Hello and welcome to the first instalment of a brand new series on the blog titled Cultural Conversations.
The initial idea of it probably began at the start of 2018 but it wasn’t until a month or so ago, where the name suddenly popped up in my head.
It sounded extremely fitting so as a consequence, it stuck.
Each instalment will cover something different, but the main basis for the starting point will be that I draw inspiration from my own personal experiences and/or thoughts to discuss a certain topic. These may be social, cultural, and perhaps political. There may be an opportunity to discuss beauty-related topics too, provided that they are within a social context and present a problem to discuss. (There are definitely many.)
In this episode, I wanted to start with a topic close to home. Where you come from and where you really come from. Do your roots shape you as a person or can they threaten you if you are considered the less fortunate? What does it mean to come from somewhere? Belonging? Status? Does it really matter?
I would be what you call a BBC – a British-Born Chinese. To be honest, growing up, I didn’t have that many thoughts surrounding race or the fact that I was of a different colour. I had a good childhood and went to a primary school around the corner from where I lived; my classmates curious about the Hong Kong trips I went to every Summer, making them want to go too.
Going into high school was a bit rougher, however I think this is a given. A lot of changes occur, and your thought process really starts to develop at this point along with feeling a lot of new emotions. I was much more aware that I was different at this point, and it would be silly to say that I’ve not experienced any racist remarks geared towards me because I definitely have. In fact, it almost pains me that in some scenarios, I might answer and say, “Of course I’ve experienced racism!”, as if it is normal and should be experienced.
But this post isn’t about racism. It’s about the views that people have according to where you come from socio-economically or which school you went to. I may have even surprised myself along the way and wonder if maybe I was a bit naive to think otherwise which is why we’re having a conversation about it right now.
I went to a public high school that was known to be a bit rough around the edges and filled with some silly kids. From an outsider point of view, it definitely didn’t have a good reputation but from my own personal experience, I made the most out of high school and by Year 11, all the classmates had bonded even if it meant a lot of us wouldn’t see each other again (and for that matter, we never did). I came out with really good grades and although I was aware that the high school wasn’t the least bit fancy, I was determined to do well anyway which I did.
Fast-forward to sixth-form college, I was stepping into new territory. The majority of students were from high schools that were much more elite, with better facilities and perhaps better teachers, in areas where the middle-classes lived. It didn’t take long to make friends though, a group of girls who I more or less stuck with for the whole 2 years. They were from more “normal” public schools but I guess it couldn’t be helped that I apparently went to the worst high school, even though it didn’t feel that way. It became a bit of a running joke in the group, as if we were having high school wars. Why did it matter so much?
I am not ashamed to admit that I come from a working-class family. I wouldn’t say I grew up in the ghetto or that I came from poverty (which by the way, nothing wrong with either) though I suppose looking back, my parents had to keep working to pay the mortgage off, whilst providing for us all at the same time. When I was young, this was the least of my worries. I felt rich in the sense that there was food on the table, a TV to watch, money to receive at Christmas or for my birthday. My parents worked really hard to give me all of that and for that I am forever grateful – any child would and should be.
But it dawned on me when for the first time, I felt like one of my friends really judged me. It stung because, although I shouldn’t put labels on friends, she was the one I’d least expect it from out of the group. It was almost like there was this sheer disgust in her voice that I was from the area that I was from and that it couldn’t be helped because it became my history, my roots. She still judged me despite having known me for a few years and this thought alone still seems ridiculous in my head.
One day, I had visited her at her new home around the corner from mine. She had just moved in not long ago with her soon-to-be husband and new-born daughter. We went out for a walk that afternoon to a local park in the next area up. I don’t remember how or why but I guess she was talking about schools for her child in the future and blurted somewhere along the lines of, “No offence to you and I know you’re not like that, but I won’t allow my child to go to X school”. In case you’re wondering, yes, I would take this as offence and feel that a lot of people would – no? The way she said it that day was even more disappointing. I did not expect her child to go to X school and actually, it didn’t concern me directly where she would go, but to say I didn’t feel attacked would be a lie. The truth was, she was still judging me based on the school I went to. What was a running joke became a serious matter.
The whole ordeal really upset me but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t comment. Maybe I should have? But I just let the whole thing go. I let her go too. That was when I knew that it was okay to let go of friends sometimes especially if negativity and judgement is becoming apparent. I didn’t make friends to be judged like that and perhaps I am in the minority, but I treat everyone the same regardless of their class. To me, where someone went for school is such a small part of them – I am far more invested in who they are as a person but somehow, I didn’t feel like there was that mutual exchange hence letting go.
I am a British-Born Chinese who’s proud of where she’s come from. I wouldn’t want to re-do high school at another high school. Without that part of my history, I wouldn’t know how to appreciate the sweetness in my life. There’s a saying in Chinese that suggests without some bitterness, it’s impossible to truly enjoy the sweetness.
Where I went to school and even the area I grew up in seemed to threaten me at points in my life but I just use it as a way to keep me humble. I don’t need to go to an elite school to be seen or heard, or to have better friends for that matter. Besides, isn’t it an amazing story when you paint your path to do more amazing things in the future?
Now, I would love to know about your thoughts surrounding this topic! Was there a time when you felt that you were really judged based on where you came from whether socially, culturally or economically?
In my next episode, I’m going to discuss why we as an audience love to be involved in someone else’s drama online. Does this paint a bad picture on us as audience or the influencers who encourage the drama in the first place?
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