I grew up in Whitby, Ont., a predominantly white city.
Asians in my high school were few and far between, and anyone who was black sat in an area dubbed "Cafrica" in the cafeteria (for the most part, voluntarily). The town is even nicknamed "White-by" because of the high population of Caucasians.
Growing up, I didn't experience too much racism, aside from the occasional chant of "ching, chong, chang" and the pulling of eyes from ignorant classmates.
But over the weekend, for the first time in 27 years, a random man called me a chink at the local grocery store.
The word chink, for those who don't know, is an ethnic slur targeted towards Asians, particularly those of Chinese descent.
He said it in passing, muttering it under his breath as if he was disgusted or annoyed. I was in the middle of texting a friend when it happened. Rage and shock filled inside of me. Who the hell was this racist man and how dare he use this slur towards me?
I contemplated throwing back a retort, but he had already walked away. So I followed him. I followed him, while furiously texting my friend what had just happened, and I Snapchatted a video of him before looking him straight in the eye while walking by him.
Seeing everyone put him down didn't make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel worse.
My body was shaking from anger, but also in fear from the negativity that shot from his eyes. That fear quickly turned to more rage, and I hit "Add to Story" on Snapchat, writing, "This man called me a chink. Fuck you." I then posted an image of him on Facebook, explaining the story. The post was flooded with messages of support from friends of all races, something that was greatly appreciated.
But most of the messages were quick to attack the man (just like I did), saying he was old, sad, lonely, disgusting, looked drunk, probably had mental illness, etc.
Seeing everyone put him down didn't make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel worse. Something felt wrong fighting negativity with more negativity. Verbally attacking him did not make the situation better, and encouraging those attacks made me just as bad as him.
I promptly deleted my Snapchat video and hid my Facebook post.
I am in no way saying his behaviour is acceptable, but what I've learned through the years is that hatred and discrimination is taught and learned, and it is very difficult to break out of it if that's all you know. And I am fairly certain that is all that man knows.
I am lucky enough to have been raised by a mother who taught me to accept everyone, and to never discriminate a person based on race, skin colour, sexual orientation or size. Coming from a Chinese family, this is usually quite rare.
This man and many others, however, probably didn't have the same luxury, therefore living a life of ignorance. For this reason, I genuinely feel sad for him and for those who are in similar positions. Because even though he is very obviously racist, it's unfortunate he is unable to see and appreciate the diverse country we live in.
In the end, sending positivity his way was the only thing that made me cool down and let go of the incident. Staying angry and sending hate his way wasn't going to help me or change him. And at the end of the day, the world needs more love and acceptance, not more hatred and discrimination.
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Even teens with the same identity -- be it racial or gender -- can be guilty of bullying and discrimination. Ontario's Ministry of Education defines bullying as "a form of repeated, persistent, and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem, or reputation."
Social media can be a platform for bullying to continue even after school is out. Cyber bullying occurs when young people take malicious actions online. through chat rooms, email, social sites and instant messaging.
"You don't need to go into full confessional mode, but have fun with it, if that helps. Or be perfectly honest," Author Jonathan R. Miller said. Miller pens e-books with multi-ethnic characters and themes. You don't have to talk about all the nuances of your family tree every time you're asked about your background, He said. That can be exhausting. Find something that works for you personally.
"I like the word 'mixed' because it's a messy word, and in my experience growing-up mixed is exactly that," Miller said. He suggests that it's important to allow yourself to truly wrestle with questions of identity in environments you consider safe.
If you are struggling with your identity, you don't have to tell the whole world, but confide in a friend that you trust. Having someone to confide in is important. "If you can, find someone who you can talk to about your most honest, ever-evolving, often-messy answer to the question, "What am I?" Miller said.
"Maybe you don't have anyone trustworthy to talk to honestly about your experiences. Write about them. It helped me, sometimes, to get those out," Miller said. It may not make a lot of sense initially and it might feel uncomfortably personal, but write. Keep a journal, write short stories and rename the characters, try your hand at poetry -- whatever feels best.
"You are likely being told at different times, more or less, to hurry up and get off the fence, pick a side and get on with it," Miller said. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be unsure of who you are, even if your peers seem to have their acts together, he said. Teenage years are discovery years. Miller also quoted author Rainer Maria Rilke: " 'Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. ...live in the question.' That's good advice. Difficult to follow, but good."
When it comes to mixed heritage, "you don't have to be 'both' or 'other' or 'all of the above' all of the time. Sometimes the only way to figure out what you are is to choose one thing and be it for a while," Miller said. Explore how it feels to fully embrace a single aspect of your identity, for short period of time. See "what stick and what slides off." It's simply learning, Miller said.
"I can't tell you how many multi-racial people I've met who have chosen a single race or ignored race entirely and been perfectly content with the decision. A biracial friend of mine used to tell me, 'I'm black and white, yes, but I'm black. Period,' " Miller said. He said he knows many people have chosen to identify with only one aspect of their multi-background, while others have embraced the blend.
Find creative ways to occupy your time, Miller said. Join a group or do an activity (with others) where you are empowered to be who you are, instead of having to act how others think you need to be in order to fit in.
Take pride in your ethnic (culture, colour or religion) heritage. You have no control over your heritage, and you can't change that fact that this is who you are. So embrace it and learn as much as you can. "You may feel like it would be an insult to your heritage to embrace one aspect of yourself above the others, but trust me, it wouldn't be. This is important: it is not your job to uphold, with perfect equity and grace, all of the elements that went into your making," Miller said.
"Often they're the 'gatekeepers' that decide whether you're 'in' or 'out.' But what you can do is have a ready answer for the 'charges' they level against you. Whether you use humour, earnestness, or self-righteous anger, it helps to have your defense lined up and ready," Miller said. Sometimes people think all the "members" of their cultural or ethnic community must behave, dress and think a certain way. But as an individual, you can do whatever you want and find your own identity.
Follow Madelyn Chung on Twitter: www.twitter.com/madelynchung