Perhaps the most blatant form of racism I have ever experienced was back in university when I was dating my first real boyfriend. We were at a bar with old high school friends when, somehow, the topic of glasses came up.
At one point, he casually turned to me and said, "How do you put contacts in?" Everyone immediately burst out laughing.
Did I miss something? I didn't get the joke.
Me in my university days. (Photo: Isabelle Khoo)
First of all, I have perfect eyesight and don't own glasses or contacts, so the sudden question perplexed me. Secondly, I couldn't believe that if he was really making a joke about my Asian eyes, that he would do so in front of all our friends. And I never would have thought they would laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
I have always been self-conscious about my eyes -- after all, they're not as big as western beauty ideals intend them to be -- but that wasn't the issue. The issue was that the joke was racist, but I was too afraid to use the R-word to stand up for myself. Perhaps part of me thought my then-boyfriend and friends couldn't possibly be that clueless.
Oh, how wrong I was.
This little stunt is actually mocking the physical features of an entire race - and it's not OK.
This type of racism isn't unique, and I was sorely reminded of that when Bella Hadid shared an Instagram story on Sunday of her sister, Gigi, mocking Asians for their eyes. The video hit home, to say the least.
In the now-deleted clip, Gigi is seen squinting her eyes as she holds a Buddha-shaped cookie up to her face.
While this type of joke is often seen as innocent, this little stunt is actually mocking the physical features of an entire race -- and it's not OK. It's racist and it's ignorant.
Why are Asian eyes something to be made fun of? Just because their size and shape are different from what is considered traditionally beautiful by North American standards, doesn't mean they are a flaw or something to be laughed at.
I see you Gigi Hadid. And this time, I'm not afraid to call it like it is.
Gigi's mockery alienates Asians for having different eyes. Does she not understand that this feature is part of who we are as a people and part of what makes us unique? You wouldn't make fun of someone for their skin colour -- because that would be racist -- so why should this be any different? Belittling someone for their facial features is wrong, and in 2017, you shouldn't have to be reminded of that.
And to top it all off, her actions are perpetuating negative Asian stereotypes. Many people, for instance, believe that because Asians have small eyes, they are automatically bad drivers. Obviously, this isn't true, yet the stereotype lives on thanks to everyday racism.
Small eyes don't mean I can't see. I can see just fine, thank you very much, and I see you Gigi Hadid. And this time, I'm not afraid to call it like it is.
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