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“Somebody has to question the things that nobody wants to question.”
— Unknown


“Somebody has to question the things that nobody wants to question.”

— Unknown



Superhero Movies: More Than Just Blockbusters?

I don’t quite know HOW I missed this awesome article by British film and theatre actor Tom Hiddleston of Thor, War Horse and The Avengers fame. Here’s his piece on the invisible or overlooked significances of superhero and comic book films. Original article from the Guardian 19th April 2012. 


Earlier this year, beneath the wind-whipped tarpaulin of a catering tent in Gloucester, I was working on a film with the actor Malcolm Sinclair. Over scrambled eggs at an ungodly hour, he told me something I had not previously known: when Christopher Reeve was young, barely out of Juilliard, he was roundly mocked by his peers on Broadway for accepting the role of Superman. It was considered an ignoble thing for a classical actor to do.

I grew up watching Superman. As a child, when I first learned to dive into a swimming pool, I wasn’t diving, I was flying, like Superman. I used to dream of rescuing a girl I had a crush on (my Lois Lane) from a playground bully (General Zod). Reeve, to my mind, was the first real superhero.

Since then some of the greatest actors have turned superheroes into a serious business: Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman; Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, the first venerable knights of the X-Men, who have now passed the baton to Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. In spite of 20 years of mercurial work in the likes of Chaplin and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it was his rock-star-charismatic yet somehow humble Tony Stark in Iron Man that helped wider audiences finally embrace the enormous talent of Robert Downey Jr. And Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight quite simply changed the game. He raised the bar not just for actors in superhero films, but young actors everywhere; for me. His performance was dark, anarchic, dizzying, free, and totally, thrillingly, dangerous.

Actors in any capacity, artists of any stripe, are inspired by their curiosity, by their desire to explore all quarters of life, in light and in dark, and reflect what they find in their work. Artists instinctively want to reflect humanity, their own and each other’s, in all its intermittent virtue and vitality, frailty and fallibility.

I have never been more inspired than when I watched Harold Pinter speak in a direct address to camera in his Nobel lecture in 2005. “Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond with the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Some times you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.”

Big talk for someone in a silly superhero film, I hear you say. But superhero films offer a shared, faithless, modern mythology, through which these truths can be explored. In our increasingly secular society, with so many disparate gods and different faiths, superhero films present a unique canvas upon which our shared hopes, dreams and apocalyptic nightmares can be projected and played out. Ancient societies had anthropomorphic gods: a huge pantheon expanding into centuries of dynastic drama; fathers and sons, martyred heroes, star-crossed lovers, the deaths of kings – stories that taught us of the danger of hubris and the primacy of humility. It’s the everyday stuff of every man’s life, and we love it. It sounds cliched, but superheroes can be lonely, vain, arrogant and proud. Often they overcome these human frailties for the greater good. The possibility of redemption is right around the corner, but we have to earn it.

The Hulk is the perfect metaphor for our fear of anger; its destructive consequences, its consuming fire. There’s not a soul on this earth who hasn’t wanted to “Hulk smash” something in their lives. And when the heat of rage cools, all that we are left with is shame and regret. Bruce Banner, the Hulk’s humble alter ego, is as appalled by his anger as we are. That other superhero Bruce – Wayne – is the superhero-Hamlet: a brooding soul, misunderstood, alone, for ever condemned to avenge the unjust murder of his parents. Captain America is a poster boy for martial heroism in military combat: the natural leader, the war hero. Spider-Man is the eternal adolescent – Peter Parker’s arachnid counterpart is an embodiment of his best-kept secret – his independent thought and power.

Superhero movies also represent the pinnacle of cinema as “motion picture”. I’d like to think that the Lumière brothers would thrill at the cat-and-mouse chase through the netherworld streets of Gotham in The Dark Knight, with helicopters tripping on high-tensile wires and falling from the sky, and a huge Joker-driven triple-length truck upending 180 degrees like a Russian acrobat. I hope that they would cheer and delight at the rollercoaster ride through the skies of Manhattan at the end of Avengers Assemble. These scenes are the result of a creative engine set in motion when the Lumières shot L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat in 1895. The trains just move a lot faster these days. And not just trains; trucks, bikes, bat-mobiles and men in flying, shining iron suits. The spectacle is part of the fun – part of the art, part of our shared joy.

