Episode 5 with Timothy Ng (Video, Audio & Transcript)
April 12, 2021
Hi, my name is Timothy Ng. I am an actor here in Toronto, Ontario, and the first time I’ve ever experienced racism was when I first dished it in high school.
I came from Hong Kong when I was about five years old and grew up in a very conservative Chinese household, and most of the time I was… Taught very… Well, I actually wasn’t taught about what racism was or anything, it was just, “Keep your head down, do your own thing, and if anybody says anything to you about you, just ignore it and just keep going.” And that has been… That has been kind of… The saying… All throughout school and part of college, but… Growing up in a very conservative household and having parents who were racist… That translated onto me… And without knowing better, it was just kind of like, “Oh, OK, well that’s normal behaviour because that’s what my parents do, and so I guess that that’s okay with me.”
And so the first time that I said it was… I was in school… And how I learned… This was, what, from watching movies, and… Just being placed in front of the TV and seeing, like, “Oh, well that looks like it is OK to say, so I guess I can say it.” And I had a fight with a Brown friend of mine, and he had… Got me really, really angry, and so out of my anger and of my frustration, I called him the N-slur, which was completely wrong, but also I shouldn’t have even said it because… That word has a rich history and a rich background for Black people, and that’s the word that they reclaim… But I chose in all of my ignorance to use that word to call that – To call my Brown friend that word, or that slur, I should say, and so… When I said that, all the Black people… Turned around, looked at me and was like, “What did you say?” And so I repeated it again, and then they got angry and they basically kicked my ass… And from that point on, I knew, OK, that I can’t say that word because I know that it’s… It negatively affects people and it… But also at that time, I didn’t really fully understand what that meant.
So it wasn’t until… High school that I got to know… Better, like, OK, why, you know? Why is it bad? And being in a circle of friends that… Had Black culture ingrained in them, like basketball and hip-hop and rap, and… What else… I can’t think of them, but those were the three main things that… Were the things that were popular in high school, and so with that… And being surrounded by that, I got to understand more about, you know, Black people and Black culture and… Realizing that what my parents have taught me about Black people is completely wrong… Growing up, they were always saying, “Black people are bad, Brown people, they smell, White people are the devil,” and so that was ingrained in my upbringing and in my teaching, and so that was the normal for me, and experiencing that with… Something different with your friends and your peers in school, definitely changed my outlook. But I was also willing to accept that I was wrong and that I knew that… Some things needed to change, and so I didn’t stubbornly stick by my ways and kept using the N-slur, or… Just using racial slurs in general…
There have been several times where… I’ve raised the opinions or suggestions in class about something related to history… Regarding the Chinese Exclusion Act which was one of the things that we’ve learned in history class, and… Teachers would usually say, “No, you know what? No, no… That’s not really something that we have to worry about. This was history, this was a while back. We shouldn’t be, you know, bringing that issue back up anymore.” Like, you know… “You’re here now, that’s all that matters,” you know? And to me, that felt… At that time felt like, OK, you know, the teacher… I guess was just fed up with a lot of us asking questions. OK, I guess I shouldn’t question it anymore, and I shouldn’t, you know, bring it back up anymore… Also at that time it was just kind of, like, I want to be a good student, I just want to, you know, get through class, get an A or get something close to that and just, you know, call it that. Because my parents mentioned, “Keep your head down, do your work and don’t care what other people say,” and just keep, you know… “Do your thing and just get through life that way.” And so it was… It wasn’t until… Getting into college and really, more so recently that I found, “Oh shoot, I was gaslighted when I was younger,” or “Oh shoot, they said that my voice didn’t matter, my opinions didn’t matter, my suggestions didn’t matter,” and that… And that came to my realization more so recently than before…
