I was going great guns and then suddenly my writer’s brain has become becalmed.
Maybe that’s because my mind is flooded with thoughts, ideas, possible plots, themes and endless possibilities. Along with the ever-present and seemingly never-ending reminder of the fact that I’m different. That my difference frightens and in some cases incense people.
I people like me are not considered to be part of UK PLC. That the surge of support for the British right-wing political party UKIP is disturbing to say the least. But then having said that the way that British society views, treats and interacts with its own East Asian citizens is frankly appalling. Attitudes have changed little since the Victorian era.
My “Britishness” in spite of what the Politicians would like to con themselves into thinking is not included in many of the hearts and minds of those in power over the wider society. Being British saying and being called this, I always feel that it’s done as a back-hander or with a slight grudge. There always seems to be confusion, a mental hiatus when anyone says British-Chinese or British East Asian. As if British and Chinese/East Asian shouldn’t really be coupled together.
I was approached late in the day (as it were) to speak at an adoption conference but it just didn’t pan out, timing being one of the issues. I’ve also been interviewed for an oral history project, archiving the experiences of the working British-Chinese.
Who and what I am right, there in those last two sentences.
Not a British citizen who has an interesting background, or a British artists that’s got an unconventional back-story, but Adopted and Chinese. Society wants to be seen as inclusive, tolerant and poly ethnic so we’ll call you British-Chinese or British East Asian to show we’re being sensitive. But if there is no thought or understanding behind that “label” then it has no meaning. It has no place. It does nothing but allow the culturally dominant to pigeon-hole, separate, tick boxes, forget and move on. This label that I’m given doesn’t sit at the same table as Black British, or British-Asian, we’re still on seated at a minor table at the back.
Whatever I do I am always going to be East Asian. Whatever I do I am always going to be a transracial adoptee. I cannot change the past. I cannot reverse the actions and decisions that adults made in the past. I can not reverse my own history and relive my life in Hong Kong. I cannot prevent myself from being flown from Hong Kong to Great Britain, over half a century ago.
However, what I can do is make sure that my voice, my understanding, my life view is heard.
I will continue to strive and broadcast this British voice. I’m just one of many different British voices and are seldom given a chance to be heard. British culture at the moment is still viewed through a very narrow lens. It cannot be considered wholly British if it excludes citizens like me.
It cannot be considered to be an inclusive culture and society if it excludes realistic representations of people like me. If British culture does not embrace, nurture and support artists like me, it is not representative of Britain in the 21st century, is it?
As a Transracial Adoptee, as a British East Asian as a female, I am subconsciously driven by those cumulative life experiences. How and why I write, make films, interpret text is driven, shaped and coloured by my experience of life as a person from a marginalised, unheard and under-represented section of British society. Society has held up a mirror to show me and how people like me, are perceived and thought. That perception, both institutional and structural has changed very little since the 1800s. Is it any wonder then, that I am somewhat sceptical and slightly pessimistic about seeing a greater move towards universal inclusivity and diversity?
In spite of my scepticism, I want the current diversity policies heralded in the media to work.
I’d like to see Britain pushing society and the country as a whole forwards into an era that truly embraces its poly ethnicity, its diverse populous and it multiple mixed heritages and shared histories. I’d like to be able to go to a Theatre and see people like me performing the classics or new works and not to have to enter into a debate about the precise political, cultural or social point the writer or director was trying to make by casting a British East Asian. I’d like to go to the movies and see a British movie that casts East Asians where the characters aren’t linked to martial arts, food, or illegal migrants trafficked to the UK by snake-head gangs. Yes I am being a tad facetious, not all films that have East Asian cultural or heritage themes are superficial. But as a British East Asian actor why do I feel that I have to “qualify” when being considered for an acting role. And the only way that I can “qualify” to participate in a project is, if that project has some kind of East Asian tie-in or theme.
East Asians still are not widely seen in “normal dramas” as bus drivers, cab-drivers, rail-workers or bog standard business men and women. Even though in real life we are.
In drama and the media we have to come from off shore. Bringing with us our Eastern ways and sensibilities. It’s rare to see an East Asian character that does not have a non-English accent.
But then if within the media British East Asian writers are not getting the chance to have their work produced, there will be no contemporary representations of such people.
It’s a vicious circle, one which I find myself currently being swirled about in.
Will I be able to ride the white water rapids and come out the other side, if my play Conversations With My Unknown Mother goes into full production next year, then the answer is yes.
Watch this space . . .