“It Starts With Us. We Look Back To Look Forward” With Giselle

Our very own graphic designer Giselle opens up and voices how racism hits us closer to home than we think, our own diversity, and growing to be better than the society we grew up in.

It can feel so helpless, when the world is hurting, a family is mourning, an entire nation is screaming for justice. Where I cannot fully understand the entire magnitude of what those mostly affected are going through. I can only share my experiences to broaden the horizons of those to understand what we have become accustomed to, what we allow, and what we can change about the reality that exists.

This isn’t something we can just shake. It is now we recognise; we look back to look forward.

A vivid memory, I had just moved cities as my Dad changed jobs, and I was starting a new school in year 6 (the final year before high school). The summer leading up to my first day at school, my family and I went to the bay, my sister and I swam so far from the main beach and I saw a whole pile of what I learned were washed up shark eggs, me being far too scared to go back in the water, stubbornly walked all the way back to our accommodation and endured the worst sunburn of my life.

When school returned, as expected, my skin was generally a bit more sunkissed than usual. There was no one in my class like me.

I remember being seated next to this girl and within the first initial conversations, the comment came up “Woah, you are so dark.” I immediately responded with, “I swear I’m not usually this tanned!”

Immediately I felt then I had to defend the colour of my skin. When you are young and new, you just want to fit in. It was already implanted in my mind growing up in a predominantly white society that being dark was not an attractive quality that made fitting in easier.

At this time, my kiwi cousin was staying with us. I thought she was so pretty, she was quite pale. I remember she had these fresh new makeup cleansing wipes I hadn’t really used before. Later that night, I remember getting some extra wipes to try ‘clean off’ my tan, I rubbed my arms until they were red. I was still the same colour.

Through high school there was this girl that I considered my actual friend, and she would say out of nowhere “no offence, but you’re Asian”, somehow it was the funniest thing ever to her. Others I considered my friends would laugh along too. I would never know what to say. I was Australian. The comment was made to insult to make me feel worth less than I was, but “no, offence.”

The amount of times this was said and looked over lightly is a representation of how we look to offensive behaviour in our modern society. When we say nothing, not only do we allow racists to get away with it, but they are more inclined to keep doing it over and over. What made me unique, was used to weaken and dampen my confidence.
Whereas now, people use fake tan to look how I naturally looked, they wear clothes inspired by my cultures.

I moved schools and cities again in my last 2 years of completing it, I was the new girl again, I remember one of the girls in my class said “So I was talking to ____ and she was like oh my god Giselle needs to come sit with us, we need a hot asian in our group”. My new friend was so excited to tell me, like it was meant to be a compliment.

The thing is, I know it wasn’t meant to be spiteful, they were trying to be inclusive. Thing is I hear similar phrases a lot, she’s pretty for a ____, she’s smart for a ___, she’s actually cool for a ___. This applies to plenty of different races, we’ve almost all heard it being used.

We have been shaped to the point where the idea of beauty has been subconsciously affected by an exclusion of other races, defining the very worthiness of what is considered acceptable.

I could go on and on about experiences I have had, from being approached at the gym by a white man who walked up saying “Sawatdee-kah”, thinking he was inclined to make the comment. He proceeded to ask me where I was from. I said “Australia”, he proceeded to ask me “Where I was really from?”.

Or the lady proceeding to come in when I worked in retail, having a rant about how much a certain product was better than all that “China stuff”, that we need to watch out because China is taking over. She didn’t even think of who she was speaking to. I let her continue before enlightening her that I was in fact half Chinese. She proceeded to say she wasn’t racist and asked if I knew the man who owned the Chinese shop in town and that he was a “Good man”.

I didn’t have a strong voice in all of those situations. I was mostly in disbelief. And I was muted.

I have a voice now, and I intend to use it. I have had many conversations surrounding others’ experiences with racism and have so much more to say. I want to go back and hug my younger self, I want to tell her that her looks did not define how she was to be treated, and how to embrace everything she was given, and more importantly, what to say and what to do.

We are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society we grew up in. We have to be better.

Before anyone says that these struggles are not that bad, that it isn’t relevant to the current situation, this is how it starts. The effect of this goes far beyond just the ‘economy’, but physical and mental well-being. And on a larger scale, an absolute abomination to human rights. There is no way to compare this to the current events in the US. And it is important to remember that “racism is not getting worse, it is getting filmed” — Will Smith. We need to recognise and act upon it. It’s not usually intended or blatantly obvious. And truth is as a child, I understand being of mixed race I was subject to more white privilege than others, and the scale of what I experienced cannot compare to many others.

However, there is no explanation for allowing the colour of someone’s skin or their facial features to become an avenue to make assumptions, make it harder for them, or to be affected in evaluating their worth as a human being.

Most people around me never would have grown up understanding what racism is like firsthand and as I did myself, even when it was right in front of me looked over it far too lightly.

This is the time to recognise, this is the time to look within ourselves because the truth is, it’s not something that is necessarily intended, it still exists. And the only way to eradicate it, is to look within ourselves, how we treat each other, and what we do in our own individual communities to stand for justice, without causing harm to one another. Continue to listen, as we have so much to learn.

I have a voice now, and with those who support it, it is amplified.
Thank You to Hello Molly for providing a platform to share, and acknowledge. A community where we can discuss this and allow for representation on a platform. Recognising that we can do better, and heightening the importance of helping us to feel comfortable in our own skin.

I have always found working in the Hello Molly community as somewhere that supports a range of diversities, which allows for opportunities to learn more about other cultures and each other, to utilise our strengths and grow them together. Committed to change, I can only imagine this will continue to grow within Hello Molly’s community and extended community, only hoping that everyone will follow in these same footsteps, supporting one another and recognising our own worth also. We still have so much to learn.

It starts with us.