How far I hope we have come since the judgment of Christopher Reeve’s peers. Maybe playing superheroes isn’t such an ignoble undertaking after all. “I still believe in heroes,” says Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury in Avengers Assemble. So do I, sir. So do I.



Response: Are disabled people really 'undateable'?

I had been waiting for a good piece to blog about next, and found the perfect article sitting in my Tumblr feed all along! The following is a moving response by tattooposer to Sharon Brennan’s earlier piece here

I’ve always been thankful I’ve had my boyfriend to be with me ever since I got my disorder. I would sometimes say to him “I’m bald and I have Tourette’s, who would want to date me?”

I wouldn’t say my disorder has shattered my confidence or anything, I hardly got attention from guys before my disorder so I haven’t really noticed any difference. But I figured it would be a little more difficult to be in the dating scene with a disorder like this.

Then, there was one day I was in my school’s library at one of the computers. A guy sat down next to me and asked where I got my tattoo. He had tattoos and piercings as well, so we got to talking about them (his and mine). We introduced ourselves and got to talking about other things too. In the middle of the conversation I got a sinking feeling of “oh no, I’m totally hitting it off with this guy, how do I stop this?” I can’t just stop mid-conversation and say “I think I like you but I am committed to my boyfriend I must go now!” Our interaction ended with nothing more than a “it was nice to meet you” but it made me realize that I was able to hit it off with a guy without my disorder getting in the way. Now, what a guy would do if he was interested in a girl to then learn she has Tourette’s I don’t know, but it’s nice to know there are still possibilities.



I’ve been very lucky in my career, being a woman in a man’s world, but there’s still so much prejudice out there, the old boys’ club…We need to pay a lot of attention to women’s participation in America and Europe as well as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and all the usual suspects. And could we please have a female head of a broadcast or cable news network in America already? Come on. It is time. Now.
Christiane Amanpour, leading US broadcast journalist for both CNN and ABC, in a recent interview with Hadley Freeman of the Guardian newspaper. View the complete interview here
Julian Bialowas can always be relied upon to combine his photography and text placement and create stupidly moving images. He is a freelance designer and photographer currently living in Calgary, Canada. Check out more of his beautiful graphics here and here 
Thanks to my friend Luke for introducing the work of Julian Bialowas to me - you’ll spend hours looking at his work too, I promise!

Julian Bialowas can always be relied upon to combine his photography and text placement and create stupidly moving images. He is a freelance designer and photographer currently living in Calgary, Canada. Check out more of his beautiful graphics here and here 

Thanks to my friend Luke for introducing the work of Julian Bialowas to me - you’ll spend hours looking at his work too, I promise!



Frank Warren founded Post Secret, a project that began as an experiment in Washington DC involving Frank passing blank postcards to strangers in hope that they would send in a secret they had never shared with anybody. It has since developed into a global phenomenon, with strangers from all over the world sending in their secrets, which range from being “shocking, silly or soulful”. Check out the website:

In this TED talk, Frank shares a few of the secrets he’s been sent. The act of sharing something so private with the world has endless potential. 


Are disabled people really ‘undateable’?

The article below by Sharon was taken from the Guardian on 3rd April 2012.


Tonight sees the launch of Channel 4's new documentary series The Undateables. It follows a group of people with different disabilities as they use dating agencies to try to find love. The original blurb said that the show would follow “a range of people whose ability to form relationships is affected by an impairment or challenging condition – such as being deaf, or having Tourette’s”. I’m not deaf nor do I have Tourette syndrome, but I wouldn’t have thought either of those conditions has an impact on a person’s “ability to form a relationship”. As far as I’m aware, commitment and falling in love doesn’t have much to do with whether you can hear clearly or not.

