These are some of the offensive questions he asked Beverly, along with my responses in brackets:
- “What’s the deal with Asians?” (What’s the deal with out of touch white Boomers who think this is an okay to ask?)
- “Are they all the same?” (Of course we are, like how white people are all the same. We all originated from Africa. We’re practically cousins. But I’m different because I need a calculator to add single digits.)
- “Are you yellow?” (No, that Coldplay song is not about Asians.)
He also asked her other stupid questions about her background and language, such as “You’re probably from the west coast of Canada…Because it’s closer to Asia.” He stopped short of asking her for her mum’s lemon chicken recipe. He claimed that this was all in the spirit of persiflage.
Filled with the rage of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, I was determined to take vengeance for all Asians. I logged onto Twitter after a year’s absence (remembered my password – woohoo!) and tweeted FOUR TIMES to my twenty or so followers. I knew my clicktivism was working when a stranger replied to my plea for ABC to sack Symons. Disclaimer: two of my posts were re-tweets.
Leading up to this incident, I often saw Red at my local organic grocery store in Fitzroy North. Red is comfortable this neighbourhood because there are only about 20 Asians in total, including the people who work at the Malaysian restaurant, Sri Lankan restaurant, Indian restaurant, Chinese antiques store and Vietnamese-run nursery. This neighbourhood is so white there are more stores that sell $20 organic bone broth than fresh pandan leaves, which I have to travel 5km for.
To humiliate Red on his home turf, I had a grand plan to stick up posters of him on every street pole. The poster would have the heading “WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH RACISTS?” above his headshot. I never made those posters. I did not see him in the neighbourhood after his racist interview. He must have felt threatened by my four tweets. I moved onto the next issue to get outraged about.
On April 23, 2020, I spotted Red Symons three metres away in Carlton North. He walked in my direction with his head down. My brain froze. I forgot about what he said all those years ago that worked me up. I forgot about all the insults I was going to serve. All I could do was stare at him. I did not even frown or shake my fist. Could not even muster a fake cough while simultaneously saying “racist.” He noticed me looking, then looked down again. I almost felt sorry for him as he looked downtrodden. I wondered what was going through his mind when he saw me looking:
- “She knows what I said and I feel terrible for it.”
- “Shit, they’re invading Carlton North.”
- “There’s a walking virus.”
- “Why is she cycling on the footpath?”
- “Is that the woman from the milk bar or fish and chips shop?” (Chinese people run both)
- “Am I in the mood for a pinot gris or chardonnay?”
Was I becoming soft because everyone was going through a hard time in lockdown? Should I have let him have it for past remarks? Would I have said something if I remembered what he said that was so offensive? If he was still on radio would he be making Chinese virus jokes? Did he even apologise?
In the media coverage about Coronavirus related racism against Asians, it is often expressed that Asians are typically meek and don’t snap back when directly targeted with racism. As my personality was shaped by a Dragon Lady mother, the quiet and obedient Asian stereotype sits uncomfortably with me.
I have a fantasy that if a stranger verbally abuses me for inventing Coronavirus and tells me that I should go back to where I came from, I will retort that their people brought influenza and small pox to this land, which nearly wiped out the entire Indigenous population. And by the way, they are standing on the stolen land of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, so they have no right to tell me where I belong.
If I could be a superhero I would be an anti-racism vigilante, fighting racists for people too scared to do it themselves. But when presented with the perfect opportunity in Red Symons, I was disarmed. It is easy to be a keyboard warrior, but when faced with a human being who looked like he was having a bad day, my sense of empathy got the better of me. I worry that one day I will refrain from spitting on Pauline Hanson if she politely tells me not to.