Most people in most places are warm and welcoming, and they have only the best intentions. But there’s no denying that, all over the world, there are still real strides that need to be made toward equality.
This piece is based on a Quora question. Link on the last page.
1. First class and no class.
I was passing through London on my way back to India from New York on a first class ticket. I got a last minute flight and paid quite a bit for it ( Over $2500). I reach London and decide to try my luck to see if I can get a direct flight home to Hyderabad instead of transiting through Mumbai.
So I went to the British Airways counter and asked. The agent takes my boarding pass and realizes that I have a first class seat.
She rips it up and prints out another boarding pass. This new one is a normal economy seat and she proceeds to tell the guy working next to her that a economy plus seat has become available. They gave my seat to an English man next to me.
I was flabbergasted. I asked them why they took away my first class seat, gave it to someone else, and stuck me in economy. She rudely says, “You didnt pay for it.” I paid $2500 for it!
I protested. She just got up and left. I was angry. I asked if I could lodge a complaint against her. The next agent nonchalantly points me towards a customer service desk and says, “You can go fill a form there.”
I went to fill out the form and instead they gave me a number to call when I got home. When I called the number, they told me I should have filled out a form at the airport because they couldn’t register a complaint over the phone.
2. You know Mandarin is a LANGUAGE, right?
I don’t think it’s been racism that I’ve experienced so much as ignorance.
When I was 12 I moved from Taiwan to a very small town in the middle of the U.S. The ignorance was astounding. First of all, I am half white and half asian and I look quite white. However, to these people, been outside their town, I might as well have been ET. (continued…)
Keep reading on the next page!
They literally thought I had grown up in a straw hut, and made it to the US to escape poverty and “discover freedom. They didn’t know the difference between Taiwan, Thailand, Tanzania, or basically any other country that started with “T”. They talked frequently about my “chinky eyes” (my eyes are actually VERY caucasian-looking, they just saw what they wanted to see).
They would say things like “CHING CHONG CHANG CHING… what did I just say in Chinese?” Any time they saw an Asian on TV, they would either ask if it was my relative, or say we looked “exactly” alike. They even told me I had an accent. I grew up speaking English (having an American parent and all) and I went to an American school. I can assure you I have no Mandarin accent when I speak English.
I was pretty happy to move to a major city and discover that not all of the US was like this.
3. No more Mr. Nice guy.
Im half white and half black and sometimes I look Hispanic Middle Eastern.
One experience I had was in the South of France, in Nice. I was waiting to meet up with my dad. While waiting I noticed a small clothing shop and decided to browse. I called my dad and while on the phone I could sense the shopkeeper was following me. I smiled at her but she gave me suspicious looks. I kept talking on the phone and picking out clothes to look at.
Once the phone call was over she immediately proceeded to yell, “Get out of here! You can’t afford this! Get out!” Tears ran down my face. People outside could hear everything and were looking at me like I had done something wrong.
At that moment my dad biked by completely confused and worried. I explained the lady inside the store told me to get out. My dad knew exactly why it had happened and he went in the store to speak to the shopkeeper.
She seemed a bit confused as my dad looks like a white Frenchman. “You can’t treat people like this just because they look different,” he told her. “She’s just a young girl interested in what you have to sell.”
As we stood outside the shopkeeper came to apologize to my dad but not to me. Soon after, a Moroccan man who had witnessed everything came up to us saying, “Sweetheart, don’t cry. This happens to all of us foreigners – even after all the years we’ve been here.”
4. Wow. I had no idea…
This is only my personal experience as a brown woman, but the most racist experiences I’ve ever had while travelling? It might surprise you, but it happened in South Korea. (continued…)
Keep reading on the next page!
For example, Seoul is filled with “Korean-only” bars – a case of false advertising that would make the Ku Klux Klan proud. They ought to market themselves as paper-bag-test bars – if your skin is pale enough and you don’t appear to have South Asian or African features, you’re welcome. Otherwise, its “oh so sorry, Korean-only.”
In fact, systematic racism against foreigners is so widespread and entrenched in Korean culture that even the United Nations has expressed concern on this matter.
5. To be Frank.
Whenever I travel, I look touristy. I mean, carrying a large camera and standing in line makes it pretty evident. I thought that looking touristy would be a good thing, people will help but turns out, it isn’t. And, being brown-skinned was the thickest and whitest (how ironic) layer of buttercream on the cake.
We were in Paris. It was our first trip abroad. How exhilarating! Have you seen those Eiffel Tower souvenirs? We wanted to buy those. We went into a brightly lit shop and started looking at the flashy souvenirs.
The shopkeeper gave us a cold expression but I guess we were used to seeing people not smile in Paris. When I touched one, I hear a voice loudly and angrily blaring in broken English:
“You bloody Indians. Come into shops and waste my time when you can’t afford anything.”
If I was my 18-year-old self back then, I would have politely told him to not be rude and give him a 2 minutes long speech on equality and racism. But, my 14-year-old self thought that it was wise to cry and leave the shop.
My vocabulary and understanding of French was limited. I was buying an ice cream and I innocently told the woman “Chocolate, please.” She said to me in broken English: “People come to France and no French. Why you not go back?”
It wasn’t just me but a bunch of people of colour narrated similar incidents like this to me. Its a pity since France is a magnificent country but my experience with some people was cold and unpleasant..
Will I go back? I am not too sure.
6. Got Seoul but I’m not a soldier.
The first bar I entered in Seoul, South Korea was playing Don McLean’s American Pie and was decked up in all American. Quite a few tables had Americans at them and they were wonderfully loud and happy. I felt right at home because I’m an American too. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the right kind of American for them. (continued…)
Keep reading on the next page!
