The &ASIAN team understand that throughout the diaspora it might be hard to talk or voice any worries might have, even to family or friends. We are here for you, and in our &ASIAN Cares series, we try to help direct you to places that might be able to help you further. We are not an authority on what it means to be Asian or any of these issues, but we are always here to listen and help you feel less alone.
Dear &ASIAN Cares,
I’m an international student in the UK currently, and whilst I’m super happy at my uni and I have a great circle of friends, I also feel that in most circles I am the only Asian person present and I either have to adapt my personality to be more comfortable near whiteness, or have to make jokes outwardly about being the only POC in the friend group as a way to include it in the conversation. How can I make my social life more comfortable without feeling like I’m lecturing my friends?
Thank you for writing in! Firstly, your feelings are completely valid. As much as movies and television try to depict these days, it’s not always natural to immediately fall into a perfectly balanced and diverse friend group. And usually in an academic setting, it’s more often than not that friend groups are formed through sharing classes, being in the same departments or living in the same dorms.
If everyone in your group is white, it’s possible that there’s a whole area of experience that you live of which they have no real first-hand knowledge of. Without that being verbalized, it can sometimes feel a bit as if your friends are avoiding the topic, or not acknowledging it at all. Sometimes, it can also be difficult because the acknowledgement of this difference can make people awkward, or defensive. It can also be tiring if you find that your white friends are unable to connect with the topic appropriately, which creates a kind of labour for you in explaining your perspective.
It’s important in acknowledging those difficulties above that we also acknowledge that giving your friends the benefit of doubt (especially if they are your community) could lead to people surprising you for the better. A stepping stone in bridging that disconnect is in your hands– you can start to naturally share more in conversation your experiences as a POC, or as an Asian person, if the topic comes up. Give yourself permission sometimes in stating that your experience in a certain situation is going to be different because of your identity and the state of the world we live in; don’t sugarcoat it if you feel comfortable being fully honest. The most important thing is to constantly check in with yourself on how it made you feel and how it was received. Evaluate the personal relationships in determining how comfortable you are in being vulnerable, and more importantly– your energy and your mental wellness is the top and utmost priority.
If you feel that these conversations can be draining or frustrating, you can always step back and ask to take some time, or have some space. You will also learn from these conversations where your boundaries are, and how much time and energy you are willing to give in bridging these disconnects. The labour of explaining POC perspectives is also not inherently the labour of POC; feel free to also share resources with your friends if they wish to know more! If they care about you and respect you, a little bit of work on their part to understand you and your life deeper should not be a burden. Ultimately, you should always prioritize your wellness and remember that actions speak louder than words. Learn from this process what you are comfortable with and what your needs are– it’s also a possibility to join student groups or clubs that bring together people who share more with you culturally, to forge additional relationships in your life that fulfill this need. Not all friends can fulfill everything, and it’s a beautiful thing to run in multiple circles for all of your interests and needs. The most important quality that every friend should share is a respect for you and who you are, and a genuine desire to always uplift you rather than dismiss you.
The &ASIAN team x