Wednesday, 9 June 2010


It has been a pretty full on emotional day here... Yan was in  London and I managed to eat myself to bits trying to get my head around the racism that had tainted my day.
When he arrived home, the first thing he said was that he had read my post and that he had a reply and would I post it?
So this is racism through his eyes.... and in his words....
Your comments as always are greatly appreciated.


I have lived in-spite of racism for all of my life. I came to the United Kingdom when I was two years old. Just a baby really with the naivety that comes from a lack of life experience. At that time there were a lot less ethnic minorities than is the case now. It was not unusual for me to be the only one in the various schools I went to as my parents relocated several times due to my fathers studies (He has a PhD in Physics). For as long as I can remember I have faced taunts, be it in the form of the "Chinese, Japanese" rhyme, Chinky or other things I don't feel right to share. Most of the time they were said when I had my back to the taunters but that was not always the case. I have been spat on and threatened. Imagine a small boy of five. A boy that looked different from other boys. A boy that just wanted to fit in as most kids do. I tried to teach myself how to make myself small and almost invisible in my mind. The truth is that it only made me stand out more as they now saw me as the timid, soft target, Chinese boy. I confess I was ashamed and angry to be Chinese and wished I could be like everyone else.

As I grew older I learned how to avoid groups of people but inevitably in life there are occasions when it is inevitable. This may sound really stupid but I started smoking because of this. I always lit a cigarette before walking past a group of kids just to show them how tough I was. Face facing the pavement, cigarette in hand and fast walking.

When I went to University  I worked in the bar of a hotel called the Last Drop Village in Bolton. The manager used to call me Mister King. Why? Because he could then add various christian names like Fu and Wan to this. I endured this for three years. Most of my colleagues thought it was very funny when he would call out his name for me in front of customers. In fact some of them joined in. You may ask yourself why did I work there for so long? In truth I was so used to name calling that I didn't think that other places would be any different. I also needed the money. There is also the Chinese way, which means minimal fuss.

So how has this affected me. Ask yourself how would this affect you or your child? I find groups of Anglo Saxons intimidating, be it in a pub, street or recently at a car boot sale. Every time I walk past a group of kids, I expect to be taunted. I think it didn't help that my parents did not integrate me with other Chinese kids, so I had no shared experiences or anything that would have changed my path to what it is today. Chinky is a word which makes me feel sick. People round here use that word to describe a Chinese takeaway. That word has been used in my presence and in conversation without consideration to how I might feel. My mistake is that I accept that and wait for the subject to be changed like a good subservient boy.

Often my only retreat is in myself, so yes I am self reflective. I am introverted. I was nervous of what people will say. I have been accused on many occasions of not being a people person but in truth, how can I be. I am very guarded because it would shock you all to hear where racism exists.

But having said all of that, I am the luckiest person alive. I have a beautiful wife and family who I love beyond measure. I am now a full on fashion designer. I no longer give a damn about being different. Funnily, one of the reasons I love fashion is that it is the only place where I am accepted totally for what I am. The fashion world with all its eccentricities is the only place I have ever felt at home.

So now it has touched my children. Now I am supposed to accept that the world has not got any better?

I don't expect you to understand racism unless you have faced it yourself. You cannot know what it is really like and how it affects the psyche. What I would appreciate is a moment of reflection on how you would feel if your child was made to feel worthless and a freak. I live in hope that there will be a world where differences are celebrated and not used to humiliate.

I have never spoke of this before.

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

and by that time no one was left to speak up."

 Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)


  1. Yan, this is really moving. I haven't faced this. I cannot know how you feel. The teasing i got for being a Scot cannot compare ("a wee cup of tea, a tea cup of wee...")

    I just hope that we can pass on greater empathy to our children, that we can celebrate difference - not ignore it, because I think that also fails, but recognise it for what it is - a welcome addition to the tapestry of life.

    Thanks for posting this, and thanks too to sian for raising the topic.

  2. Very few people take the time to understand how racism feels let alone how it impacts children

  3. I am truly touched by this story, and admit to being naive to the racism that so many people face.
    Like I am sure all others who post a comment will do too, I pledge to do my best to education my children well and show them that there is no place for racism in society today.

