Nicole Miners is a 25-year-old mixed race British-Chinese actor and content editor living in London. She grew up in Hong Kong until the age of 16 before continuing schooling in the UK.
A few years ago, I was travelling home on the tube on my own. It was quite late and there were only a few people on the platform. Two drunken men rocked up next to me and started talking about me. I had my earphones in and music on, so I turned it down just in case.
Then they started shouting “Ni hao! Ni hao!” and bowing their heads. I pretended to text my friends so that I could ignore them. I didn’t want to cause a scene as there weren’t many people around, and I definitely would not win against two men.
The more I ignored them, the more they took it as a sign to continue. Eventually, one of them got bored and said: “Aren’t women like you supposed to be easy?”
I could feel myself getting angry, tears stinging my eyes. But I didn’t want to show them any weakness, so I started walking towards the exit of the platform to avoid them. I can’t describe how helpless I felt in that moment. Those men not only degraded not me, but an entire race of people to being ‘easy’.
These microaggressions are not isolated experiences. In fact, being shouted at with ‘Ni hao’, ‘Konichiwa’ and ‘I love Japan’ is something that I am used to, and they often occur when I’m out and about with my friends in pubs and bars.
One time that always sticks in my mind is when I was out with friends at a bar in London and I went to order us some drinks. A man approached me at the bar and instantly, I knew what he was going to say.
“Where are you from?… No, where are you from from?”
I answered politely, not wanting to cause any drama. Besides, he may have been harmless and just a bit naive. That’s when he said: “But if you’re from Hong Kong, why is your English so good?”
You may think this is shocking or surprising, but not to me. This is a question I get asked a lot. I smile and say, “I’m half English, actually.” But this seemed to perplex the guy at the bar even further. “So… did you learn English at school?”
By that point, I was so done with the conversation and was itching to rejoin my friends, so I pretended like I didn’t hear his question. He took this as an opportunity to continue chatting, winking as he went for the kill: “You know, you’re pretty for an Asian woman.”
Seriously?! Just as I was debating how to respond, my drinks arrived, so I took them and walked off. But when I rejoined my friends, I felt angry and frustrated at myself that I didn’t say anything to him. He made me feel like I was an object; like I was some exotic animal (Asian women are so often degraded and hypersexualised in this way – it’s exhausting).
I spent the whole night thinking about what I could’ve said to him and regretting not standing up to him. What did he mean by ‘pretty for an Asian woman’? I know I shouldn’t care what a stranger thinks of me, but hearing something like that time and time does something to your self-esteem.
Actually, it’s really hard to not let these comments affect me. I try my hardest to brush it off, and to not react or dwell on it. But then I end up thinking of all the possible things I could’ve said or done.
Microaggressions are so damaging because they make you feel like you don’t belong; they make you question your own identity and self-worth. My self-esteem fluctuates up and down, to the point that I start questioning my own background and sometimes even feel ashamed of who I am and my heritage. There are some days where I feel strong and I know that there are people out there who love and respect me, like my family, boyfriend and friends. But sometimes, you can’t help but feel like those are the minority and the rest of the world is against you.
These microaggressions don’t just happen in the UK. I’ve experienced them growing up in Hong Kong, when I went to LA – it’s everywhere in the world. When I go out for food with my dad in Hong Kong, I can feel the stares around me. An older white man with a young Asian woman? It’s almost like a Hollywood film. People assume we are a couple and I can feel myself constantly saying ‘dad’ with every sentence. It’s almost as if I have to justify going for food with my own father.
Since the pandemic, it’s got even worse. I do feel a sense of fear when I head out, but I have to acknowledge my privilege of being half white, which means I don’t experience the same racism and discrimination as someone who is of full Asian decent. Last summer, a fully-Asian friend of mine was walking down the street when someone yelled ‘COVID bitch’ at her, and told her to go back to where she came from.
These are frightening and unpredictable times; people are scared, angry and confused, and are looking for someone to blame. But I worry for my Asian friends and family overseas. I’ve had many conversations with my sister, who lives in New York, about being careful when travelling and having more of an awareness of our surroundings. I’m conscious of coughing in public, I’m hyper-aware of what people are doing around me, I always turn my Airpods down when I’m out on my own.
But I hope people are starting to listen. There is so much hatred in the world; we need to learn to be kind to one another. We need to learn about different cultures, normalise seeing all ethnicities on screen, and commit to being actively anti-racist.
So, reach out to your friends and family who you know are hurting and listen to them. Hear their stories, and learn from it. It takes all of us to #StopAsianHate.
Here are some other ways you can show your support…
- Support and donate to the AAPI community and stop the rise in Asian Hate Crime and support those who are affected by the violence.
- Support Georgia’s AAPI Community for the victims of the Georgia shooting, learning about the rise in Asian American hate crimes and white supremacy.
- Read books and educate yourself on what it means to be a minority – try Minor Feelings – A Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition by Cathy Park Hong.
- Support Asian businesses around you. They’ve suffered enough during this pandemic, please show them some love and support.
- Speak to your friends in the Asian community. Listen to them and learn from the mistakes people have made. Have those conversations, even if it means feeling a little uncomfortable. Recognise the problems we have in our societies. Speak out.
- If you are a man, take the time to learn about racism and misogyny and how they are so deeply intertwined. How can you do better? How can you educate yourself and your friends around you to be better?