#inspiredbystories

‘Where Do You Really Come From?’

Using talent for greater good. Le Hong, 26 years old student from Berlin, fights with racism through her art on 'Where Do You Really Come From?'. She talks about raising awareness, taking action and why it’s not enough to speak up just on social media

Can you tell us about your comics project ‘Where Do You Really Come From?’ and how it started?

I am still a student and as a side project I started ‘Where Do You Really Come From?’ (‘woher kommst du wirklich?’) – my Instagram channel, where I post drawings about my experiences with racism and cultural issues or things that I grew up with as a Vietnamese-German. I began this project last year, in September. Before that, I never really gave much thought about things like racism, because this happened a lot in my daily life, so it became almost ‘normal’ to me. After I read the book ‘White Fragility’, I thought about it more and about the things that happened to me. I started drawing being inspired by anime and manga comics, that’s where I got my biggest influence from.

Illustration: Le Hong

Is it the personal experience that inspired your comics or you wanted to start this as a social project?

I think that one side is definitely my experience with ‘everyday’ racism. I haven’t been physically attacked (yet), fortunately. But racism is not just physical violence. I do get questions, such as ‘Where do you really come from?’ or ‘Why do you speak German so well?’, which are also very harmful. These micro aggressions are something that Germans don’t understand and they question why people of colour are angry or why they are irritated when you ask them these things. And that’s why I started to draw my daily encounters with these problems. I chose this cute and humorous comic-style, because I want people to see that even if the situation is taken lightly and it doesn’t seem racist in the first place, there is always the chance that you irritate or hurt people of colour with your ignorance. My aim was to highlight that. When I get asked such questions and people interrogate me ‘Where am I really from’, it feels like I’m not part of this country or at least that I’m not seen as part of this country. So I wanted to show that people like me feel this way and why these questions are not correct. I use my talent and abilities for greater good. It’s not that I had a specific goal in mind, I just wanted to draw my experiences. Now it’s getting bigger and I’m happy that it gets this recognition, but I’m also a little bit overwhelmed!

“When people interrogate me ‘Where am I really from’, it feels like I’m not part of this country or at least that I’m not seen as part of this country”

Now, that it’s became this impactful project, do you have any plans to take it further?

For now, I’m going to keep it as it is. I’ve received multiple messages from people who would like to collaborate, for example to do a graphic novel in the future. But it’s not something that I am thinking about at the moment. For now, I want to focus on studying and work on the ‘Where do you really come from’ channel and make an impact, but for now I want it to remain in its current form.

Illustration: Le Hong

What is your main goal you want to achieve?

Firstly, I think a lot of people, or rather, a lot of white people think that East-Asians don’t experience racism, which is simply not true. I, as a Vietnamese-German, receive racist comments or actions every day. And secondly, it’s crucial to me to point out to others, who might not be aware of it, that it’s not just that racism occurs when people of colour are being literally physically attacked or being discriminated openly. It’s a structural problem. And, for example, just because someone has friends, who are people of color or is in interracial relationship, doesn’t mean that they can’t be racist. I want to make this clear and for people to see those things clearly. That’s what my main goal is.

“People tend to be more vocal on social media, but they don’t do enough in real life situations”

Do you think that people are speaking up enough about this topic? Is anything changing now?

I think that people are only speaking up about racism when there is a ‘bigger’ problem, when something happens. Let’s take, for example, the recent events with the murder of George Floyd – people are opening conversations about racism, as if it just started. The problem is, that the majority of people only talk about such things when someone dies or when something extreme happens. And then there’s a lot of commotion and people are shocked. Then it catches people’s attention, they post about ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement on social media, but then when it is over, when some time passes, people suddenly forget. I think this is a huge problem. And I don’t see that this is changing at the moment. Right now this is a topic, because a black person died, but after some time it’s going be forgotten again. When people see the injustice happening openly, for example someone saying racist jokes or comments, people don’t speak up. They don’t help. Let’s say you are in a tram and you see someone being harassed or a victim of racial slurs, most people wouldn’t act on it. People tend to be more vocal on social media, but they don’t do enough in real life situations.

Illustration: Le Hong

Now in the Corona crisis, do you think that the situation got worse?

I think it’s worse for Asians, especially for East-Asian people. And it’s not something that’s new, but they are attacked and bullied more openly in public places.

“It’s important that people of color have their own stage in Germany, so that they have the opportunity to speak up, without having white people speaking for them”

How do we tackle this, in order to change the lives of minorities sustainable? Do you have advice for others on what could be done?

I can say with certainty that education is very important. Knowing your own privileges, for example white privilege, is also crucial. Even me, as a Vietnamese-German, I also know my own privileges. Another important lesson: LISTEN. Listen to people of color, listen to black people, to Asian people, to any marginalized group. And then take action and help them. However, one thing is crucial here: Speak with them, but not for them. Speak up to empower them, but don’t take their spotlight, don’t make that about you. I think it’s important that people of color have their own stage in Germany, so that they have the opportunity to speak up, without having white people speaking for them. They have to talk for themselves, it’s their voices that need to be heard. That’s crucial. But also, always remember that it’s okay to make mistakes, that it’s a process that you have to learn and then just apologize when you do something wrong and just learn and educate yourself again.

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