Why am I so white? Part I - The Disease

By Zai Xu

Why am I so white is a Zai's personal reflection on his constant struggle with his cultural identity. It is a stand alone text but also part of a larger project he is currently working on.

Overwhelming stress that is reaching new highs everyday and every hour. I started to ignore it. But every now and then it reminds me that it is even stronger and more powerful than before. It began with the first news appearing all over the internet. There was a new disease spreading in China. It was the first time after a long period of calmness, that stress revealed itself again. 


When you are born with colour in an almost non colourful society, you start to ignore your skin.

That should be normal I would say, not caring about the colour of your skin.

 It should be that way, there should be no difference.

It becomes a problem when you start to lose touch with your skin, with your colour, your culture, your identity. You start to forget who you are; not because you don’t care about the difference, but because you are scared of it.

Living with colour in an almost non colourful society is a full time job. People around you make sure to always remind you that you are not from here, that we are not the same. It starts from the very beginning of your life, you are exoticised. There are lots of small things. When you are a child you don’t know that you are different from that white boy over there. There is a school play in the kindergarten and you would really love to play the St. Nicolas role. But for some unknown reason to you as a child, you are not fit to. You grow up with many more cases that you don’t understand, but when you do, you choose to be the boy without the colour, instead of the one with. You start to play the act you always wanted to play.

Why am I so white?

When I was around thirteen years old I remember being bullied. I hated my skin and especially my eyes. I wanted nothing to do with the way I look, I wanted to be white. I chose to be white the same way as I chose to ignore the stress. I already forgot my name, why can’t I forget my skin.

The is a new disease appearing in China, the first time I heard it, shivers ran down my spine. I was not afraid of the disease, I was not sad about the people that were going through the hard surreal times. I became scared to go out on the street. I started to spend more and more time at home, at home where I was shielded against the people and the disease. Going out became less and less joyful, being with other people became more unbearable. I still keep saying to myself, that there is nothing to be scared of, that only because of the colour of my skin people won’t be scared of me, judge me, hate me.

Will they?

They already were.

The air became harder and harder to breathe and the disease spread from one place to another. The disease is taking my freedom away day by day. I can still go and do what I’ve been doing my whole life. But why do I feel this way? My skin is the only thing that is left, the only thing that is still visible. I feel naked. The skin I was trying so hard to forget and hide away.

In a conversation I had with my mother not long ago, she said that if everything was gonna end up really bad and people had to
stand in line and wait for emergency aid, our family would be waiting at the end of the line. We would be lucky if we even got any
aid. Right after she told me that I objected to her, that I’m a Czech citizen. She answered that’s true, still you would only be at the
end of the line in front of us.

This part of the conversation keeps coming back to me and I can’t stop thinking about it. It may seem far fetched and hard to imagine for someone, even for me. Far from the reality and the world that we are living in. But despite everything, my mother could imagine it, for her it is the true reality that hides behind the curtains.

There is a memory that came back to me during the time of writing this text. When I was in elementary school, almost every other day I played outside near the school with some boys. We were playing as ninjas, building bases from bushes, running around as warriors. 

One day we were playing on this one steep hill. It was our base, it was the perfect location: some bushes where you could hide, the peak of the hill where you could see everything around you. I don’t remember specifically how it actually escalated, but I remember the ache and how I cried. I think I wasn’t physically hurt, still I can feel the pain till today. I remember I was crying and telling everyone that I’m not like them. I’m not one of the Chinese. Do you think I like to be Asian? I was desperate and trying to detach myself from everything that could link me to my skin. I remember screaming I don’t like China, I don’t like Mao, screaming and avoiding everything that I saw on television, even if I didn’t understand what it actually was. The only thing that was important to me was its seeming connection to my skin.

The new disease has shed light on a lot of things which used to be hidden inside of me and our society, It brought back the memories that went away and made me remember the feelings that were almost forgotten

At the beginning of February I got a call from my school, and asked about the possibilities of me getting the new disease. They were mapping out the situation across the board from school to school.The fear and ignorance overflowed every part of the nation. Misunderstanding and lack of information made it worse. The mapping was mainly targeted towards foreign students, it was the beginning of a new semester and new students were arriving to school. The situation was escalating really fast and everyone was trying to keep up, the only thing left to do was to react. In the fast chaotic turn of events the hygiene station decided to target people coming from the risk areas. As a result of this decision and earlier mentioned context, it opened a new door towards stigmatisation, stereotypization and racism. Instead of targeting people who have just been to the risk areas, they targeted everyone whose skin was different from theirs. It was like the disease had a skin also, a skin that was similar to my own. It was like I had a big dirty yellowish stain all over my body that needed to be cleaned. Washed away the same way as we started to wash our hands, very carefully and properly. The stain couldn’t be hidden away using a face mask, it couldn’t even be hidden away using my clothes. The one big dirty stain marked out who I am, marked out that I’m not like you, not the same. It marked out that I’m the one sick and the one who is below you. The one that doesn’t deserve to be here.

Overflowed with emotions and the small pieces of memories that are gaining new meanings, it has left me lost in a swirl of thoughts. I am sitting here in my living room, going over the events that happened to me and trying to find peace of mind. Every now and then the search stops and I’m standing in front of myself with chills running down my spine. I start panicking and go back to the place I originated from, the place that seems to be the only thing that can give me the temporal solace I long for.

***Zai’s piece is written from the perspective of a second generation migrant that is not writing in his native language. For that reason there are inconsistencies and lapses in the speech to allow his written thoughts to be as close as possible to someone that is expressing themselves in a language that is not their own.

Zai Xu was born in Prague, Czechia to his Chinese parents who met each other while searching for new life experiences.

He is currently studying at Academy of Fine Arts in Prague at Studio of Intermedia Work 3 and a founder of an off-space in Prague called SVĚTOVA 1, which functions as a platform for creation and presentation of young art. His latest projects explore themes such as exhaustion created by a continuous building of self-identity, and confusion created by coming from mixed cultural heritage.

Zai’s work can be found here.

If you are interested to find out more about SVĚTOVA 1 take a look at their website.