"We hated each other!"
Meet Anna and Tom. We sat down with them on a bench by a little pond in West London.
They may look different in appearance. Anna is of Chinese descent, and Tom is British.
But both of them grew up in the UK. And so share British cultural understanding and values.
Here's their story:
Anna and Tom met while studying at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Anna came from the North of the UK from a seaside town called Morecambe, and Tom came from the South near Hertfordshire.
Just like playground fancies or the plot of a korean drama, they joked about how they hated each other at first before realising they actually liked each other.
A: "It was like little kids in the school yard"
There's a cute story of how Tom finally made his move on Anna. He asked Anna to watch a film together (Fight Club)
T: “She didn’t realise when I was trying to get nearer and she kept edging away. Until I put my arm around her and then she was like 'ohhhh'”
A: “He literally had to chase me!”
They've moved to London and have been together now for an impressive 12 years! One of their favourite memories was their first big trip together to Vietnam. But besides the big trips, they also treasure the smaller moments.
They recalled a moment that made them smile when they saw a guy doing a bunch of pushups on the street. These random laugh out loud moments are then documented in a little notebook they share.
T: “We break it out once every few months... It’s sort of like a time capsule... it allows you to laugh and is a reflection of us”
A: "He'll doodle in there, whereas I'll be writing the quotes"
Interracial vs Intercultural
Since both were raised in the UK, we touched on how diversity in love is not only about what's on the surface.
Even if you look like you're from different races, you can still share the same cultural values. On the flip side, you can look similar, but have grown up in completely different parts of the world.
T: "Anna's English as anything...but the fact you are English, doesn't take away that you're Chinese and how that's a massively important part."
A: "Yeah, I have a lot of things I've taken from it, like respecting your elders. Although we try and challenge that quite healthily, as we've grown up together over these 12 years, to try and undo some of the [potential] damage that Asian culture can actually bring out."
Given they both equally consider UK to be home, Tom had some initial reservations about discussing their diverse relationship.
T: "Even though we're technically an interracial couple, I guess we never really thought of us that way... obviously I clocked Anna was Chinese, but you were just this cool girl from the North. It wasn't the first consideration when we first met."
Instead, Tom sees learning about Chinese culture as a new exciting part of his life. At the same time, he is conscious not to overstep his bounds.
T: "I want to have an enthusiasm but I don’t want to appropriate it.. like a misguided white person who thinks he knows more."
Tom embraces all these new experiences with an open heart and mind. For example, even though he doesn't like eating durian (a fruit from Asia) at least he knows this from trying it. And isn't that the main point?
The Asian Minority Experience
As part of the British Chinese minority in the UK, Anna experienced racism growing up in the North, but has never felt a sense of shame about being Chinese. She has since become a passionate Equality champion, having started up the Asian Leadership Collective and ESEA in Tech to amplify East and South East Asian voices.
A: "In uni... even though Manchester has a big Chinese community, you get the comments like 'oh is Jackie Chan your uncle?' when you're getting ID'ed and I'll just be like 'haha, yeah yeah mate, let me in it's cold'. But you just choose your battles I think."
Anna feels lucky to have Tom as a partner that understands and supports her connection to her heritage.
A: "I think it's about Respect... I'm quite lucky that you (Tom) just is like yep let's go to China and pick up this chicken from my uncle... I would be quite sad if you (Tom) weren't a family orientated person or someone who wants to spend time with my grandmas"
However, being with Tom has also meant she's indirectly received the odd comments linked to her race. When Tom mentions the fact Anna is Chinese in passing conversation for example:
T: "I've had a couple of comments from people at the pub like "ah is that sort of like a thai bride situation" - which is massively offensive."
A: "To you and to me."
They recall an instance where a friend referred to Anna as Tom's 'asian babe'. Even as a joke, this has negative connotations linked to the stereotype of a meek asian female.
A: "And then they meet me and I'm not the quiet asian girl. [jokingly] I rock up in my tights, punching people!"
There's also been the occasional side comment from family.
T: "Not meant in a racist way but stemming from a misplaced idea of what it means to be comfortable around another race... I think it's very important to call out those comments, they got a kick under the table."
Even from Anna's side, Tom once got asked by Anna's mom "Ah so you like Chinese girls then?" To which he responded "Well I like Anna."
While living in London has meant that there is less ignorance, there are still pockets of microaggressions or questionable 'banter'.
T: "It's just like a frustrating thing when you get those comments - people don't think they're being mean and racist about it."
A: "Even if they don't intend to be offensive, it's still important to call it out. Or else that emboldens people to say it to others. That makes it normalised."
T: "The important thing that needs to be said is that it's not just white guys, which is a shame because I think for someone who has had to go through things themselves to do it to someone else... It's a very hard thing for me to understand."
A: "I think hurt people hurt other people to get the frustration out"
T: "And it makes me sad that you (Anna) have to go through that. And I sort of feel powerless because I don't want to be that white guy that tells everybody how to feel."
Well said guys.
On White Privilege
During our chat with them, we were stunned by how self-aware and forthcoming Tom was about white privilege.
T: "My experience as being a white guy is I've not had to question anything my whole life. It is literally like a privilege. It's something I'm acutely aware of"
Not only does he call himself “just a boring white guy”, but he also takes it upon himself to call out inappropriate comments against other races (Yes Tom! 👏).
Being white doesn't mean you are exempt from being typecast though, and you might even be seen as the 'novelty'. One situation where this can happen is during 'yum cha' lunches with Anna's relatives, where despite the language barriers and Tom's advanced chopsticks skills, he still gets the odd reactions.
T: "There are times they've laughed at me but I guess I see the joke of it because I don't have to go through it every day... And when we travel to Asia, there's been a few times where people want to take my picture and things."
Anna and Tom also acknowledge how the white male & asian female pairing can be idealised, and therefore grant a certain privilege.
A: “If I look big picture... in Asian culture, it's expected that you would potentially have a white partner. It's almost perceived as 'the best of the interracial' so it's more accepted. There’s almost like a rank, which sounds wrong, but I do feel like there are couples that go through a lot worse than we do.."
Given this embedded belief in the Asian community, Tom hasn't had troubles with acceptance from Anna's family, but they have other speculations as to why this is the case. With Tom's dark hair and the fact Anna is not dark skinned, their physical differences are not far enough apart for people to double take when seeing them together. They believe this has helped contribute to receiving less stigma.
T: "It seems like a small thing but when I went to meet her family in China, they basically said 'ah he essentially looks Chinese'. They were expecting me to have blond hair and blue eyes.. so think I was more accepted in terms of that."
We hope that this interview and photo shoot made it into their little book of special moments. Before we parted ways, they shared their favourite thing about the other person: while Tom mentioned he really admires Anna as a person, they both said it had to be their shared sense of humor.
A: "We can just be silly with each other, and we're very accepting of one another. It's that journey together."
📺 Currently watching: Rick and Morty
✈️ Next travel plan: Taiwan for the street food!
🍦 Guess their favourite ice cream flavour: They aren't really ice cream people but Tom shares that Anna's favourite food is strangely enough - potatoes and yams.