Since then, Channel 4 seems to have rather wisely removed this blurb and pushed the bigotry onto the general public, saying we live in a world where “too many people … consider some to be undateable”. It’s fair to say the channel hasn’t got off to a great start publicising this series. No wonder, then, that online opinion is split as to whether this show is a timely documentary aimed at challenging public stereotypes or a thinly veiled Victorian freak-show. The nine people featured in the documentary have all chosen to take part and it would be condescending to suggest that they were unable to make an informed decision to do so, but the show does clearly set up a distinction between disabled people and non-disabled people, setting them apart from everyone else in society. Such a division is worrying in a climate where disabled hate crime is on the rise. While Channel 4 may hope to change perceptions of disability with this show, the way to combat it is surely to portray a society in which disabled people are just part and parcel of mainstream society, rather than dwell on the differences. After all, love is one area where everyone – no matter what their race, sexuality or health – struggles to find “the one”.

We all have horror-dating stories to tell, whether we are disabled or not. As someone with cystic fibrosis (CF), I once dated someone who was attracted to “ill” people as it made him feel more like a man. My rubbish lungs didn’t feel like the only barrier to that relationship and I didn’t want to stay with him just because he was “willing” to date me. Having a serious illness has made me genuinely understand the brevity of life – and for me, that means not putting up with a bad relationship just so I can say I’m attached.

But equally, it is still difficult to tell someone your body isn’t going to win any awards for outstanding health. CF is a hidden illness, so while it devastates my lungs, you wouldn’t know I’ve got an incurable degenerative illness when you first meet me. A few years back, on the day Gordon Brown revealed his young son had been born with CF, a paper asked to reprint a piece I’d written about living with the illness. I wavered, knowing that the article might put off a guy I’d only been dating for three weeks, but then realised I didn’t want to compromise my career through fear of being single. So I told him over dinner. The next day, he sent me a text to apologise for moaning about the fact I only ever had soya milk in the fridge.

The relationship lasted another eight months before we went our separate ways. Did we split up because of my health? Who knows. But I can’t help thinking about the many disabled teenagers out there who struggle enough with medical regimes, doctor’s appointments and perhaps a life expectancy that isn’t the same as their peers. They have enough to worry about without walking round town, only to come across posters hailing their sort as the new “undateables”.

Starting with its title, the programme builds on the assumption that disability is automatically a negative condition that makes it highly unusual to find love and, at the very least, will always remain a burden inflicted upon a potential partner. Yet in 2008, I met my partner through a mutual friend. On our wedding day 10 months ago, he told me that one of the things that made him fall in love with me was the strength with which I deal with my disability. Growing up differently can bring a unique perspective to life, and that can bring great love and vitality into both partners’ lives. I’d like to think my husband is as lucky to have me as I am to have him.


Sharon Brennan is a writer and journalist living with Cystic Fibrosis. Follow her on twitter @SharonBrennan and check out her blog



Rue is black. And rascism is still an issue.

I was going to blog/rant about this, but felt like Nicole from hellogiggles basically summed up my views on the matter. This post and Nicole’s bio were taken from a blog post on


I will be the first to admit that when I first read The Hunger Games, I pictured Rue as a little white girl. Then, when the movie was being cast and they were looking for a young black actress for the role, I went back. Yep, sure enough, on page 45, Rue is described as having “dark brown skin and eyes”. Embarrassingly, I had somehow managed to overlook this extremely clear description. However, this was a character I had fallen in love with, rooted for and sobbed over. Did the fact that she had a different skin color than I had imagined change my feelings toward her? Absolutely not. Did I cry my eyes out in the theater when little Amandla Stenberg stuttered out her final words? You betcha.  Therefore, I found it really disturbing this week when a wave of Hunger Games fans began tweeting in outrage at the fact that Rue was played by a black actress.