I grabbed a table and waited to be served. No one came for a long while. Tried to catch someone’s eye. Nobody seemed to be looking. Finally, I put up my hand and hailed this girl drawing beer at the bar. She glared at me and with a thinly veiled look of disgust turned her back to me.
When she came to the table next to me I asked “Can I get some beer and fries please?”
She simply let loose this huge verbal blitzkrieg on me. It was all Korean and I understood nothing. It was so loud that other customers looked in my direction.
I looked in the direction of a bunch of Americans and asked “What’s she saying?” They seemed embarrassed to translate but then a guy shrugged and said, “she says ‘can’t you see I’m busy?'”
Two days later, a colleague of mine, a Kenyan man, took me out for drinks after work. I told him about my experience. He said it’s very common in South Korea. Especially Seoul. The only foreigners they like are Americans. And the only people they see as American are white.
7. Is apartheid still going on?
This happened with me in 2012, when I was travelling from Botswana to South Africa by car.
My parents and I, we are Indians, and my father was working in Botswana at the time. The journey from Gaborone (capital of Botswana) to Jobannesburg (one of the capitals of South Africa) was roughly 5 hours by car, and we visited the country pretty often.
One such weekend, right after we had crossed over to South Africa, we decided to make a pit stop at a Wimpy (famous fast food chain of Africa), in a city called Rustenburg, about 2 hours from Johannesburg.
We were there at about 10 am in the morning and we were literally the only people there. There was just one waitress, a German woman I believe. My father called out to her. She saw us, but she didn’t bother to serve us. At first, we thought she had just not seen us, but when she had look our way multiple times and still not attended to us 15 minutes down the line, we realized she was intentionally ignoring us.
15 minutes later, another waitress came on duty, one who was of African origin. (continued…)
Keep reading on the next page!
As soon as she came in, the German waitress pointed at us, telling her to attend to us.
We felt horribly uncomfortable, and embarrassed to say the least, but we were helpless. Though it’s been four years to the incident, the memory of it is still fresh in my mind.
8. The solution is self-checkout.
Im a world traveller of Indian descent. I was once shopping at a grocery store in Hungary. While cashing out, I completely emptied the cart and the cashier rang everything through. But she forgot a small 50 cent pair of scissors. I didn’t notice. We assumed we could trust the cashier but you know what happened next?
A security guard was already following me from the time I went inside. He was just waiting for me at the cash counter. As I went to leave, a small light started to flash and beep. I quickly asked the cashier if she billed everything. She replied, “I think so.”
I said she should do it again as I can see a flash and exactly at this time the guard came into picture and said: “it is not her fault she missed something. Its your responsibility to keep a eye out.” How insane!! It didn’t stop there either. He took me to the garage at the back of the supermarket and said: “the police will deal with the situation now.”
I was shocked by what he said. He made us wait for 40 minutes until the police came. They didn’t ask us anything. They just listened to the shop people who told them that we stole this cheap pair of scissors from their shop!
One of the Police knew English but he spoke only when he wanted to say something. When I wanted to explain my side of the story, he would only say, “I don’t understand English. Sorry. Save it for court.” I was scared I would end up in jail!
The case actually was summoned to court but I was acquitted I wrote a letter proving my innocence based on CCTV footage of the shop.
The prosecutor promptly dropped the charges, but the whole thing was terrifying. There are some people in Hungary who see any foreigners with dark skin as thieves.
9. Pilot project.
This incident took place when I was in the US and in flight school, training to be a pilot. (continued…)
Keep reading on the next page!
Im Indian. One of the trainers, who obviously didn’t know much about geography let alone differences between people from various cultures, walked up to me as I was filling out a form to take my first flight. He stared at me like I didn’t belong there and he made eye contact with my instructor asking him what I was doing at the school.
My instructor just shrugged and didn’t say a word, but the nitwit actually asked me, “Do you want to learn to fly, or do you want to learn to land a plane too?” Mind you this was towards the end of 2009, it was almost 8 years post 9/11, and I was Indian and nowhere near connected to any of the terror harboring nations. But I guess he didn’t know much so I let it be rather than reply back.
Another incident that shook me was when one day I was standing on a street next to the airport and taking pictures of landing aircrafts, I received a call from the manager of the school who asked me to get out of there ASAP before somebody stops and shoots me down with a handgun.
I ran back to the base and asked him what had happened. Hed received a call from some stranger tipping him off about a “brown person” standing at the end of the runway taking pictures of airplanes. Pure paranoia.
10. Why can’t we all just be people?
I wasn’t sure if I was just getting this feeling or was it really that way, but Hong Kongers seemed least interested in talking, salesmen disinterested in selling and commuters in the metro would preferably take another seat if available (or even stand) than sit beside me. This was strange because Hong Kong is full of people who look like me. Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis that is.
But the first realization came when I went to a tea shop in Tsim Sha Sui. The lovely aroma of Chinese tea was irresistible and I walked up to one such shop run by a kindly looking middle aged lady. I wished her good afternoon and asked for a cup of tea. I knew she didn’t understand English so I enacted it too. Gesticulating had worked just fine at most Dai Pai Dongs (street food vendors) so far.
But the woman simply looked the other way. When I asked what happened she actually waived me away and smiled and attended to a couple who had just come in.
This was confirmed by many non Hong Kongers I met during my two month long stay. They refuse to talk to not only brown people like me (Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis tend to be very poor and hence looked down upon), but even mainland Chinese people are treated very badly in the shops.
Social thumb credit: Shutterstock.com | imagedb.com