My niece had sent me a message saying that Gina Yeshere was performing in KL and that I should ‘check her out’. I had not been to any of her shows in the UK and I decided that since I was in KL, I would gather three friends together for a rare Friday night out. I would find out how significant that evening would be for us all.
The supporting act, was a linguist, performing, impersonating and speaking at least six languages in ways that I saw had certainly impressed the locals. His facial expressions were amazingly funny and he certainly set the evening up for Gina to take the stage.
As Gina came out and spotted us near the front row, her first comment was that “every time I come here, there are more and more black people in KL’. We laughed, wondering where she was going to take this. She asked us what we were doing there and under the spotlight, we simply responding that we were Educational consultants. Gina implied for a minute that we could be ‘something else’. It was an uncomfortable space as we were all too aware of the sex trade in which African women were involved in KL. She didn’t say much more and soon moved on to share the jokes of her zero maternal genes supported by stories of current young people in places like London and New York who, were once afraid and fascinated in equal measure by men in trench coats, that would ‘flash ‘their private parts and this was fantastically illustrated with the use of the mike for her swinging tool! Those same young people now would not be captivated thanks to the exposure to sex that the internet had provided them with. They would more than likely refuse to leave the scene without demanding the flashers phone or watch for having been inconvenienced!
Gina’s show touched us. She is an amazing performer but she also stood in front of four black people who all happen to find themselves in Malaysia at that time and she told us, our story. She told us how she had been stopped at every airport in Asia on her tour and often was the only person stopped, in a sea of white and Asian faces. She joked about walking into restaurants and experiencing the cold silence as the chopsticks and chatter was halted so people could stare to either tell her that she was not welcome or to establish if she was, infect…real! Yes, we had all experienced this.
Her story of the pit toilets (made with ceramic) had us almost peeing ourselves and the joy of being from the UK, with accent and passport, could not have been more graciously unpacked as the scene of the immigration supervisor scolding her junior staff for disturbing someone (Gina) who is ‘British’! With her passport in hand, and released from the interrogation, Gina’s accent became more British than ever as she walked away singing ‘God save our precious land’! We with black skins who have travelled know that ‘being British’ has stopped many immigration officers from harassing us even further on hearing our accents. It is a bitter sweet truth.
This was an evening made even more special by Gina’s connecting with three women and one man, two of whom are Nigerian. She captured stories that we don’t often hear with such openness and humour. Her female, Nigerian, British experience resonated with us all.
Many parts of Asia are very beautiful. Breath taking beaches, traditions, spiritual practises and a clear history that connects it to Africa. Some of the orang asli (indigenus Malay ) have the same DNA as people in South Africa which is hardly suprising as you look at their dark skins and wooly hair. Racism is present in Asia and unlike the UK, overt racism is acceptable. Fortunately, I have met a few people who challenge this and who are awoke to the fact that this is a global phenomenon. The Asians in Malaysia have their own hierarchy of where people are positioned and in line with the global idea, white skin definitely takes precedent over dark skin. Overt discrimination is acceptable and perpetuated through negative stereotypes towards black and brown peoples who were born in Malaysia and who find themselves there. The experience in other parts of Asia differ and can be milder or harsher.
Gina talked about what were familiar experiences to us, which we all manage successfully through our own survival strategies and because we had each other. These are strategies we already had coming from the UK and US for even with the laws that protect us against racism in those parts of the world, the fact remains that there are countless examples of how racism continues and is often not challenged even when there is clear evidence to support that it has taken place. Malaysia offers many positive experience. The negative challenging times are also very real. Gina’s show in February 2017 provided us with wonderful anecdotes that continue to sooth the rough edges away and to keep us smiling!