The first issue here is that so many fans, including myself, imagined this girl to be white despite a very obvious physical description to the contrary. It is easy to say that people are racist for thinking in this way, but I think the issue is bigger than individual thought process. I think this speaks volumes about where we are in terms of diversity representation in media. As our brains develop, we learn to fill in certain blanks based on patterns and past experiences. We grow up seeing that the majority of characters we are exposed to in books and on TV are white. Therefore, when we create a mental picture of characters and their race is not clearly stated (even in this case when it was), we tend to fill in the blank and assume they are white. This is called whitewashing and it’s a big thing.

The things we read, the shows we watch and the movies we go to – in addition to our experiences – shape our view of the world. I think if there were more diversity in mainstream literature, television and movies, we would learn not to assume whiteness so quickly. We assume that characters are white because… most of the time, they are.  I was recently reading an article about the upcoming show Scandal starring Kerry Washington. The article mentions, “It will be the first time in 30 years that a single African-American woman leads a primetime show on network TV.” That is mind-blowing to me. While cable channels seem to be much farther ahead in regards to diversity, they also aren’t as mainstream and accessible. Network TV shows have the highest ratings and largest audiences, yet the least diversity. This is where the problem lies.

In terms of writing, I generally think the way in which we choose to describe characters needs to be more balanced. Most non-white characters in books and scripts are explicitly described as such, but how often are white characters described as being white? When we read “cute 12-year-old boy”, many of us immediately picture a white 12-year-old boy, because if the boy is black, we’re used to it saying “black 12-year-old boy.” We either need to choose not to identify any characters racially and allow readers and casting directors to use their imaginations or identify them all equally. If writers are going to specify one character is black, Asian or Latino, they should conversely specify that another character is white. Treating one race as an adjective and another as an unstated assumption only furthers this form of whitewashed thinking.

Okay, now back to the issue of little Rue. I have already admitted to incorrectly assuming she was white and do not fault anyone else for thinking in a similar manner. However, I find the hateful responses of some fans when finding out that Rue was black to be very disturbing. First off, if you are such a big Hunger Games fan, where were you a year ago when they cast Amandla Stenberg as Rue? Also, why didn’t you go back to your book and check the character description before sticking your foot in your mouth? We need to learn to think before we broadcast our thoughts to the world.

Much more important than the poor research behind the tweets, however, were the hateful messages they contained. Some stated that the character’s death wasn’t as sad once they found out she was black. Others included racial slurs when referring to the character. Some claimed that Rue’s race had ruined the entire movie for them. While, I am by no means blind to the fact that racism still exists and is a major issue in our society, it blows my mind that in the year 2012 young people find it acceptable to post these things on a public forum. It makes me question if we, as a society, are actually starting to regress very much like that of Panem.

After taking a step back and reading many well-written and intelligent responses to these racist fans, I started to feel much better about the state of the world. I think the issue isn’t so much that we are regressing, but that more and more ignorant and hateful people have access to public forums. Anyone can open a Twitter account, Facebook page or Tumblr blog and broadcast their thoughts to the world. This, unfortunately, includes messages of racism, sexism, violence and hate. My hope is that these harmful posts don’t result in equally hateful responses, but in open discussions about race and representation. This is a great opportunity for all of us to open up a dialogue, become more aware and start to change the way we think about the world. How often does a blockbuster film give us the opportunity to discuss such an important issue? We need to take advantage of the hate and use it to create change. I think in terms of racism, we tend to focus on how much progress has been made and forget how far we still have to go. If these responses to Rue can teach us anything, it is how far we still have to go.


Nicole Paulhus is a writer/television enthusiast in Los Angeles with a talent for over thinking. This bio took her five hours to write. You can read more from Nicole on her blog or Twitter



Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author who is particularly interested in using literature to explore African heritage and its current post-colonial identities. Her works include Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck.

In this TED talk, she warns us about the dangers of a single story.

Thanks to my lovely friend Laura for showing me this - it’s a perfect addition to Invisible Identities.