  4. Oh Sian & Yan, took me right back to my childhood. Growing up in Shropshire, very few black people were around, even fewer mixed race back in the day. Kids didn't understand what I was, I was light brown with afro hair. I got called Blackie, Black B*itch, Paki, all sorts, and as much as I adore my Jamaican born Dad & English born Mum, many a time I wished I looked like everyone else.

    As a small child I remember saying to someone that was teasing me 'you're just jealous because you are all pasty, I'm not raw, I'm not burnt, I'm golden and perfect thank you very much!'. The digs that hurt were the ones that came from so-called friends. I was a big Michael Jackson fan, and will always remember one day one of my school friends saying that I only liked him because I was black.

    I grew sick of kids saying 'can I touch your hair?', tired of the 'hair bear bunch', and 'Basil Brush' jokes. I think I dealt with it by being deliberately funny and different and putting up a front. I would have died if my parents knew how I felt inside.

    Flash forward 30 years & I have 2 beautiful brown babies. I tell them how beautiful they are every day, and that I wish I had their gorgeous skin. Times have changed somewhat although recently I encountered a racist attack online from a black person, this was pretty much a first for me. Apparently I'm 'half white, so I'm alright' & know nothing of black people's suffering. This person knew nothing about me, about the fact that I am very aware of history, & have been to the museum of slavery in Port Royal, Jamaica, a very somber and sad place I can tell you.

    I can tell you that being mixed race for me is an honour. I am so proud of my dual heritage, that I am a symbol of love and a bridge between races. I am the best of both worlds.

    I'll get off now as I'm rambling & taking up all your comment space!

  5. Yan that was so moving and you're right, I have no experience of racism and can't imagine what it must be like.

    As a child I was bullied for other reasons, but could never imagine surviving it on the scale you have had to face.

    I now have two little girls who I am bringing up to see people as people, not a colour, a size, or any other 'thing', just brilliantly similar and brilliantly different. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    And Chilliviv thank you too, your comment was so moving. Hugs.

  6. Viv.
    From one Shropshire girl to another...
    Your light radiates.

    As does that of your boys.

  7. You would think in this more multi-cultural world that this would cease to be a problem, sadly it seems that the opposite is true.

    Whether it's ignorance or out and out racism, it's appalling. My heart breaks when I hear something like this. Thank you for sharing your story.

    People are people, regardless of their size, shape, colour, language or religion and should be judged on their actions not on their appearance.

  8. Oh Yan, I have tears pouring down my cheeks. I had no idea you had been through all of that. Thank you for sharing. If people would just stop and put themselves in another person's shoes for a few moments surely there would be less hate. You are a kind and talented man with a beautiful family, that's what I see. x

  9. You are one of the most beautiful families I know - both inside and out. When I told my family what had happened, they were so horrified, and we still are. Please Yan, you are worth so much more than these imbeciles who are not fit to walk in your shadow.

  10. Yan thanks for sharing, and I'm sorry you had to go through this and all the others. And especially our kids.

    I am white British and lived in Australia for 10 years and even I was told to go home to where I came from. Nothing compared to what you have been and still go through, but still shocking in this day and age.

    My husband is Turkish like you his family emigrated they went to Australia when he was 2 he grew up with a barrage of racism. Australia is a much more racist country than the UK.

    It was through this history we decided we'd give our children my surname to save them the taunting and abuse he had. sad but true.

  11. Gosh, Sian, that's very moving. brave of Yah to write it and I am pleased he has because it needs to be said. Many of us aren't aware of how much racism exists and many of us haven't experienced it first hand. As you know, my brother's wife is Chinese. It would be interesting to hear her perspective in this. She has only been living here for a few years but I am sure she will not have been unaffected by this. It has to change. As Yan says, when children are affected it becomes even worse, and now my brother has a daughter. I know he will battle on her behalf if he needs to. The point is, he houldn't have to.

  12. A very enjoyable post to read because I have faced this often, not because of racism, but because I "feel" different, my daughter is autistic and she has had to put up with ignorant people misunderstanding her way of life. It hurts terribly, but we carry on because if we don't, then the ignorant race have won.

