of home and joy-filled me as I was met with my mum’s home-cooked Chinese food.

As I begin to tuck in, whispers and sneers start to envelop me and as I look around, everyone seemed to be looking at me. It wasn’t delight or curiosity, it appeared to be pure revulsion.

Naïve and confused, I failed to understand the distaste in the looks I received before being jolted by one boy’s comment; “Ew what is that? It stinks”. As a child, I couldn’t comprehend what was wrong with my food but somehow, I too felt disgusted, even though one of my many great pleasures was my mum’s cooking. 

This was only the beginning of my isolation and anxiety growing up as a British Born Chinese. Throughout primary and secondary school, my lunchbox anxiety grew, leading me to hide my lunches or not eating them at all in fear of being gawked at or ridiculed.

I became obsessed with my white friend’s lunches, asking my mum to mimic their pristine made sandwiches and handwritten notes. I was frustrated my mum failed to understand my desire of fitting in and gaining a seat at the table, when in retrospect, it was I who failed to see the work my mum endured to make me my lunches.

Food was only one tipping point in the hatred towards my Asian identity; I hated speaking Cantonese to my parents in public, scared I would be the subject to derision, and would walk a steady tightrope avoiding every Asian stereotype thrown at me. 

It was only until university, I started to embrace my Asian identity. Amongst the bustling city, a fresh start and a sea of new people. Seeing faces that looked like me became a security blanket from the racially motivated sneers I faced in school and that nothing could hurt me there.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the impenetrable armour I once thought soon tarnished.  

Hate crimes towards east and southeast Asians have tripled during the pandemic. 

Since the pandemic, Asians have been a primary target for racially loaded language and xenophobic attacks. From Trump labelling the virus as the “China virus” to the surge in brutal attacks against the Asian elderly observed in the states, it’s time we address the issue and understand how vulnerable our communities have become.  

The UK is absolutely not innocent or impartial to Asian racism and hate crimes. According to the UK-based advocacy group, End the Virus of Racism, there has been a 300 percent increase in hate crimes against East and South Asian communities in the UK since the start of the pandemic.

As a community, Asians in the UK have been known to be inherently silent and severely unrepresented and thus, this pandemic has proved advantageous for racially motivated attacks: Jonathan Mok – 23-year-old Singaporean student required facial surgery after being brutally attacked last March and only in February this year, a Chinese national lecturer was subject to violent and racist attacks simply whilst out jogging.

I remember walking home with a friend one night celebrating my dissertation hand in and what should’ve been a triumphant and memorable night, turned sour having “coronavirus” and “go back to China” beckoned at me. We need to do better.

It is these stories that are worth telling and force us as a nation to collectively look in the mirror and understand this is not a contemporary problem unique to the US. The fears within the Asian community are real and microaggressions exist in almost every Asian immigrants’ childhood, even mine.

Unfortunately, many of these stories are not reported or circulated widely enough. There needs to be more conversation and education surrounding these issues and not a cloak of invisibility. If it is safe to do so, call out negative behavior when you see it.

Share our stories. Sign petitions. Become an ally. It’s time we stopped downplaying racism in the UK and with more love and light, we can make the world a better place. 

Follow Zoe on Instagram here.