"Find out what kids are good at. It will change their lives"

This post was a talk given at the recent TEDxObserver 2012 event


I’m working really hard at the minute trying to finish my directorial debut, Ill Manors, which is a hip-hop-based film. When people ask me what the film is about, I say it’s about all the things we read in the newspaper; the despicable things that I don’t think many of us agree with when we read them. The papers tell us that they happen but they never tell us why they happen. So Ill Manors is trying to get to the bottom of why we have these problems in society with our youth, why we constantly keep on reading negative things about our youth.

The reason I’ve done this is because I got kicked out of school in year 10 and no other schools would take me. I had to go to a pupil referral unit called the Tunmarsh Centre in Plaistow. I was there with other kids from a lot more dysfunctional families than me. They’d been through a lot more than me. And one thing we shared is we didn’t have any respect for authority, whether it be teachers or police.

I think the reason why we didn’t have respect for authority was that we felt that we were ignored by society, that we didn’t belong to it. And so we wouldn’t listen to anyone apart from our favourite rappers. We would let this music raise us and, though most of will never meet those artists in our lives, their words are what guided us.

Unfortunately, some of those words are negative. Within hip-hop there’s some that romanticises street life and being a gangster and selling drugs. But there’s also conscious hip-hop. I was a fan of conscious hip-hop. I was a fan of the hip-hop that was like poetry. It was like reading a book and it changed your life. Just one sentence could change your life. I realised that this was a powerful tool and I wanted to change things; I wanted to change the stuff that I read in the paper or the stuff that I came in direct contact with which I didn’t agree with.

Damilola Taylor was 10 years old when he lost his life. He was stabbed by a kid who was maybe only five or six years older than him. This is a child killing another child. I didn’t agree with that. I didn’t agree with the mentality that a lot of these kids were going round with, but I understood why they were going round with it. I understood that they were from broken families. They had parents who were probably alcoholics, drug addicts, dysfunctional, who raised them up to believe they could never make anything of themselves because they as parents never made anything of themselves.

The great thing about Tunmarsh was it was a place where these kids could go and, for the first time in their life, be shown encouragement and motivation and be told that they can make something of their lives. They can come from a negative family environment [but] they only have to bump into one person that can plant one positive seed in their head and in their heart and it can change their life. Tunmarsh was full of these positive teachers. When I left there I went on this journey through hip-hop music and I decided to write an album that tried to reach out to these kids and I tried in some ways, I guess, to be a father figure to these kids because they were parentless.

What does the word chav mean? The term may have its origins in the Romany word “chavi”, meaning child. My godfather used to call me chav, but it was affectionate. I used to enjoy it. So what does that word mean now? I believe it stands for “council house and violent”. It’s a word that is used to ridicule and label people who come from a less educated background than the rest of society. For me, it’s no different from similar words used to be prejudiced towards race or sex. The difference is, in this country we openly say the word chav. The papers openly ridicule the poor and less unfortunate. If you did the same thing with race or sex, there’d be public uproar and rightly so. But why is it different with this word?

I believe that there is a demonisation of the youth throughout the media. And people are falling for it, because if you’d had no direct contact with the kids that I’m talking about how the hell can you judge them? Because you’re only judging them based on something you read in a newspaper, aren’t you?

See, this fuels the fire. If you call kids words that are derogatory to them just because they are unlucky enough to be born into a family that couldn’t afford to give them the education that you had, they’re going to hate you. Of course they’re going to hate you and you’re going to hate them because of their actions. And it’s this vicious circle that goes round. By calling these kids these words you push them out of your society and they don’t feel part of it. You beat them into apathy and in the end they just say: “Cool, I don’t care. I don’t want to be part of your society.”