    I used to frequent the Last Drop when I lived near Bolton. It's a lovely place, or perhaps it was.

    CJ xx

  13. We live in a world fueled by ignorance, suspicion, intolerance and hatred. People's points of difference are often used to belittle them, be it race, sex, sexuality, health and so on. I would like to add that whilst you are not able to appreciate the full effect of racism unless you are the recipient, this also applies to any point of difference. If we could all just embrace each other as people then the problems of our world would be a whole lot less. Unfortunately what are the chances of that happening? I cry for my children and their children.

  14. I am having to gulp so many times to stop the tears. What an amazing and honest post. I hope this can get out there to the masses so people who don't have any first hand experience of racism can have a slight glimpse into the effects this has.

    My husband went through all the same things growing up, born in Iran and moving to the UK when he was just 2 years old.

    We live in hope that things will get better and people's attitudes will change.

    You are an amazing family x

  15. Two very moving posts which I hope the masses will get to read so that we have a chance at re-education of how it feels when horrible negative comments are made.
    My hubby was bullied as a child when he moved from Gibraltar to the UK even though he was white, he spoke with an accent and was small in stature. My kids have also faced abuse about being Jewish, in particular my second child has found it very hard to deal with.
    People need to learn to think before they open their mouths and put themselves in the position of having hurtful comments thrown their way.

  16. Your post really touched me. You are of course right unless you have been the victim of racism then you will never truely understand how it feel, but I to live in hope that it is something that will disapear from our world. If we could only learn to rejoice in the things that make us difference and enique then the lives of our children and their children could be so much brighter

  17. That was some post. Very moving and thought provoking.

  18. Thank you very much for this. I have never experianced anything remotly like this. I am trying to riase my children to see the best in everyone nad to celebrate their uniqueness.

    My heart breaks when it thinks of you as a child, no one shoudl experince what you did in your work environment and I once worked as a recruitment company and had to get involved when one of my temps experianced something due to her religion - they insisted on her eating pork.

    I am shocked and saddened that in all these years things hva enot changed for the better.

    As a parent I will be taling about this with my children, it is important.

    Thank you

  19. What a moving, powerful piece of your life you've written. I only hope it will help get the message out there to put an end to the ignorance that exists in our world.

    Thanks so much for sharing. x

  20. Hearing from you as an adult about your experience as a child (and later) is very humbling, Yan. Because you've had time to process all of this, and I'm sure even Sian wouldn't really have been aware of it all.

    I have to say that the two most gorgeous siblings (brother and sister) I ever knew were half-caste (is that offensive? It wasn't so when I was a child, but I was a white middle-class child), so I imagine your children really ARE stunning.

  21. I have read this and the preceeding post "shocked to the core" and am just so saddened than this happened to Yan and now to your beautiful children. Its beyond unacceptable and I sincerely hope the school jump on this with both feet addressing both the children attending as well as sending a direct and appropriate message to the childrens parents. I am so very sorry this has happened to you or to anyone for that matter. Cx

  22. Thank you Yan, you have reminded me of how lucky I was to grow up in a family that cherished the culture of others and actively encouraged me to engage with all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds, abilities, faiths and so forth. This has lead to the enrichment of my life in many ways and I hope that I can make sure that my children have the same experiences and understanding of others. It is easy to forget the importance of this.
    I'm sorry that you and your family have had to endure this sort of abuse in 21st century Britain, it seems a damning reflection on our society. However, with each incident we become stronger and more empowered and this will ultimately lead to an end to this ignorance.

  23. Dear Zooarchaeologist. I wish I could buy into your optimism for the future but I believe that it may change its costume but it ultimately remains as it was and is self perpetuating. It is largely classless and sexless but is alive and well in the 21st century. On the other hand things like this bring us closer as a family so we should strive to find the positive even in the most distressing of situations.

  24. You mention having a 'chinky' for tea. When I was 17 years old, through to probably being in my early 20's or even later, it wasn't even a racist word to me back then, it was a word for a take-away... "fancy a chinky for tea?"... the way I was brought up. Not necessarily by my family as they weren't at all racist in the slightest, so I dont know where it came from??? So naive. Now as an adult, I would correct my children and educate them if I heard them using such language. But its something they dont seem to have come across. Luckily they go to a school with lots of mixed race children which is fab.
    Maybe when I was growing up, it was compete naivety? I remember the 'chinese, japanese' song, but the start of the song meant nothing to me as a child, we only sang it for the end part.... "what are these", which was about boobs!!! We were never aware of any racism as children.

