The Woman Post spoke with Emi Imai, a teacher, and entrepreneur currently based in the UK. She has Japanese ethnicity and doesn’t fully identify as Asian.
The Woman Post | Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra
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Emi Imai's appearance is that of a Japanese woman, but she isn't identified by a nationality as she has lived in the USA, Germany, Thailand, China, Japan, and the UK, the longest, for over thirty years. She identifies as Earthian or just human, consequently, she finds a trigger for discrimination in tagging humans within categories.
As a person with Asian physical features, Emi has faced discrimination while living in countries outside Asia. This not only represented painful and unfair experiences, but also important personal reflections on identity, compassion, and systems of privilege and oppression.
Her personal experiences with racism started when she was 8 years old in the United States and she was told by two classmates to go back to where she was from. “It was the first time in my life that I experienced unjustifiable mistreatment. It still feels horrible, like a bad smell still lingering, or a knot in the chest undigested.” Her rational self now knows how not to be affected negatively in order to be okay. When her son experienced something similar she told him “these events make us kinder because we won't make other people feel the way we felt.”
As a teacher, she didn’t experience racism in the UK, for over thirty years, until last year when Emi encountered harassment by a colleague. “From day one, she would not smile, or say anything kind instead always looking for faults and telling me how I am doing things in a 'wrong' way to how she/school did it.” Another colleague noticed but did not support her. It was the first time that she experienced discrimination and she didn't realize until afterwards. “It was every day, grinding you down, like a downward spiral. She'd be merrily laughing with others, then suddenly stop as soon as I enter the room and leave a tense and awkward atmosphere.”
Emi thinks that many of these people know that they are doing something wrong so they do it in indirect ways.” It’s more like negative vibes that they express. There was hatred in my colleague’s eyes, face, gestures, and mannerisms that you could not deny. So, it's difficult to ask for support because you end up being the trouble maker or being difficult.” No matter how kind Emi was, her colleague’s attitude didn't change. Then COVID-19 came and with lockdown, she was able to leave, as she was a long-term supply teacher there. “Last day she left without even saying goodbye.”
Emi has expressed that, sometimes, in order to maintain good mental health when being subject to racism, the best option is to stay away from these people. However, she raises the problem that it represents when racism happens at work or other circumstances you cannot avoid “what can the minorities do then? If you do not have financial stability, you cannot risk losing your job. So, it's vital to ask ourselves and our communities, how can we help those people trapped in these situations?”
Emi considers we should challenge preconceived ideas about our perceptions of people. According to her, you only combat racism by questioning your perspective and perception while raising awareness on the root cause, tagging people in categories defined by their identity.
She thinks identity politics have come to a saturation point. Identity politics argue that people with a particular religion, race, class, or other identifying factors, develop political agendas and organize based on intertwined systems of oppression. According to her, a divide and rule game is encouraged by privileged people and the media. “Asian, black, women, nationalities, etc. These are all arbitrary categories that humans made. Each one of us has multiples of these so-called identities and that itself needs to be reexamined. It's not helpful because people feel more solidarity with those they have something in common with in terms of these categories.” Emi believes that being mindful of these categories helps to tackle things not only from an empathetic or sympathetic perspective but with compassion based on equality.