When I went to college, that was when I started to see racism on a fuller scale, and… It was… I guess it was, like, halfway through my first semester in college in music theatre school… Specifically that… Someone asked me, was like, “Hey, where are you from?” I said, “Oh, I’m from Canada. That’s where I came from.” And they’re like, “No, no, no, but, like, where are you… Where are you from? Like, where are your parents from?” I was like, “Well, I came from Hong… I moved to Canada when I was five, and then I grew up in Canada, in Toronto more specifically.” And they’re like, “Oh, OK. So then, so what? Hong Kong, is that, like, part of China?” And I was like, “Yes, but that’s not how I would identify,” as I would not identify it as me being Chinese, I would identify as a Hongkonger rather, because a lot of the younger generations would not want to associate with the Chinese Communist Party, and so we’re our own entity… Whereas older generations would be like, “No, no, no, no, we are part of China… That’s what history says, that we are part of China.” And then it’s gotten to a point where I just got really tired of saying I was, you know, “I was born in Hong Kong, I came to Toronto when I was five, and then grew up in Canada, in Toronto and in Canada,“ that I just started saying… “I grew up in Toronto. I was born in Toronto and was born and raised here.” And people were surprised, they’re like, “Oh so… But how can,” you know, “how can you be Canadian? You don’t look Canadian, you don’t,” you know, “you don’t sound Canadian.” And at that point, I was like, “But what do you mean I don’t sound or look Canadian?” Like, I mean, Canadian is, you know… I have a Canadian passport, I… You know, I reside in Canada. We’re citizens. I guess, you know, that makes me, you know, Canadian… But I also did not forget about my… I guess… My Hong Kong roots, and so I would say sometimes that I’m also Asian. Like, I’m Asian Canadian, but… And I use it interchangeably when I don’t want people to keep questioning… My identity or my… Or where I’m from… I usually just say Canadian and that’s the, you know, that’s the end of it… But it was more recently that I found that I shouldn’t be shutting out my Asian identity and that I should be more… I should embrace it… Even more, and that also came with… Growing up and being… Being taught… Oh, if you say… If you say you’re… You’re Asian, then, you know, people are going to be like… Oh, so, you know… “Ha ha, ching chong,” you know, this… “Ling ling,” all of these things that I didn’t want to have happened to me. So I just kind of pushed that Asian identity aside and was like, “No, I’m Canadian… That’s my full umbrella term. “
Start of the pandemic, I was – It was just, you know, I had an appointment with my… What do you call it? Orthodontist for my Invisalign, and I was waiting outside because they were starting to implement, you know, one person in, one person out type of deal. And so I was waiting in line and a bunch of high schoolers just walked by and start coughing, fake coughing… And I knew something was up because there was no Asian person in that group. And they were… They were a mixed… Bag of people, and they were coughing as they were walking by, and then as they were leaving, they were laughing about it. And one person in the group was like, “Yo, yo, yo guys, guys, just stop, stop, stop. Don’t. Don’t do that, don’t do that,” but his voice was overpowered… By his other peers in the group, and so they just kept laughing on and on and on. And that struck – That struck a nerve with me because I was like, “Oh, that’s what… That’s what Asian people are going to go through” because of, I guess where the virus originated, or where it got the most media coverage, and so that’s where… People might have thought that that’s where it started and that’s how it was, you know… Created, you know? Something like that, and also it didn’t help that the U.S., that the United States president at the time… Used the phrase called “China virus” or “kung flu”, and that didn’t help the situation, because people then just automatically associated that with… If you’re Asian, you’re Chinese, and if you’re Chinese, you have the virus. And that has since gone spiraling down into more recent events of elders being attacked. And it started with elders because I guess… Actually, I don’t really know why it started with elders, but I guess it was because people saw that elders… Couldn’t defend themselves and that they were… They were weaker, and so they wanted to hide behind their cowardice of attacking people who were defenseless… And it just kept going on and it became a thing where it was like a regular occurrence, and especially in today’s day and age where things have gone digital that it’s being filmed more and more, and we’re seeing this on a more regular basis. And it’s disheartening to me because when I… When I look at that and I think about… Imagine if we didn’t have cameras and this… You know, and… This was not being seen… We would still be attacked and we would still not get media coverage. And I feel like it was just more so within the last month or two that we’re slowly getting some sort of media coverage, but it’s not as big of a scale as it would be like the Black Lives Matter protests. And I’m not comparing that to the Black Lives Matter protests, I’m saying give us… Give us some sort of platform so that we could speak out about these injustices that are happening to Asian people.
