I Experienced Subtle Racism

As a woman coming from Asia and living in Europe, people might think that I experience racism quite often. Well… I must say that I am quite privileged to say that I rarely experience racism or people stereotyping me in my daily life. I think this is because Indonesia is quite a well-known country in the Netherlands. Due to the unbreakable historical ties between the two countries, there are plenty of Indonesian diaspora in my city, and you can always find Indonesian restaurant everywhere, no matter if they are authentic or Indo-Dutch restaurants. I thought that the people here, Dutch or non-Dutch, have been quite “educated” about my country, but last night proved that I was wrong.

My husband brought over a friend, they were going to discuss cryptocurrency in our house. This friend is not Dutch, he’s also an immigrant, coming from Greece. The conversation went smoothly. He was quite civil at first. After a few minutes of small talk, I left him doing his thing with my husband while I played a new video game title.

Fast forward to a couple of hours later. I have stopped playing, and they have stopped talking about crypto. We engaged in a casual conversation talking about random topics. My husband brought up the topic of “what people talk about in funerals in different countries”. That was the first time when he casually mentioned my country as “Thailand” when he compared his country’s funeral practice to mine.

I immediately corrected him, “Indonesia”. And he said, “Oh yes, Indonesia.” And we kept talking some more about the same topic. A few minutes later, for the second time, he mentioned my country again as “Thailand”, to which I corrected, again, to “Indonesia”.

The conversation then switched to the “healthcare in different countries” topic. My husband excused himself to go to the toilet. Third time’s a charm. When it was his turn to talk, he referred to my country again as Thailand instead of Indonesia. I started to get pissed and I corrected him again, “It’s INDONESIA”, but he didn’t even bother to correct his words. Then my husband came back, they went to the balcony to smoke, and I was busy collecting my thoughts and feelings before deciding to go to bed.

Did I just experience racial stereotyping from a fellow immigrant?

The Conflicting Feeling

It was a very unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling. Even until I was in bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In my mind, I kept playing the same words: You just got stereotyped. You just got stereotyped.

I was shocked. I had never experienced this before. Last time someone said something that was quite racist to me was 3 years ago. It was a Dutch old man telling me to “Speak Dutch if you live in the Netherlands”. Prior to this, every time I meet an immigrant, we were always casual and respect one another. I had never met someone who acted so ignorant about where I came from.

And it was even worse when my husband came to bed. We talked about what just happened, and he understood my feeling because his friend actually asked, “Your wife is from Indonesia, right?” when they met downstairs. So… He actually knew where I came from. Then why did he said the wrong country three times? If he doubted my country of origin, wouldn’t it be easier for him to confirm by asking me about it? If he’s too ignorant to bother where I came from, wouldn’t it be easier to refer to Indonesia as “your country” when he talked to me?

To make it worse, he mistook my country of origin with a country that already has its’ own stereotype in Europe. I’ve read and listened to plenty of rich Caucasian men who bring girls from developing Asian countries, especially Thailand, to be their wives. Therefore, slowly shaped the wrong concept that “all Asian girls come from Thailand”. There was even a documentary by Louis Theroux about this phenomenon. I have also dated several men with weird Asian girl (one was particularly looking for an Indonesian girlfriend) fetish. Asian women are considered to be “the penultimate” wife, with the conception that they’re obedient, cooks great food, and great in bed (see the first part: obedient). It’s like… if you’re white and if you have an Asian wife, you’re a very lucky man!

If he’s a guy who just moved from Greece to the Netherlands, I could think that maybe he’s not used to the diversity of the Asian community here. But he told me that he had lived in the Netherlands for 4 years. Dude, big chance that you’ll be exposed more to Indonesian restaurants rather than Thai restaurants here. So probably he’s either only hanging out with fellow Greek people or he’s just a stupid ignorant guy who thought that all Asian girls with white husbands come from Thailand.

The Conclusion

Thank goodness, my husband tried to understand my position and my feeling in this event. I told him, “Having someone mistaken my country of origin is very offensive. Even though you’re not Dutch, you’re white… the majority race of the country, so you probably don’t understand where I’m coming from. For me, it is about racial issues and my identity.” To which he replied, “No, I fully understand where you’re coming from and if I were you, I would be pissed too.”

Last night’s event really showed me that ignorance and subtle racism/stereotyping could come from anyone. As a minority (in terms of race), it is our task to educate these people at least about where we come from. By correcting them, at least we show them that Asia is a vast continent, consisting of countries with different cultures, skin colour, and facial features.


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