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Malaysians Talk About Facing Racism in the UK and the USA

Living abroad isn't always smooth.

Malaysians Talk About Facing Racism in the UK and the USA
Racism is well and alive in the UK and the USA. How are Malaysians there faring? (Image:
This year, two big changes are happening in the United States and the United Kingdom. The former is experiencing an election campaign that pits its potential first female president against a controversial billionaire while the other has exited the European Union (Brexit). 

A stark feature of these two changes is how racially-charged they have been. One of the UK's intentions to break away from the EU was to control the influx of migrants coming in. In fact, after the vote to 'Leave',several reports of racism surfaced. Anti-immigrant leaflets with "Leave the EU - no more Polish vermin" were put on cars, and the Muslim Council of Britain called on the Home Secretary to step up security for migrants.

Across the Atlantic ocean, American Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has spewed his own racist remarks in his campaign trail. He called supporters who beat up a homeless Latino man 'passionate'. He said that Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, and that he would bar Muslims from entering the USA.

Rojak Daily talk to those who are currently residing in those countries on their thoughts and experience of racism there. 

Disclaimer: Do take note that these views and experiences are personal and do not represent the views of all Malaysians living there.

Malaysians in the United Kingdom

Camillus Agnel has been living in the UK for around 20 years. He has been called all sorts of names while living there, including "f**cking Asian scum". Back in 2006, he walked out of a job a week after joining because of perceived prejudiced remarks.

In 2014, he was racially insulted and assaulted, but was arrested for 'obstruction' despite there being a witness around. After 15 months, the case was dropped and Agnel's complaints were responded with nonsensical excuses by the authorities. "The gist is, if you have 'brown skin' in the UK, you are deemed to be dumb, lower class, etc. Throughout the incident above, I was treated so horribly. Unfortunately, they picked on the wrongmangsa in that I'm able to call upon ample resources. They thought I was some stupid Asian, but now they know better."

Image: Reuters

He comments that even the police there are prejudiced. "I was once stopped whilst driving in London. The PC had the nerve to remark, 'I just don't know how you can afford this car'." Agnel says that things got bad after the Brexit vote, but have since seemed to settle down. However, he fears that things will get worse after the recent attacks in France and Germany.

Ana (not her real name), a post-graduate student, has been living in London for nearly a year. She has never been harassed herself, but an incident occurred after the first Paris attack. "Two hijabi students were cleaning up the charity booth placed in front of the school's entrance. Suddenly, two white men approached them, threw insults and asked them to 'go back to where they came from' and to take off their hijab. The girls defended themselves. The men were clearly drunk and became violent, physically threatening to tear their hijab off." Security came just in time to stop the fight before it got worse. "The Dean sent every student an e-mail about the incident, reminding us to be safe."

"Thankfully, London has a very diverse community so people are friendlier," she tells us over email. "But there were times you couldn't help but feel like you're targeted as someone suspicious, especially when you're the only hijabi in the room. I walked into a shop once and the shop assistants didn't approach nor greet me at all. When another local lady entered and went to the same shelf I was browsing at, the assistant immediately walked up to her and greeted her kindly, and even explained to her about all the products. I did feel slightly offended." 

Malaysians in the United States of America

Image: Ravi
Ravi has lived in the US for two years in Boise, Idaho. So far, he has never been harassed for being a foreigner. "Maybe I'm just fortunate that I haven't witnessed any incidents of outward racism here, but occasionally, I do sense that some people interact with me differently than how they interact with other white people." 

He adds that they are still polite with him, albeit in a stiff and formal way. "I'll be in a queue at a supermarket counter. The cashier will say hi, check out my items, tell me the total, say thank you when I pay. With the person behind me, I can sense a change in tone - lighter, warmer, some jokes traded, laughter. It's happened to me a few times, at different places." 

Image is for illustration purposes only (Image: The New York Times)

Shirley, a Malaysian-American, has lived in the US for eight years and currently resides in New York City working as a salesperson in the manufacturing industry. Living in a predominantly Chinese community, she has never experienced racist forms of harassment herself. But she has witnessed a crowd protest for a Chinese policeman, who has been accused of shooting a black man. 

"The Chinese policeman is actually at fault for misplacing his trigger and shot the black man by accident," she tells us. "However, the Chinese community pegged him as innocent and claims that he was vindicated just because he's not white." 

As for what she thinks of the upcoming elections, she says, "Who would have thought many months ago that it will come down to Trump vs Clinton today?"

If you have your own personal experiences dealing with racism there, leave a comment below.