Upon experiencing that at the orthodontist, I went home and I spoke to my parents, because I worry about my parents, and I worry about other elders in my community because they are… I guess, like, our backbone, almost. They were the first, you know, the people that brought us up and gave us that upbringing of our… Of keeping our traditions alive and keeping our culture alive so that we can have… So that we could thrive as a community, and I sat my parents down and I’m like, “Hey, this happened to me today and… This is not right.” Like, you know, “I worry for you, I care about you. Please be very, very careful.” And they told me, “Well… It’s not going to happen to us. We live in a very heavy Asian community and that’s not going to affect us.” And I knew at that point, like, well, my parents are still, you know… Still kind of have a bit of that racism ingrained in them that they think that just because they didn’t experience it, that it doesn’t happen… And so I spoke to them again and I said to them, I’m like, you know, “Listen… It’s not just you that I’m worried about. I’m worried about my girlfriend’s parents… I’m worried about my friend’s mother and father, their grandparents and all my friends’ grandparents and parents.”
And then on top of that, they’re attacking elders, but they’re also attacking our women and they’re also attacking younger Asian people, and this is… It’s almost like a downward spiral when, you know, how many more attacks are going to happen until… They hit a child or something like that, or an Asian baby? And it’s these things that worry me… That I’m going to have to walk around town always looking back and always looking over my shoulder to see… Am I going to be hurt today? Is my… Are my parents going to be hurt today? Are my friends going to be hurt today? And so walking the streets… Is worrisome, and I feel that… And I understand as well as my Black friends, the people in the Black community, that… They are constantly watching over their shoulders… They fear for their life when a police officer stops them, and I’m not… And I’m not to say that this is comparing with them, or… Saying we’re, like, equal now. It’s not… But I’m saying that… That same fear that they have is what we have too and that… It shouldn’t be that way…
But I genuinely fear for my parents’ life, and I kind of thank God that my grandparents have passed… Long before this is a thing. Otherwise I would not feel comfortable having them go out on their own, even if it’s an Asian community, because Asians also attack Asians… Yeah, there’s an internalized racism within ourselves, within our community that, oh, just because you’re from mainland China, you’re the richer kind, and if we’re from Hong Kong, we’re more the… Kind of like the bottom, bottom rung type of issue, and so that, oh, we look down on you because you’re not from mainland China, whatever the issue may be. And there’s that kind of racism as well that’s ingrained in some of our community. And so this spans on to a bigger, bigger issue of… It’s not just White people attacking us, it’s not Black people attacking us, it’s not Brown people that are attacking us, it’s everybody attacking each other… And I feel like the real issue is class. And I think if we erase class, we can finally… Get to the… I guess not the root cause, but we can slowly… Turn back the wheels on racism.
What I mean by class would be the different… I guess… On basic terms would be, you’ve got the rich people, you’ve got the middle class, and then you’ve got the poor… And let’s just say that we put everybody on the middle class and that the rich people kind of have to just be like, “Oh, OK, all right, let me get rid of my wealth and let me bring myself back down to that humble level of being a middle-class man… A middle-class person,” that then we’ll start to see slight change, because when you’re… When you’re poor, I find that people who are in the middle class or even on the higher class… That they tend to look down on poorer people, and the poorer people tend to be people of colour, they tend to be marginalized races. And so if we put everybody on an equal playing field, there won’t be that “I look down on you” type of situation.
