Oh to be a #WOC

growing up asian Dec 05, 2019

Doesn’t matter how interesting your presentation is, there’s always someone waiting in the wings to have a little chat with you about Japan afterwards. Always.

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to co-present at the Australian Music Therapy Association’s annual conference. I was part of a symposium that focused on adolescents, trauma and music therapy and my friend Rachael and I discussed the idea of creating “safety” in therapeutic relationships based upon our four years in frontline trauma work.

In the break after our presentation, I was approached by several people who said hello and shared their interest in our topic. Then, a person approached me and for some reason I found myself involved in a conversation about Japan.

I feel like this would have been a very normal interaction, had my presentation concerned something about Japan, but it didn’t at all.

And it got me thinking of all the other times I’ve had to engage in conversations around Japan after presenting or being in some kind of public domain.

I’m lucky to come from a country that people seem to adore but this kind of engagement stinks of passive racism. Similarly, if I was from somewhere else, let’s say a country that has been ripped apart by colonisation and occupation, perhaps I’d get overlooked because it’s only the colour/culture that I’m been seen as.

I want to be recognised for my work, my thinking and my values, not my country of birth. To me, yes, being Japanese is incredibly important but my culture doesn’t define who I am nor should it inform anyone about the kind of person that I am.

As a little side note, I “caught up” with my accountant yesterday and after our meeting, we spoke about his upcoming ski trip to Japan and I shared a few restaurant ideas for his time in Tokyo. And this interaction felt really different because my accountant and I have a pre-existing relationship. I know that he sees me more than just my culture, and I appreciated his efforts in making a little bit of small talk after one hour of talking shop.

Although both parties spoke to me about Japan, the intent in the interactions felt completely different.


So, some thoughts and actions that you may choose to take away from this article:

If you’re Asian Australian,

  • Firstly, become aware of these interactions and notice what they bring up for you.

  • Understand that you deserve to be seen and recognised for your work, rather than your face/race/cultural background.

  • Understand that it happens ALL THE TIME to so many of us and that you are not alone.

  • If you feel shame or unworthiness washing over you, try to reach out and connect with people who you trust. Try to externalise the experience in a safe and healthy manner which often looks like a quick chat or laugh with a good friend.

  • But at the same time, recognise that the person had some kind of interest in connecting with you and often people are weird and awkward in social situations. We have empathy, but we don’t tolerate racism.

If you’re Caucasian,

  • Do you have a pre-existing relationship with the person you’re about to approach?

  • If not, notice the desire to connect with the person you’re about to approach and imagine that they are also Caucasian. Would your opening statement be about their cultural background?

  • If you notice that you’re purely interested in approaching the person because of their cultural background, perhaps allow others some air time and instead opt for contact via email or social media platforms. Take this a step further and ask yourself why you’re so interested in talking about their culture.

  • You may notice that there is another more meaningful reason why you are seeking to connect. If so, allow that to be your lead when approaching.

As always, I am so interested in hearing your thoughts or reflections that may arise as you read through this. Please feel free to comment below, join our social media account HERE or send me an email HERE.

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