As the only British-Chinese student in his high school, Brandon Le had to face his fair share of adversity. Brandon, now 23, had to deal with racism alongside his other anxieties around school life and had to build communities around him to help him through it. Connor Bragger spoke with Brandon about how he managed to get through it all.
I settled into high school quite quickly and a big reason for that was basketball. My cousin was really into his basketball and asked me if I wanted to come along with some friends I had made early on. He was a role model for me in school as he was a couple of years above me and he would always look out for me. I ended up inviting my friends and they all agreed that it’d be a good idea.
From there, we formed a little community where we all felt safe and happy. I still have a little basketball hoop up in my bedroom today so I can switch off and practice at any time.
Unfortunately, one of my first experiences of racial abuse came on a basketball court. It was during break time when the ball deflected away from the court and towards the football kids area, all of them were in year 10.
I didn’t want to go over there but I knew that I had to, it was like facing my own version of Peter Parker’s Flash Thompson. As I sauntered over, you could see them debating whether to give me the ball back and my version of ‘Flash’ began bouncing it around me, laughing and even calling me the C-word. It was horrible.
That doesn’t overshadow the great memories that I made playing basketball at school.
There was a tournament run every year and we could never win it. The same group of kids won it, over and over again, year in and year out.
It got really frustrating and I began to resent them. Especially this one player as he was far too good.
Thankfully, we managed to lift the hoodoo and win in our final year at high school. We took the bragging rights and damn right I used it. Whenever I meet with that one player now, I always mention our miracle victory.
Annoyingly there was another incident of racism I remember where I was on my way to school as normal and something kept hitting me. Over and over again something would hit the back of my head. It wasn’t hard, it didn’t hurt but it was annoying. I turned around to see a bunch of kids chucking pieces of paper at me.
At first, I thought they were just being menaces and terrorising whoever they could get a reaction out of. We were crammed together after all. Year 7’s to year 11’s bunched together like sardines with a red sea parting down the middle. But that wasn’t the case. It was me and only me. That really upset me and didn’t help as I was already in a bad place mentally.
The worst part about the entire thing was that I didn’t even know them. They just looked at me and thought I was different because of the colour of my skin. Yet, I was born and raised in Crewe. I was as British as all the kids that were abusing me. I know I didn’t help myself.
The little Chinese kid with a bit of puppy fat on him was an easy target. Although that didn’t make any of it easier or any of it right.
They were in bits about it. In a weird way, it was all made easier by my parents going through the same thing. Since moving to England in the 90s, my parents had suffered their fair share of racial abuse.
My dad drilled into me how hard it used to be and not in a patronising way. It was to help me. My dad knew how to handle it and defend himself and our family so we would all feel safe. He would always give me advice on how to deal with it internally and externally.
I learned to adopt a very similar attitude myself and it really helped me to deal with it mentally. I knew I was mentally strong. Because of that, I knew that I would never have to resort to it going physical or even violent. Thank god it never did.
I know that a lot of racial abuse out there can happen physically but luckily, any that I and my family suffered was all verbal. And I had the mental strength to get through it and I owe that to those around me as they were always there.
The support networks I had developed at home, at school and at basketball, all helped me through it. This entire ordeal made me have an identity crisis. Am I British? Am I Chinese? Every day wracking my brain around it all.
My family is Chinese, we follow Chinese traditions, and some of my family even speak to each other in Chinese. And yet, I have never stepped foot in China.
That’s when I realised, I am both. I needed to embrace both sides of me and see it as a strength rather than a weakness. It was important for me to get past that horrible stage in high school, as it made me who I am.
Establishing those communities and having a close nit group of friends helped. It was a distraction. Basketball made me feel like I belonged and I made some great memories and friends along the way.
Then there are my parents. Who created such a warm and welcoming environment for me. They taught me the best parts of Chinese culture and used that to help me through the racism I received. I’ve spent my life trying to be respectful and be the best person I can be.
I’m happy that I didn’t let any of that adversity affect me. I was able to overcome it and learn they were just words that were never going to change who I was. I have come such a long way since high school and I am proud of that.