Asian Raisins (AR) receives numerous reports of racism- and discrimination-related incidents throughout the year. Besides documenting these incidents, we also take action against them. This article is about a recent incident in which a film script ended up causing a conflict between two neighbours. It also shows the kind of support that Asian Raisins volunteers can provide.
A* was sent a film script by her neighbour, who is a member of a film club. This club was working on an anniversary film and needed one last candidate to play the role of the new member: someone of Chinese descent. A was asked by her neighbour if she was willing to play this role.
The story is about a film club that’s in the middle of a periodic get-together when a package from ‘AliBebe’ is delivered. It contains (inexpensive) memory cards for cameras. These cards, however, lead to problems like negative comments appearing on club members’ faces. Divided into three groups, the members are then tasked with finding what exactly is causing this to happen. One group speculates that it must be a new virus, while another thinks it’s a new strain of COVID-19. At the end of the story, a new member, who is from China, walks into the room. Upon looking at the package, she starts laughing. The script says the following:
“The text on the packaging has been mistranslated: these are not memory cards but ‘lie cards’.* These are actually only meant for the domestic market to make it easier for the government to monitor the population. The problem can be resolved with an ‘ordinary’ European memory card.”
In the script, several topics emerge that are racist in nature and evoke negative and stereotypical imagery. Among these topics are the coronavirus, 5G, memory cards and Chinese webshops.
E-mail contact neighbours
After having read the story, A decided to send her neighbour an e-mail. She explained that the nature of the script and her role made her feel unwelcome and alienated. A felt she was being racially profiled because of her appearance, her cultural background, and because she was assigned the role of someone of a different ethnic origin. The neighbour sent back a short e-mail in which she explained that she never meant to offend A and that she wanted to apologise if she had offended her.
The next day, A‘s boyfriend and the neighbour’s husband got in touch via e-mail. This quickly turned into a heated argument, in which the neighbour expressed finding it ‘unacceptable’ for someone to call his wife a racist. He then accused A of having a toxic personality and making racist remarks herself. Lastly, the neighbour added that their conflict was far from over. In his reply, A’s boyfriend expressed that neither of them felt safe because of the neighbour’s reaction, to which he replied that there was no reason for them to feel unsafe. He added, as a ‘joke’, that he was too old to ‘off’ anyone anyways.
Asian Raisins’ role
When A mailed her neighbour, she also reported the incident to AR using the report function on our website. That same day, one of our volunteers informed A that her report was being processed. The volunteer also asked if they could help her with anything else. A asked if she could call someone from AR, because her neighbours’ threats led her to be too afraid to leave her house.
This video call took place the next day. A told AR she had asked the landlord for help and also expressed how she finally felt at home with AR; something she had not experienced before:
“I’m so lucky to have your support! All of you at Asian Raisins empower me as a first-generation Chinese-Dutch person, I would really look forward to meeting you all one day. Your strength and warmth really make me feel at home, like a big happy family :)”
Two days after the video call, A’s landlord talked to her neighbours. The neighbour’s husband insisted A apologises to them and he also called her partner, in effect forcing A to offer her apologies. A few days prior, however, A’s neighbour (the one who sent her the script) had already apologised to her. At this point, all A wished for was for the case to be closed and for the peace between her and her neighbours to return. She therefore decided to send them a friendly e-mail in which she apologised to them. A told AR that she knew she didn’t owe her neighbours an apology. Nonetheless, she was happy her neighbour had learnt her lesson and won’t recruit any other East Asian people for her script in the future. What she didn’t apologise for, however, was her calling her neighbour a racist. Thankfully, A’s apology was accepted by her neighbours.
Two months later, the neighbour’s husband passed away. A and her partner felt genuinely sorry for the neighbour and they sent her a card. A expressed that she hopes the neighbour’s husband rests in peace. To her, this also felt like some sort of closure: the resentment is gone or has been replaced by compassion.
The volunteers who worked on this case now look back on it with mixed feelings: on the one hand, they are happy A experienced their video call as helpful. A sympathetic ear and advice was something she needed. On the other hand, in order for the peace to be maintained, A was regretfully forced to apologise for something that was not her fault.
1* Due to privacy reasons the name has been anonymised. The real name is known to the editors.
2* This is a poor attempt at a pun: the Dutch text speaks of a ‘geheugenkaart’ (memory card) and a ‘leugenkaart’ (‘lie card’).