And I think that… Yeah, that plays a huge issue in our society today, because I feel like we live in a capitalistic society and that… We’re always about “we’ve got to make it to the top, we’ve got to be successful and we’ve got to make money, money, money, money,” and… That mindset has turned us into… People who look down on poor people, like, “oh you guys are lazy, you don’t even want to… You guys don’t even want to get jobs, you guys don’t want to work,” but that’s not… That’s not the case. It’s because we’ve created a system that can’t allow them to find a job because they’re being placed in a community where they’re not able to get the education that they need to get that job, and we’ve purposely done this as a society so that there are certain people who will excel, and then there will be certain people who are just left behind in this bottom of the food chain so to say, and so… We need to as a society come together and be like… Look at what we’ve done for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, and let’s try to… And let’s try to fix it, and that’s… And that’s by giving opportunities to those marginalized voices, of being like, OK, look. You were deprived of all this education… You were deprived of all… All these… All these things because we were just focusing on one group of people or some, you know… Of one group of people that we forgot about you, so let’s… Let’s try to work together and bring you guys up so that you guys have that opportunity of getting that education that you need, getting that job that you want… And that will in turn also eliminate crime, and when you eliminate crime, that also will slowly start to eliminate racism.
With recent events, the Atlanta shootings of the… Massage parlours, it really comes to show that we’re still in a very, very heavily male-dominated society, because these women that were murdered are not getting the recognition for… Because it was a White man shooting up a massage parlour, and the cop was saying, “Oh, he was just having a bad day, and this wasn’t a hate crime,” like, he, you know… “He didn’t do this with seeking out Asian people just to shoot.” And it shows, like, well, what about grieving? What about showing, you know… Empathy for these women who… Worked at these massage parlours that maybe, maybe it was, you know… If we had taught men to actually be respectful of women, that if there was an actual education system of being, like, listen… We need to disband the patriarchy… We need to get… We need to educate men on how to treat women… Fairly, and that is the whole reason of the suffragette movement, the Me Too movement, all of this is them saying, “Listen… We’re trying to say we’re equal, we’re human beings, and so… Please, just…” you know, “Show us the respect as you would another male.” And with those movements being brought up, it’s… Times are slowly changing and we… And we have to realize that patriarchy is a huge and terrible thing that is happening in our society right now, and it still continues to marginalize and shut… Voices of women and racialized voices down.
The Asian… I guess the movement or the rallies that we’ve been having right now, we’re still seeking an identity… Much like the Black Lives Matter movement, we are… Gathering as a group to be like, you know, let our voices be heard… Please listen to what we have to say as a community, please listen to our voice, please… Stop, you know, hurting us, stop. Stop hating on us just because… You think that we brought over the virus or something like that. Whatever the issue may be… Please just, you know, stop hating on us. And I think we’re slowly trying to find our… I guess our hashtag… Where Black Lives Matter was a response, a direct response to police brutality, and the systemic racism that’s happening in our society… But for us, using a line like “Asian Lives Matter” kind of throws… Kind of distracts from what Black Lives Matter is actually fighting for, because Black Lives Matter also encompasses the marginalized voices that we have… That they’re also fighting for the marginalized voices… So to say “Asian Lives Matter” takes away from that. And so we have been kind of struggling to find… A solid… Voice or a solid… Title to call our movement… We’ve started with “They Can’t Burn Us All” because of an issue of two New Yorkers just lighting an elder on fire simply just for walking down the street. And so we started with stuff like “They Can’t Burn Us All,” and then with the different attacks of someone being sliced across the face with a blade, we started saying… “They Can’t Cut Us All.” And we’re just still continually just trying to find our voice.
So we as a group, we’re still trying to find our name, our hashtag… We are fighting alongside… #MeToo, we’re fighting alongside the LGBTQ community, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous movement… Any group that has… Been marginalized that has their own movement, we’re all fighting together as one to abolish this patriarchy, this poverty, to fight all the injustices that are happening right now.