Written by Izy Hay
Growing up in Malaysia, a small South-East Asian country where the three main races of people are Malay, Chinese and Indian, you can look around at any billboard on the sides of the highways or down the beauty aisles in pharmacies or grocery stores and you will see, glaring back at you, advertisements for skin whitening, skin brightening, skin lightening products.
East Asian looking women with seemingly luminescent skin and perfectly white teeth smiling up at you, urging you to buy their products to become happier with yourself. Adverts from Benefit in Sephora which show an Asian woman’s eye, without makeup on, captioned ‘EW’, and another image next to it, this time with Benefit’s ‘They’re Real’ Mascara, captioned ‘Pretty’.
I had a cleaning lady from Indonesia who used to work for my family when I was little, she
used to cake her face with baby powder every day, asking me, a 9 year old child, if she looked any ‘whiter’. The first thing fellow locals compliment me on when they entertain a conversation with me will be, 9 times out of 10, my fair skin colour. I’ve been lucky in that sense, to be a white passing Woman of Colour who was born and raised in Asia. It’s just so stunningly upsetting to me, that, in 2015, we are still seeing the repercussions of colonialism so deeply embedded within my home country and many other Asian countries too, urging the women in particular to strive towards unachievable Euro-centric standards of beauty. You walk into a shopping mall and more than half of the ads for the stores feature white people, even though Expats are a minority population within Malaysia.
Just now, I scrolled down my Facebook feed and saw that a girl had commented on her friend’s photo – “We both have such chinky eyes!! Love you tho xx”. It is clear to me that the sentiment reads that, although she finds herself seemingly unattractive in the photo, due to her ‘chinky eyes’, she still loves her friend in spite of it. It is apparent that, just as People of Colour are taught to aspire towards Western ideals of beauty, Westerners are taught in turn that they have the freedom of choice – to appropriate some features of beauty from People of Colour, Kylie Jenner and her lip fillers being a prime example, and to reject other features of beauty that derive from People of Colour, such as ‘Asian eyes’.
I did a bit of research. The term ‘Chink’, as defined by Google, is ‘a narrow opening or crack’. I see that the word has it’s own Wikipedia page though, which tells me that ‘Chink’ has been an ethnic slur towards Asians for years, with one of the first notable uses of the term being coined to symbolise Anti-Chinese racism during the turn of the 20th Century in the United States. The article tells me that ‘As with other ethnic slurs, it is often used in conjuncture with violence and discrimination, which may amount to hate crimes.
The 2001 murder of Kenneth Chiu in Laguna Hills, California has been used as an example of the seriousness of the slur, suspected of being a race-related hate crime. The word chink was also scratched onto his father’s car.’
The term has been exercised all over the world – the U.S., U.K., Australia, even in India. It just baffles me how a girl my age, a friend even, raised with a good education and living in a country surrounded by Asian people, with Asian friends, can use such a term so casually, when I, moments after reading her comment, scrolled down my own Instagram page, deleting old photos because I hated how small my eyes looked in them. It made me remember all of the times I’d been singled out because of my ‘Asianness’ – I had a friend who called me ‘Jap’ as a nickname (I’m Malay and Chinese), I’d been asked by male classmates if I was ‘chinky’ in bed, and one of the first boys I slept with (in the most platonic sense of the term) said, immediately after waking up and looking at me: “Wow, you look a lot more Chinese in the morning.” Being a teenager, coming to terms with my body and features is hard enough without the added pressure of loathing what I look like because of my ethnicity. It will be something I, and many others I’m sure, will continually have to struggle with.