Q & A with a Humanist.

The firestorm of comments on By Estella Dot Com’s facebook page resulting from yesterday’s post has caused me to think critically about the objectives of my writing. Summarily, one reader, SL,  accused me of propagating nonsense because worse things happen to cows. SL claims to be an animal rights advocate. I told her I love animals but am not their champion. Unlike her, I haven’t given up on HUMANITY; I believe much harmony can be achieved across the mosaic of races that make up the face of humanity through OPEN and HONEST dialogue. This is what www.byestella.com is all about. This is what I am about. I write FOR people interested in people.

For once I will be both interviewee and interviewer. I conduct many impromptu interviews to write the stories I do, but it’s time I sat in the hot seat. Based on my heated exchange with SL, I feel the questions below need answering:

1) So why is your subject matter humans? Why not animals?

Obviously I am human. I embrace every aspect of being human – be it challenges of  finding fulfilment and overcoming frustrations, or making myself heard amongst a din of voices.  My special interest is human adaptation and environmental transplantation. Put simply: I’m a migrant from a long line of migrants. I want to know how people like myself can make an alien environment, home.

2) You write about home in many of your stories. Do you not think some might say your writings are based entirely on your own experiences?

They most certainly are based on my own experiences. All literary works are, to a large extent, biographical. The difference with a blog is that I openly and publicly stake an ownership to all opinions expressed. I make myself a lightning rod to public opinion instead of hiding behind a facade of made-up characters.

3) Wouldn’t it be better to lead a QUIET content life since you have THE MEANS to do so?

I believe privilege entails certain responsibilities. Having been raised in an environment in which racism is rife, and discovering ethnic and cultural heritage through unusual means as an adult, issues relating to the discrimination of people based on skincolour really irk me. For better or worse, multi-culturalism is the way of the future. To know what sort of a future this is, it doesn’t help to bury our heads in the sand and pretend there are no issues arising from the mingling of people. There are issues and there will always be.

Here’s a quote by Martin Niemöller which expresses most aptly why I speak out:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

4) But aren’t these generalisations though? Why can’t people all just get along?

Individuals may be as infinitely varied as the nuances of shades on a colour wheel, but in groups of people with the same background and upbringing, certain observable characteristics emerge. Hence when people tell me my observations are generalisations, I respond by telling them that generalisations are so called because they apply to an identifiable group of people. Are we all 100% different from each other? No. But the amount of difference is enough to cause deep-seated mistrust and make for testy relationships.

5) And you believe speaking about racial issues to be the key to overcoming that?

Certainly peaceful co-existence cannot exist in a vacuum of communication. For us to empathise with someone very different from ourselves, we must first understand them, and we cannot understand them unless there is dialogue. Many Asians are not in the habit of speaking out or up for themselves. Through my writings, I allow the western reader to know what and who we are. I’ve been told I give my fellow Asians abroad a sense of community; it’s a bond forged through the shared experience of being a perpetual visitor in someone else’s land.

6) Why do you say you’re a visitor? Aren’t you already home?

I once considered Malaysia my home but I was often told to “balik tong san” (go back to China) even though my family has been there since the days of Hang Li Po, the 1500s. I consider Australia my home, but as recently as yesterday, was told by SL, a white Australian, preaching tolerance and harmony, I can “go back to where I came from” if unhappy with the country. I’m happy with Australia; just unhappy with NAIVE, UTOPIAN, HYPOCRITES.

I’d like to point out to SL and others like her I have just as much a right to be here as you do.  Australia is a nation of migrants, built on the blood, sweat and tears of migrants. The only people who can claim ANCESTRAL ownership are the aboriginals.

7) But does racism exist in Australia? Why tar everyone with the same brush?

I’d ask you to trust me on this, but you don’t have to. Here’s an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) interview with prominent Sydney neurosurgeon, Charlie Teo, who touched on racism in his 2012 Australia Day address. Here’s his interview with the Herald Sun, claiming racism is very much alive in Australia:

Here’s the tail-end of a recent racial rant by a white person in Sydney captured on video. NO bystanders stepped in to stop his verbal attack on a group of Asian tourists. Here’s an article on the “subterranean” nature of racism in Australia. The title says it all: Noisy bigots drown out silent bias. The author includes some interesting statistics on the matter.

The fact is racism is everywhere because people allow their ignorance of those different to themselves to dictate their behaviour. To say ANIMALS have it worse and we should just disregard issues arising from the meshing of peoples and cultures is to say that doctors shouldn’t save people because we are all going to die anyway.

8) Do you just write about racism or can I expect to read about other issues on www.byestella.com?

I write human life stories with a significant cultural bent to them. If you trawl through my over 200 posts, you’ll see I often write about the clash between East and West. It’s NOT all about racism, but about DIFFERENCE. Why this particular theme?

Difference feels like sand in your shoes. You want to get rid of the irritation because it keeps rubbing against you, but human difference is something that cannot be eradicated, only managed. Wherever you go, you are going to come across differences arising from race and culture. There are few certainties in life but that is a given. Those differences will only become more pronounced with increased globalisation, and feel more personal, with intermarriage and subsequent reproduction.

9) What is your ultimate aim for www.byestella.com?

It is perhaps overreaching for me to say this but I’d like to leave my daughter, Amanda, a more racially tolerant world. I’d like my readers to go away knowing more about “others” or at least “people like me” than when they first happened upon my blog. I’d also like for them to pick up on that thread of humanism running through stories, to view similarity in people through the lense of difference.