'How much do you cost?' Rikke lives with your prejudices about Asians

22 November 2020

- Hey, I just want to know if you're still standing here later today.

A man's voice interrupts my thoughts while I am standing on Jagtvej in Nørrebro waiting for a colleague this Monday morning.

I look up and see a young family man with a child seat on the bike. He looks like someone on his way to work.

After a few seconds it dawns on me what he is actually asking me. And for the rare occasion I get so pissed off that I get nothing but "uh, NO!" before he cycles on in a hurry.

'Land in the wrong family'

The article's writer, Rikke Bjerge, is a journalist at DR Ung Digital, born in South Korea and raised in Denmark.

On DR3, there is more focus on adoption in the new documentary series 'The country in the wrong family'. Here you can follow Netra Sommer's struggle to be separated from her adoptive parents. Watch all four episodes on DRTV here.

The episode happened some time ago, but I still remember the feeling I was left with.

It was not a feeling of anger or of having been violated. It was more a sadness that I - Rikke, who was adopted from South Korea as a child and grew up in Allerød, got top marks in Danish, became a journalist and has always done my best to fit in - was again seen as an Asian, which was obviously equal to being for sale.

Because believe me - it can be next level shit to look like "we" do when I'm, for example, in the area around Istedgade in Copenhagen to visit friends, or when I'm sitting on a bench at Town Hall Square. And I have found myself in it, laughed at it and become immune because I cannot bear to die as a bitter and offended woman.

I just want to hasten to add that it is not because I stand out more than the 9,000 other adoptees from South Korea who have ended up in Denmark. It happens to all the Asian women I know.

One of them was visiting the other day and told about the year she was a ski bum in Austria, and every single day men came up to her in the bar and asked for a price. Mind you, not on the beers.

Body rather than a human being

Mira C. Skadegård is a researcher in structural discrimination at Aalborg University. She is an expert in how racism is hidden in everyday norms.

- It is a form of psychological violence to be othered and emphasized because of one's supposed race, both when it is positive and negative. It can be anything from your skin to your eyes and your size or build. And it often happens, right from a young age, by well-intentioned people around you. You become a certain kind of body rather than a person.


There are some very common codes of social politeness that somehow go awry when a person doesn't have the same trait.MIRA C. SKADEGÅRD, RESEARCHER IN STRUCTURAL DISCRIMINATION

At the same time, a sexualization can occur when you have Asian body features, she points out.

- Humans are one race, yet we act as if we are several "races". And there are some very specific expectations linked to sexuality and race, where, for example, a woman with Asian features is seen as submissive and submissive, and gay men with Asian features are expected to be sexually passive.

- There are some stereotypes that lie so deeply in our story and narrative, she says.

I think back to an episode when I was an intern at a national newspaper and had to do a pre-interview with a critically acclaimed director. Along the way he tried to get me drunk, told me he had a thing for Asian women and asked if he could get a photographer to take pictures of me naked in a forest for a new art book.

"You have to speak up if you want a mature lover", he subsequently wrote to me.

According to Mira C. Skadegård, something can happen to the respect when you speak to me rather than someone who looks "genuinely" Danish.

- There are some very common codes of social politeness, which somehow go awry when a person does not have the same trait. It can go from problematic, bordering on the non-respectful, she explains.

The 'wrong' Asian

26-year-old Aphinya Jatuparisakul is a photographer, activist and deputy head of The Red Van, which works with vulnerable street people.

She was born in Thailand and came to Denmark when she was five, after her mother traveled to Denmark on her own initiative as a "marriage migrant" to find a husband.

She finds it remarkable how Asians are often seen as one particular type: the Thai woman from the massage clinic.

And the list of the remarks she has had thrown at her head over time is long. It ranges from "the merchant's daughter" to a guy who stuck a note at her when she was sitting on a bench at the Planetarium in Copenhagen and asked: "Is that enough for you?".

She believes that we Asians also have a responsibility if we have to change something. And that is not to kick down the sex worker that we are compared to.

- We get nowhere by clinging to the thought: "How can people think that about me ? I'm not like them." This is a common fight and we Asians must have each other's backs because we all know how hurtful and painful it is when people look at you in a disrespectful way. Whether you are adopted or you came here in another way, says Aphinya Jatuparisakul.


We don't want to admit it, but we have a subconscious that causes us to have aversions to what we don't know, what in our eyes is different and strange.GEIR HELGESEN, CULTURAL SOCIOLOGIST

According to her, this requires looking inward and thinking that we are all in the same boat.

- What fucking hurts is that people put us in boxes and categorize us as someone they don't respect. After all, people shouldn't believe a damn about us.

Even with the current focus on sexism, Aphinya Jatuparisakul still believes there is a long way to go before the perception of Asian women changes.

- I see it as incredibly uphill, because it doesn't just come from men. Many well-intentioned women who are fighting the MeToo case are also helping to keep Asian women in a very stuck position as someone who finds herself in everything. They are no better than those who shout "Thai people". They screw up the clammy white men and reduce all Thai women to subservient and docile, she explains.

She has seen it with her mother, who is one of almost 13,000 Thais living in Denmark - of whom four out of five are women.

- When I was younger, it affected me a lot how it was viewed, and I had to listen to all sorts of nasty jokes. My mother is a marriage migrant and came here for a chance at a better life and to take ownership of her future. Still, many Danes see it as exploitation when she then marries a Danish man, it says.

I think of myself when I'm out to eat with my father, where I rush to say "Dad" very loudly so that no one doubts our relationship. Or when I lived in Bangkok and my (white) boyfriend got so fed up with the stares of other tourists that he had enough and stood up in the middle of a restaurant and shouted: "She's my girlfriend, she's 28, and she's from Denmark!" .

Aversion to the different

But why is it so difficult to change people's prejudices? I am calling Geir Helgesen, who is a cultural sociologist, Asia expert and former head of NIAS - Nordic Institute for Asian Studies - at the University of Copenhagen.

- It's a form of stupid racism that shapes people's thinking about other people, he says and explains further:

- We don't want to admit it, but we have a subconscious which causes us to have aversions to what we don't know, what in our eyes is different and strange. We have created a perception of reality in the West that our values ​​and norms are universal. It is not up for discussion. But this view that our feelings and thoughts are the only right ones does not hold up a metre, he says.

What can we do about it?

- We have to make a choice. Should we ridicule and look down on everyone else, or should we learn to maneuver in a global order where there are a lot of differences and where we cannot transfer our reality to theirs?

As China becomes more influential everywhere, perhaps there will be a greater respect for Asians?

- It can go either way. Because as China gains more and more power, I see an increasing "China-bashing" of the "shit Chinese" who are "to blame for corona and are monitoring us". It can therefore have the opposite effect, that it becomes even more difficult to look Asian, Geir Helgesen believes.

According to researcher Mira C. Skadegård, there is not one easy solution. Because it lies in the fact that we all have to work with ourselves.

- The problem is that we don't understand racism. In our everyday life, many people immediately think that only evil people with evil intentions are racists. So as soon as we ourselves are caught in a racist act, we go on the defensive and push it far away because we associate it with non-moral people, she says, adding:

- But the whole point is that we should not group, but see each other as individuals. We will see you as Rikke.