It was a drizzly day in Dublin, I had just gotten off the train at Heuston Station and was waiting for the Luas (tram). An elderly Irish woman and her husband were asking around for directions and I offered to help them since we were going in the same direction anyway. They seemed like they were grandparents visiting their children in Dublin as the man was holding a brand new baby carrier (probably as a gift). So why not help?
Things started off wonderful, they were really friendly. They lady told me they were from Limerick but the man had a North American accent (I then later found out he was also Canadian). Interestingly, they also said they built a house by the Lakeside Hotel in Ballina when they were younger (nearby the place where I lived during my first three years in Ireland).
Then, the typical question came about.
"You're not really from around here, are you?" the man asked with eyebrows raised.
I could see from his facial expressions and body language that he was trying to figure out my background - why I was here, why I sounded slightly Irish, but yet did not look the part.
He then asked if I was from Indonesia. From this question, I could see that he probably knew a little bit more about the differences in South East Asia or East Asia. So yes, I was a little impressed. I told him the typical summary - I was from Malaysia but I had lived in Ireland for seven years, so I picked things up along the way and adapted.
"Only seven years? It's amazing how you've absolutely embodied the ways of the Irish."
I took it as a compliment, he seemed genuinely kind and intrigued. He actually went on about his amazement that I have only been here for seven years for a good few minutes. I mean I get it, I don't expect others to understand my situation. I'm used to the assumptions that I'm not from here, and it's all fun and good when it's genuine interest to learn.
We continued chatting as we got on the Luas and he seemed to know a little bit about Malaysia. He told me he had Malaysian friends who were of Chinese and Indian heritage. This went on to the topic of racial discrimination within Malaysia and I just informed him of the facts that Malaysians are able to be legally discriminated against in education/work opportunities based on one's racial heritage. For example, as my great-grandparents came from China, there are certain universities in Malaysia which I cannot apply to as I am not of the Malay or bumiputera race (this is a simplified illustration of course, but it's just to get the point across). We were just talking facts, not opinions.
Suddenly, his voice volume decreased and he came closer to ask a question.
"Is it true that the Malays are more stupid in comparison to the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia?"
I was slightly taken aback, but I laughed it off saying that these were just stereotypes perpetuated within the country but they're not facts. I elaborated on my personal experiences in secondary school where my class had all races performing both well and badly in examinations.
"But truthfully though, aren't they less capable, just like how studies have shown that people from Africa have lower levels of IQ in comparison to Western countries?"
This stunned me. Excuse me? Are you just trying to say White people are proven to be smarter than Black people? You're actually overtly saying this? Wow. I knew of the studies he talked about. I learnt about them in my Psychology and Sociology classes. But, these studies were heavily critiqued for having biased samples, unfair advantage to children in Western countries as they were more trained in their education system to answer questions within IQ tests, researcher bias, and much more.
I felt like exploding with all of these counterattacks. But, we were in a crowded Luas. It was in the middle of the day. This was a man in his 60s who looked like he meant well at the start, I didn't want to start an argument.
"Malaysia has a patenting system right? Which races make the most patents?"
Why would I know the statistics of patents in Malaysia in the first place? Also, even if the statistics did have racial differences, that could just be a product of other societal factors. I was just up to my ears in trying to hide my disgust with a smile.
I suggested that other factors like cultural and socio-economic advantages could lead to systematic differences between races in IQ tests. This, however, does not mean that being of a certain race leads you to be innately smarter or more stupid. I stated my case that I strongly do not believe in that whatsoever. I also elaborated on how societal and parental expectations may affect a child's motivation to study harder or to expect high educational performance - as I personally felt and saw that when I was studying in Malaysia. Some of my Malaysian friends with Chinese or Indian heritage felt the need to study harder to obtain a university scholarship post secondary school in case they were not accepted into public universities.
"Are you a Sociology student?"
Yes, and I also did Psychology.
"Your thinking may be an idealistic take on the subject but is it really the truth?
And you did Psychology too? Hmm........"
He looked slightly puzzled when I said I did Psychology, as if he expected me to agree with his opinion of innate racial IQ differences (as many of these studies ''proving" racial differences of IQ involved psychologists).
By this time, I could just feel all the people surrounding us listening in. Even his wife was quiet the entire time sitting down. I could see that he strongly believed that racial differences in IQ were innate and there was no point in arguing. I just felt so distressed at how someone could believe that so wholeheartedly.
We parted ways when the Luas arrived at our destination. I could see his wife being slightly apologetic towards me for having to engage in such a conversation. He on the other hand, smiled at me with a kind of look that I was a sort of millennial child with over optimistic and idealistic views of humanity.
That's okay with me.
I would rather not support the belief that our skin colour and heritage determines our intelligence.
This is all based on my own recollection. So of course, the quotes are paraphrased. But, I tried my best to remember the things I heard that day.