  25. Very much see feelings in your writing. Thanks for sharing. Totally understand like others who have written here.

  26. I do have hope that things will eventually change, but I think it will take generations. From my own perspective, I see a lot more mixed marriages around now, and a lot more mixed race children. Or maybe it's just because I live in a large city?

  27. Sian, I’m so sorry you all have to go through this, and sorry I haven't been by earlier. I think you hit it on the head when you said your husband is your husband – and you don’t define him by being Chinese.

    While in some parts of the US racism is probably worse than the UK, the area in which I grew up (Silicon Valley) is very progressive. My friends were from China, Japan and India. I just knew them as Kim, Cheryl and Samia, and Samia’s mother made really good curries.

    I was absolutely shocked at the blatant racism here when I first moved to the UK 20 years ago (mind you I probably would have been just as shocked if I had moved to Mississippi). Maybe when we all stop labelling people for their differences this will end, but like Yan I have my doubts.

  28. I've just read your last post too and I'm truly shocked that this still goes on. Although you have both dealt with it brilliantly, you shouldn't have to. Whilst I haven't been a victim of racial abuse, I have been bullied because of my looks for years and years and I can appreciate it doesn't get any easier.
    Keep being proud of who you are x

  29. Thank you for writing that. Everybody should read testimonies like this, because while it's easy to say that racism is wrong and a blight on decent society - unless it has directly affected you, you cannot understand the real and concrete misery that it causes.

  30. Thank you for writing this, Yan - I only hope (after experiencing various forms of racism over the years) that someone who is guilty of what you have spoken about this reads your piece and it jolts them into the 21st Century.

    I am in awe of the way you have forged your way into a successful career with everything going on around you - especially in such a cut-throat world as fashion. And your love for your family shines through the post.

  31. I have just read both posts and it has made me so very sad. I claim no innate understanding just that I am different too and that has got me into plenty of trouble over the years. I wish to bring up my children seeing people for what they are under the skin. I don't know if that helps at all or gives any sort of encouragement...

  32. To Morag,
    Yes "half-caste" is offensive.

    To Yan and Mummy-Tips,
    Thank you for sharing this experience. I have so much to say on this topic - not sure where to start! As a mixed-race Scottish girl born to a Jamaican Dad and Geordie Mum, I happen to have been lucky enough not to experienced too much racism myself, certainly not on the level of Yan and my father and my schools had more than your average number of mixed race kids.

    I too do not share some of the optimism because I don't think we are being truly honest with ourselves. We all have to struggle against bigotry in our own natures. I would rather be honest with you and admit to occasionally fighting my own bigotry from all sides, as a Scot with anti-English feelings, my idle concerns at the “surge” of Polish shops in my area, and as a mixed race women. Not black, not white – where is my home? What is my identity? Black people treat me like I am not one of them, white people see me as black. As my skin is a little lighter than my siblings, some people think I am Spanish – that constant question – Where are you from? is never satisfied when I say Edinburgh. My partner is white – I have joked that he is more black than me (he knows much more about Jamaican music than I ever will).

    People look at my pale skinned children, then at me, then back at them. How on earth could I have given birth to a blonde-haired, blue eyed boy and a freckled straight-haired girl? And then there’s my sadness at my own daughter always choosing the light-skinned Barbie or baby doll over the dark one. As a descendant of slaves, there’s that whole inbred thing of paler skin being more appealing – did I deliberately choose a white partner? Well, there’s not many black men in Scotland, even fewer mixed-race – aren’t we all mixed race any bloody way?!

    We do our best to be moral, accepting citizens, don’t we – but I would prefer a little more honesty.

    The other day a child at my daughter’s school asked my why my skin was brown and my daughter’s wasn’t – I embrace the honesty of children but worry about what my children may face in the playground because of my skin colour.