And then the riots happen, right? We’ve got a generation of youths out there on the streets. The weather is hot, it’s nice. They ain’t got nothing to do because all the community centres have been shut down. And all the money that was put into summer projects to keep these kids monitored and occupied [has gone]. Their parents ain’t going to take them out of the country on holiday. You’ve got a whole generation of kids that do not feel that they’re part of this society and they start rioting and looting. And taking the things that society has made them feel are the most important things. Sheldon Thomas [former gang member and mentor] said: “If you ask how we became a society where young peoplethink it’s OK to rob and loot, I respond how did we get to a society that cares more about shops and businesses than lives of young people.” That’s some strong words right there.

This guy, he’s from Forest Gate, comes from a dysfunctional family background like myself, had a bad attitude but [he’s] very talented. And I took him on the road with me and I showed him the opportunities that were out there for him. Andrew Curtis was trained by Vidal Sassoon. He was offered a very high-paying job. He said: “No, I don’t want to take your job. I won’t take your money.” He said: “I want to go and start an academy where we teach underprivileged kids how to cut hair.”

And so he did. Him and his girlfriend got this building and they set up this salon. They’re living there and they’re putting their hands in their pockets to pay for the things that these kids need in order to be trained. Because no one is giving them any funding. So he’s got kids who without this would have criminal records, who would go to prison. They’d be going down that path. No one is funding him, no one is backing him to do this. He’s doing this off his own back, just out of love.

Everyone knows one person out there they can help who’s less fortunate than them. And I’m not talking about help financially. I’m talking about knowledge. Plant that seed. Find out what these kids are good at, or what they care about or what they like, and try and draw it out of them because it will change their lives.

There’s a song by Jacob Miller called ”Each One Teach One”. It’s a reggae song. You should listen to that song because that’s all we’ve got to do.


Benjamin Paul Ballance-Drew, popularly known as Plan B, is a British rapper and singer-songwriter from London. His talk can also be seen here as a video

The Heinz 57

On the daily travels to work I hear a lot of words, most of which are designed to be hurtful and are spoken only to upset and annoy. These can range from the simple ‘Oi! Fatty!’ and ‘Freak’ (the latter usually being spoken when dressed as a pirate while on the way to do my job as an entertainer) to darn the right nasty, in fact what a mother encouraged her toddler to scream from her push chair last Christmas was to me inexcusable and is not worthy of repeating. It seems that to any stranger my identity consists of one thing; being overweight. But as with any human being it is by no means that simple and to those who know a little more about me than mere appearance it appears that my identity adds fuel to the fire.

The best explanation I have for my identity was given to by one of my teachers as the age of ten. ‘Heinz 57’.

I was brought up in Norfolk. The mere mention of this fact usually results in comments of inbreeding and the question ‘Do you drive a tractor?’ My Mother, who calls herself an ‘Anglo-Irish-Scott’ is very proud of her ‘Celtic’, Catholic and ‘Broad’ Norfolk routes and I was raised in a house of Folk Music, Folktales and history. So to those who meet me I may therefore be known as someone who speaks in a Norfolk accent, and can be found wondering through fields singing in Gaelic - a fact that once again causes amusement. ‘A fat country bumpkin? Walking? Impossible! But she’s not out of breath!’

This is until they become instantly confused by my surname. Mijatovic. If you met my father (also a Catholic) on the street you would assume he came out of the womb speaking Lancastrian Dialect. He is incredibly proud of the fact that he was raised in Rochdale with parents that both worked in the mills and he will defend Lancashire with his last breath.. just the utterance of the work ‘Thinternet’ or the phrase ‘goin’ down t’ pub’ usually results with him asking ‘are you taking p** thout of th’accent?’ But this Lancashire lad is in fact a proud Austrian who never spoke English until the age of Seven. Raised in a tiny village in Austria, his first day at school in Rochdale consisted of him being called a Nazi. A fact that you may think was a sign of the times, yet even with my Norfolk Accent, upon hearing that I have Austrian and Slovenian grandparents I am immediately told that I must be a fan of the Nazi party and I have even had (on more than one occasion), people saying ‘Heil Hitler’ to me while giving me the Nazi salute. I naturally find this incredibly offensive and I (as a Pagan) have stopped wearing my Thor’s Hammer as a symbol of my religion due to the amount of people who ask me if/why I’m wearing a Nazi sign. However I am just as proud of my European ancestry (which also includes Romany among others) as I am of my British side.

