Nowadays I don’t cry a lot. I think I fear crying not being considered as an appropriate behaviour for a 20 something year old. That’s why I have practiced a cold and motionless face to look at people who annoy me or get me truly disturbed. This does not mean I do not cry at all, actually I still cry every now and then. I cry when I a watch a really inspiring movie, I cry when I watch the show “What would you do”, I cry when I read the end of a sad novel, I cry when I somehow feel desperate and frustrated. But this is not comparable to my younger cry baby self, I knew some years ago. I mean aging helps you control your emotions and that’s a good thing about getting older. Now in one of my earlier posts I mentioned opinion building was a long and steady process and that you would get influenced by everything in your surrounding, while you build your own opinion. Me growing up in a small and sheltered german town with almost everyone knowing everyone actually made it possible for me to have a nice young adult life. You see my town, let’s call it Artistry, has a population consisting of only about 50.000 people and life there is easy and blossomy. Apart from some adolescence problems, I really didn’t have much to worry about. So I never thought of myself being different.
I was an average student, most of my teachers loved me. I had a slightly better than average grades and though me feeling insecure of my looks in my earlier years, after puberty set in I started realizing, I looked subjectively cute. I even noticed that some guys at school noticed me, so I was, though being a bit insecure young girl, actually one of the popular ones. High school is so much about popularity and you either feel popular or you feel left out. Though I wasn’t one of those overhyped popular kids, I was someone just fancy enough to be noticed and accepted by them. I cared about fashion and diets and pimples and being cool and stuff. I guess some of the things an average teenager cares about. I think I felt so average, that it never occured to me that I was different. My friends never gave me the feeling of being different nor did any of my loved ones. And living in this sheltered town never really made me realize that I would someday at least have to answer the question of my background.
My boyfriend back then was friends with one of the overhyped popular kids at school and he was even friends with the mayor’s son. I guess this held a lot of people from being rude to me in any way. Thinking back, this might really be one of the reasons, but I am not quite sure about it. Maybe it was because I wore preppy clothes and had a likeable face. Or maybe it was because I always stayed among my circle of friends. But the world is a much bigger place than my safe haven I had back then and this I came to realize pretty soon. The first time I realized this was in a german fair. My city had a smaller version of “Oktoberfest” which took place twice a year. Everyone got dressed up in their finest traditional garments “Dirndl” and “Lederhosen” and went to the fair to have a good time in the beer tents and take a ride on the Ferris Wheel or any other fun thing to do. I have my “Dirndl” too but on that particular day I didn’t wear it. My gang of four girly best friends decided to go to the fair without the traditional garment.
We were in a beer tent and having the time of our life, when this somewhat older guy sat next to me, smiled and then all of a sudden offered me that if I at anytime in my life needed help, I could come to him. At first, I was just irritated and did not really respond, thinking he was just hitting on me. But then I asked him, why would he assume I needed help. You see, I was perfectly fine, I wasn’t drunk or crying or bleeding, I was just sitting there and having a good time with my friends. Due to this, I was really shattered by what he said next. He said he assumed me and my family back in my country needed help, regarding money or anything else. I mean, on that particular evening, I was dressed very revealingly with a very short and tight skirt and really high heels, but so were my friends. But it was only me of whom he thought of being a hooker. I asked him if he assumed, that I was a hooker because of my dark skin, black hair and asian features and he said something like you never know. I knew there is this ignorant prejudice of women with asian features, coming from poor countries and being gold diggers, and this thought suddenly struck me. It hit my head and I couldn’t get rid of the idea of feeling bad about myself because of my phenotype.
My heart started throbbing so wildly that I started trembling and I told my three best friends, with my quivering voice, what just happened. As I was so shocked, I guess I didn’t get the incident right. I told them the elderly man offered me help because of my background. And one of my friends answered, well maybe he really wanted to help you. I don’t know what I was expecting, I guess I was expecting their support in lecturing the man. But they did not get me at that moment.
We do learn stuff about racism and hostility towards foreigners, but hearing about something and having to face it, are two different pairs of shoes. And I guess when you are sixteen, you do not have strong ideas about these kind of stuff. So she said what she said because she really thought the stranger wanted to help me. Hearing this though, broke my heart. It wasn’t what the stranger said that hurt me so bad, ofcourse it got me furious, but hearing those words from my best friend made me feel sick. But I couldn’t explain myself. I did not actually realize what was happening, I just knew I felt betrayed and then I started crying, told my friends how rude they were not to support me and I felt like a piece of shit. I cried so badly that I hardly could breathe properly so I had to call my boyfriend to pick me up. I couldn’t even explain him what I just went through.
I thought everyone else would just assume I was this huge dramaqueen, which I certainly was at times. But this feeling was different. Within seconds I remembered everything I had suppressed over the years. I remembered all the “Ni Hao”s said to me by random strangers and I do not even have chinese origins, I remembered my biology teacher explaining the class that it is proven that it is not easy to differentiate the faces of asian people, I remembered a complete stranger asking me about “a cheap number” (I just translated it from German, which would be “billige Nummer”, meaning cheap sex). All these thoughts, and I couldn’t explain myself but cry. When I ran out of the fair one of my best friends followed me, I guess she somehow understood my point but she wasn’t able to put it into words either.
Years later, I read this quote by Martin Luther King “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” and I could then understand what had happened 8 years ago. I felt being treated unfairly because of my background, I listened to a racist comment and no one stood up for me, not even my best friends and this was what hurt me. I, without being able to express it then, expected them to show civil courage and stand up for the right thing. Further, I expected myself to be a stronger person, which I wasn’t back then.
Six years after that fair incident, I sat on a train, with this very friend, who once said that maybe the stranger, really wanted to help me. A young black family sat right next to us. They didn’t speak German and just a little bit of English. I assume they were just travelling through Germany. When the ticket inspector came, she noticed they had the wrong ticket. Now if you have ever seen the ticket machines in Germany, you realize that you easily get confused with the tickets, foremost, if you don’t speak German. But this ticket inspector started being very impolite to the family. It was obvious that they could not understand what she was saying. I tried to translate a bit, which didn’t really work, because I don’t speak French. But then she said something very racist pointing at the family: “I know these kind of people, they always pretend not understanding stuff, but they are only into frauding our german state”. I did not know what to answer to this comment and tried to stare at her with my practiced cold and motionless face. But then my best friend stood up. She actually lectured the ticket inspector and told her to stop making ignorant comments. She got so furious that she even raised her voice and demanded the ticket inspector to do her job properly and get rid of her rude attitude. This caught the attention of other passengers on the train, from whom the ticket inspector expected support for her cause, but they supported us. I looked at my friend and I couldn’t tell her this back then, but I was so proud to have her as my best friend at that moment.
I was proud of having my best friends and I realized that we had all come a long way from being dramaqueens to responsible citizens of the world.