So, when is it too much?

JUNE 13 ― How do you know when you have to do something? My gay friend made me think about this.

In the UK, homosexual couples still get attacked for displaying their love for each other in public... even if it is just holding hands.

Don’t hold hands then, you may suggest. Many will fervently disagree with this though: we should not blame the victim, just the prepertrator.

My friend’s point was simple though. We cannot overlook the practicality of avoidance to prevent physical harm. I thought of being in his shoes. When do I hold my partner’s hand, and when do I not? How do you know when to make a stand, when you don’t know the risks?

His point is especially important because hate crime against homosexuals have been rising around the university we study in.

In this instance, what needs to be done seems clear: you don’t hold hands in front of a group of men who might or might not beat you up. It’s just too risky.

But what if you live in a particularly homophobic/Islamophobic/etc neighbourhood and there is little chance to hide.

Many Muslim females wear a hijab, and to a casual observer, a hijab indicates that your faith is Islam. Do they then find it most practical to just stay home?

The most frustrating part about being practical is that when the odds of being attacked are high, being practical insidiously and unknowingly pushes your identity into oblivion.

People who cause no serious harm to others just want to feel safe, yet when pushed to the limits they simply cannot. Do we then take a solid stance against abuse and discrimination?

Four years here and the only abuse I’ve received from white British men are of the sort Malay, Chinese, and Indian kids use on each other in Malaysian kindergartens.

Usually it is a group of teenagers on bicycles who taunt us. Or half-drunk thirtysomethings mockingly spewing nihao, konichiwa, and ching chong ling long.

Sometimes the white British person gets too lazy and lets the car do the talking: sound the horn, rev the engine, wave for no reason... whatever that floats their boat or makes their tea.

I like standing up to them and I love the look on their faces when I rightly enunciate the “th” in “there” and “thing” and reply rather sternly, “Is there something wrong?”

I feel like I can do this because I sense no significant anger directed towards Asians. Backlash, what backlash against a weak, quiet Chinese boy who poses no threat to a Brit’s existence?

But one late night this “immunity” from standing up to abuse flaked away like the crumbs from eating a fresh croissant. We were walking back from a dinner party. Near Tesco, a car with three white British individuals inside jeered at us like complete hooligans. In response, I imitated them.

I thought the car would drive away but as we walked around the corner, we saw the same car waiting at the end of the empty road with its reverse lights pulsing and its engine revving.

I told the two friends I was with to get onto the safer side of the road. As we crossed, the car reversed faster and faster.

So I stood in the middle of the road.

Part of me wanted to test the driver’s nerves, and see how far this Chinese abuse would go. I was also confident that even the most backward hooligan here was still civil enough to not ram his car into anyone intentionally. I froze in the middle of the road, and eventually so did the car.

My friends warned me to keep quiet next time. They said I had more to lose, being foreign, on a visa that could easily be revoked.

Then I thought about how if the car had run me over, the university would co-operate with the university in the investigation, and  Coventry Telegraph would cover it as a crime like any other, while Daily Mail might spin it as “foreign student provokes driver”, and the next day the Asian community would have to swallow up a little more of the fear.

Are my thoughts getting out of hand? Yes. But most probably the university would send an email to all students saying “beware this road, this time, this place... walk with friends, etc.” It would continue, “We are aware of these crimes ” and it would end, “We take racial hate crimes very seriously.”

That brings us back to the question: how do you know when to do anything? When do you hold your partner’s hand? When should you speak up and talk down bullies?

Any university or official organisation mandated to take racial crimes seriously will send out these types of letters. But are any of them of real use if minorities don’t even take the abuses seriously? One might say it’s still tolerable.

But had I been run over for standing up to a bully, would that be the tipping point for Asians, or would we push the threshold we tolerate abuse higher?

The practicality of doing nothing would have been impressive had I been run over. After that we could put more effort into keeping quiet, and when another case of abuse happens, keep hiding, staying practical, never speaking out. Then it is eventually accepted as the norm. A comfortable, tolerable norm.

This month many Malaysian students will fly home. Some will settle in Malaysia indefinitely. Chinese and Indians will face a different bully. How will they know when to do something? When it is too much, they might say. But when is that?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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