I am someone who gets shouted at in the street for being fat, has people telling me to go back to Austria, and I am told that I must be a gypsy due to my pagan beliefs and tendency to walk barefoot along my mile long walk to the bus stop with wild yarrow in my hair, I get gawked at for singing in either German, Breton, Irish and Scotts Gaelic and even on occasion English. I am a literate country bumpkin (who will, I might add be taking a course in tractor driving later in the year), I wear tartan, yodel, drink Lancashire tea and ramble in the muddiest of fields. So people on the way to work may call me fat; my Mum might call me an Austro-Anglo-Irish-Scott-Romany-Pagan, my Dad may refer to me as a flatlander and ‘the female version of Cadfeal’ and those at work my know me as a pirate by the name of Captain Charlie. My name is Charlotte Mijatovic and I am a Heinz 57.


Charlie Mijatovic is an Entertainer at the Great Yarmouth Sealife Centre, and is currently doing a part-time degree in archaeology when not dressing up as a pirate. 



Identity is more than skin deep.

When you’re asked to describe yourself in one word, what would it be? 

For me, there would be a few to choose between. “Lazy” is definitely one, when you look at my track record of getting out of bed c.10 minutes before my first lecture every day. Maybe “open”, in that I often find myself telling some of my most private thoughts to complete strangers - people I sit next to on the train, people you meet on a night out, Joe Bloggs sat in Pret minding his own business… My friends have offerered “quirky”, “sociable”, even “posh”. But this hasn’t always been the case with everyone who meets me.

You see, I’m Chinese by birth, and I look it. Both my parents are of Chinese descent. I was born in Malaysia. I hold a British passport, and have lived in London for the last 11 years. It’s fair to say the question “Where do you come from?” takes a while to answer. I personally don’t identify with a single ethnicity, and believe that it is possible to be part of more than one ethnic category. But I have often been judged solely on the basis of my skin tone. I have been defined by others by my race. The “Asian Chick” or the “Chinese One”.

It would bother me less if the connotations of being Oriental didn’t come with so much baggage and expectations. I’m expected to be a maths whizz, to want to become an engineer/doctor/lawyer, and to speak and sound something like Trey Parker parody-ing Kim Jong-Il in Team America. In her inspiring article, ‘Chinese Briton’ Elizabeth Chan raises similar points, noting shouts of “Jackie Chan!” and kung-fu noises from strangers being a regular occurrence, and that people are surprised when she speaks fluent English with a northern accent (she hails from Bradford). More recently, Hadley Freeman mentioned ESPN’s coverage of Taiwanese-American basketball player Jeremy Lin’s performance with the Knicks, and how their headlines were outrageously entitled “Chink in the Armor”.

Both note that these stereotypes are self-perpetuating to a degree, as Chinese Britons and Asian Americans remain under-represented in the public arenas of society. Take film for an example. In Freeman’s words, Asian roles are invariably limited to “camp villains, martial arts experts, dippy shop owners and exchange students soundtracked with a gong”. Let’s not forget the role of the sexualised foreign female temptress either. This needs to change, and change will only come when Oriental minorities start to speak up for themselves. 

This is my way of speaking up for myself. I am tired of having to wear the mask of indifference when people make jokes about how I “should” speak, or how much of a “banana” I am (crude allusions to me being ‘yellow on the outside and white on the inside’). There is more to my identity than the colour of my skin. I too am entitled to have my own varied interests; I too should be able to identify with what I want to. Today I wear my “multi-ethnic archaeologist who bakes badly and dresses like a sloppy hipster” t-shirt proudly. 


Valerie Teh is a graduate student studying archaeology and art at Cambridge University. This blog is her labour of love.