I had just finished my Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology when I decided to take a sabbatical year to try out some other things before starting my Master of Science. I decided to start working as a substitute teacher. A profession that I’ve always wanted to try since I want to be a role model to young people and see them grow up with a better understanding of math’s.
I felt the butterflies; the feeling you get when you’re both nervous and excited. I prepared the papers and pens, whilst waiting for the incoming students. They came in one by one, everyone in the ages of 13-15. They looked at me with some confusion. I thought to myself; “Of course, they are confused. I’d be that too if I suddenly got a new teacher.”
They sat down and stared at me. I welcomed them and told them my name and that I am their new, temporary teacher in Mathematics. I asked them to introduce themselves and just when a young girl was going to tell her name, she got interrupted by a boy across the room.
“Where are you from?”
The class went silent. The boy stared at me. The whole class stared at me.
“Are you Chinese?”
I’m getting uncomfortable, even though I knew he’d ask something like that. It’s always that way. My ethnicity is the only thing people would be interested in. Not my background in studies, my skills, my interests.
“Hello? Are you?”
“No, I’m Vietnamese.”
The rest of the class stayed silent while his friend asked him what it meant. I continued:
“I mean, I’m Swedish but my parents are from Vietnam.”
Another girl asked: “Where is that?”
The class mumbled. Someone mentioned that it is located next to Thailand. Another one said that she never heard of the country before.
I was getting nervous, worried about losing focus.
“Ok class, let’s get back to you telling me your names”
The class continued to mumble. I looked around and saw a boy slanted his eyes as if he were a stereotypical East Asian person. His friend laughed.
One hour’s lecture felt like an eternity. The focus stayed on my descent and heritage.
I was exhausted when I came home. Will I ever be just me? Not my ethnicity or will I always be seen as a stereotype?
The following day, the students brought chopsticks and played Chinese music from their smartphones. Some even threw their chopsticks at me.
It took three months until I decided to quit the job as a substitute teacher. I was done with trying new stuff. I just wanted to go back to university.
My name is Danny Lam. The story you’ve just read is true and told by me. I believe in sharing stories with each other to spread knowledge about how everyday-racism looks like in Sweden. I do believe that people understand racism much easier if they read true stories from people around the world. That’s why I have created an interactive platform on Instagram called “TNKVRT”. It is pronounced “Tänkvärt” which is the Swedish word for “worth considering”. On TNKVRT, I combine news and my own thoughts on topics such as racism, sexism, homophobia, mental health etc.
I write to start discussions and to invite others to share their views. Typically, a topic gets specified every other week. Topics can be anything from bullying to eating disorders. Followers can participate and contribute by sending a direct message with their own story which I then post anonymously to the full follower base. This way we have a safe platform and a way to raises voices who may otherwise struggle to get heard. I find it also helps creating a sense of community making minorities feel less lonely by sharing their reality with each other.
I started the account two years ago as I want to believe that any prejudice in our society is mainly due to ignorance and lack of knowledge. And with new weekly stories from real people, I hope it will broaden people’s perspective, helping to create more inclusion and acceptance.
Today TNKVRT has grown to almost 60,000 followers. The growth together with the awards means a lot to me, and I believe it’s a testament to the importance of us having these conversations in today’s climate. In general, I feel we need to include more minorities in the conversation, letting them share their own experience on their own terms. Instead of continuing having the conversation held by people who many times lack their own experience as a minority.