"Go back to your own country. You don't belong here."
We've all been there. Being called names for various reasons.
My reason for having abuse directed towards me was my ethnicity. A few couldn't even understand how I had the 'shamelessness' to walk around with so much confidence, and why I was treading on 'someone else's land'.
There was one night when my parents and I were taking an evening stroll around our block. We'd usually only walk close to our house, but for some reason, that night they suggested we venture out a bit further.
So we did; we walked onto a new street that we had only ever driven past in our car before.
The road was a wide one, with three lanes and little shops on either side of it. Pizza Hut was still open, and people were going in and out of the door with pizza boxes in their hands. The smell of melted cheese and pizza dough filled our nostrils as we walked past the shop, with electrical lights guiding our footsteps from both the windows and up above from the streetlamps. It was in no way a secluded street enshrouded in darkness; there were a lot of people nearby that could have stood witness to what was about to happen.
As we rounded the corner to a new row of shops and a parking lot, a car honked somewhere behind us, making me jump out of fright and look back at the source of the noise. The honker sat safely in his old and worn car, accompanied by three others who all sat with a bottle of alcohol in their hands, smiling with amusement at the surprise on our faces.
"Hey man, do you know where xxx street is? We're new around the area."
Aged 11, my tensed muscles immediately loosened up at his words. They're just lost, my innocence reassured me, they're not bad people - they just need some help.
But beside me, my mother only held on tighter to my hand. "Don't trust them," she said in rapid Chinese, "pretend we don't know English."
However, being the helpful and prideful man he was, my step father refused to feign ignorance and walked up casually to the car, smiling as he bent down slightly to talk to the driver who had honked. "What street did you say it was?" he asked politely in heavily accented English, "sorry, I didn't catch the name."
"Shut the f**k up, you ugly motherf**ker!" the man sitting next to the driver suddenly hissed, "go back to your f**king country!"
"What did you just say to me?" my step father demanded angrily, "say it again, you immature brat."
He had been a chemistry teacher back in China, so the natural instinct to lecture and control was slowly taking over him as the group in the car all joined in to throw insults and jeer loudly at him. His hands moved to his pockets, pulling out his cellphone in preparation to call the police.
My mother, who had been a civil engineer all her life working on building structures and grounded foundations, only cowered away from the spiteful men who were now throwing sidelong glances at me - the easy prey. "Hide behind me," my mother whispered, never taking her eyes off of the men, "don't say anything. Don't do anything."
Feeling powerless and threatened, I simply did as I was told, rotating myself around her body until I was almost completely invisible from the car's angle. The drunken teenage men had now begun to spit at my step father's feet. My mother, feeling indignant and unrestrained now that she felt I was safely out of the picture, opened her mouth to throw insults back at the men, expressing her own anger in her native tongue. But whatever she said to them, they only laughed and parroted it back at her - understanding that they were inflicting more damage upon her than she was to them. Because she understood their language and culture, but they didn't understand her's at all.
Eventually, the curious onlookers who had begun to exit the shops urged the drunken men to drive away into the night laughing loudly.
My step father had been humiliated beyond his own comprehension - you could see it from the shameful redness on his face. Never before had he been so disrespected. Never before had he experienced such insult from mindless individuals he would have attempted to educate in his old job. But he soon recovered, turning away from the road where the men had driven off into the night. He thrust his hands into his pockets and said to my mum, "Let's go home."
That night, I had truly understood the fact that I was different and unwanted in the country I now called home. Not that I had never felt alienated before; but abuse like this has never been so extreme. I always understood that people were different - but whereas I felt differences were in the mind before, I had witnessed the fact that some people believe differences were only skin deep.
I buried my face into my pillow and cried before falling asleep; no one came in to comfort me or reassure me. Such was the harsh realities of the world, and it had been my very first taste of its ugly bitterness.
In terms of racism, I did feel scared; I still am.
When cars drive past my family and I past 7 o'clock in the evening, I still glance around nervously to see whether anyone was going to throw something at us or shout abuse. When I'm walking alone I still try to remain inconspicuous and humble in hiding my existence.
But I have long since discovered that racism isn't something that can be countered by simply hiding and acting harmless. People who feel like they have more power over you won't simply go away because you aren't doing anything wrong to them; their intention is to wrong you.
So since the day I turned 16, I lifted my chin, and told myself that I am as much of a legal young adult as those men who had thrown abuse at us. In truth, it shouldn't have mattered whether I was 16 or 13 or younger. The only thing I regret now is that I had not been strong enough to stand up earlier. I have as much power to abuse others as those men had. But I also have the same amount of power to stop abuse.
Being a a socially responsible human being, I chose the latter. Not because I am higher and mightier than thou, but because everyone is capable of standing up for themselves and encouraging others to do the same.
I wanted to spread love instead of the hate that acted as injustice's nutritional income.
When I think back now, I realize that the bystanders who had done nothing when they realised a family were being verbally assaulted for their ethnicity scared me more than the perpetrators themselves. I am afraid of the dark - not because of the fact that there may be shadows lurking in the depths of it, but because I will be alone and helpless if something were to try and harm me.
So the most important thing that I tell myself now when I see stand witness to bullying or abuse in any shape or form, is that the victim could very well be me. But instead of cowering away in fear due to the understanding that I would be abused too - I want to stop it altogether in order to ensure that the threat doesn't carry on to myself, people I care about, and the next generation. Even if I could never been on the receiving end of the abuse; I should not try to ignore it and simply revel in my own ignorance.
Ignorance may seem like it is harmless because you are not directly taking action in expressing your opinions. It may seem like you're innocent and not involved, but in truth - you have been involved against your will since the very first split-second when your eyes landed on the scene of injustice.
Ignorance gives silent confirmation and makes those who are doing wrong to think that they are not alone in what they think and do.
Ignorance fuels injustice and crime.
You are not innocent.
By writing some words below, you are showing your support and letting everyone know they're not alone.