    Oh there is so much more to question myself with, nevermind society! I try to understand what it was like for my Dad moving here at 17 and I am thankful to have been lucky in my own experiences. I think it’s the really subtle racism which can be worse – the months of banana peels being slung into your garden, that look you get from some mum’s in the playground who you don’t want to speak to anyway, but then I’ve only had things like being called a Paki??? And “Hey, Carribean” while their hand is grabbing my substantial derrier, and trying to smile through “Baa Baa Black Sheep” at the Nursery recital. My Mum used to be the one who got angry when my parents were spat at in the street – there’s the racism that make you angry and then there’s the racism that makes you sad, and then – if you’re really honest – there’s your own little bits of bigotry that you catch before you make a fool of yourself.

  33. I am glad that so many of you have chosen to comment and share your thoughts and experiences. If any of you wish to discuss this more or in a more private forum, please do not hesitate to contact me. Yes I have been through this all my life and yes, I do not believe in Utopia in this generation but I do believe in the rights of people no matter what creed, sex, perceived handicap or sexuality. It is a standpoint that I have developed with age and I admit that it was always attractive as a kid for someone else to get picked on but I now accept that this too is very wrong. This is why I chose to quote that verse at the end of my piece. It has been quite a voyage going back through the years but it has also reminded me of the journey I have taken to become the man I am today. I am here for you if you need to talk.

  34. I was so moved by this post. I'm so sorry that you have experienced everything that you have. My son is 'different' and although he is only seven it frightens me how his peers use his differences to humiliate him when they can.

  35. That is a very moving post that both you and Sian have written. I HATE racism and bullying in all forms but sadly it does exist and is generally through ignorance and bad parenting. I was raised in a small town with a primary school of about 300 children. We had twin chinese boys in my year and I'm really proud to say that our school welcomed them with open arms and they very quickly became the "cool guys" that everyone loved. I honestly never heard anyone pick on them at all and to this day they are still friends with 90% of the kids from school. Its bad enough that you had to endure this yourself but now that your children are on the receiving end it must hurt even more. My stepson has been bullied for the last 3 years because he wears glasses - children are so cruel - and I would be utterly ashamed if I ever heard that my children had bullied anyone, that is not the world I want to raise them in. Be strong and know that not everyone is as small minded and ignorant as those that treat you mean xx

  36. thanks for writing this, it is so important to hear. Like 'a modern mother' I live in the SF Bay area, which really is a model of how people should behave. People are not intrinsically racist. Cultures are. They can and should be changed. Many of my children's friends, and their teachers too, are of mixed heritage and this is something that is openly discussed and celebrated. You have a beautiful family. You should come to San Francisco one day, you would all fit in so well here!

  37. And another thing!

    Following on from my previous comment...

    I do believe we are not born racist and I just think if there was a bit more history in school about the movement of peoples across the globe (from a genetic point of view) it may make a difference to future generations being more tolerant. And, as others have mentioned, the tolerance is not just racial - when I was talking about being honest about our own bigotry, I was also thinking about class, caste and that type of snobbery.

    Thank you Yan To & Sian Mummy Tips for sharing and provoking debate and an opportunity for us to look at ourselves a bit clearer.

  38. One of my earliest memories was a friendship with a little girl from Zimbabwe, I think I was about 4 at the time. She was my best friend at ballet. And then she was attacked by a group of older kids in the park, with a brick. I remember not understanding it. I didn't see her as "different". She was just my friend. When my mum tried to explain to me what had happened and why it happened, I didn't understand. I still don't now actually. 

  39. My best friend is a black woman of Nigerian heritage who was born in the UK and I remember once, when we were about 15, walking down the high street and a grown man walking past and shouting the word 'n*%ger' at her. I'd heard this word bandied around by petty racists and rappers before, but seeing it used against my friend like that, it was like the word had been weaponised and hurt her just as much as a slap or a punch. 

    I don't need to tell you that my friend is beautiful intelligent, kind etc, beacause that doesn't matter, she's a human and all that matters is that NO human deserves to be treated this way. I'm so sorry you've all had to deal with this ignorance, I'm truly ashamed to be an Anglo-Saxon sometimes. 

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Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Appreciated as always. xx


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