In a recent heartfelt tell-all video with The Royal Singapore (TRS), local radio DJ Divian Nair recounted various experiences with racism in his life and career.
One of the most shocking incidents occurred when he was trying to get into the media industry and attended auditions where “the criteria is you’ve got to be pan-Asian”. He made it to one of the auditions, was asked about his heritage but was subsequently turned down because he is Indian-Chinese.
The 33-year-old recounted to TRS: “Then it’s like, ‘So you think I look pan-Asian but now that you found out I’m not, I can’t do the audition?’ Then the guy, behind on the panel, laughingly said, ‘Have you ever seen an Indian guy on a condo ad?’ I didn’t have anything to say.
“All these things were very confronting because in a society where you grow up wanting to be the same as everybody else and wanting to be equal, you suddenly realise maybe you’re not. Because the opportunities presented to you don’t seem to be that fair.”
Growing up, the Kiss92 DJ — who hosts the morning show with Maddy Barber and Andre Hoeden — had to bear being the target of jokes made about his race. A friend also told Divian that his parents instructed him “not to hang out with you Indian people” and that’s why the “no soccer sign” at the void deck has a ‘black guy’.
Divian shared: “It was that kind of turmoil that I went through and I think, particularly for mixed people, when I go back to my Indian friends or Indian relatives and I tell them, ‘You know what these guys said?’, they would tell me, ‘But you’re not even that dark. What are you complaining about?'”
Being caught in this “no man’s land” caused Divian a lot of distress because instead of “trying to have them understand how I feel”, he tried being different in an attempt to “find my space”.
‘What happens if it all ends here?’
After the rejection at the audition for the condo ad, Divian went on to host a travel series but he still felt lost. While filming the B-roll for one of the episodes, Divian climbed up a mountain in China and was drawn to the expansive view.
He said: “I thought to myself, ‘My life has been almost flippant. What happens if it all ends here?’ I was in a place where I was just fatigued, tired. I didn’t know where to go, didn’t know if (my video production company) Storyteller Productions was going to work out. I felt like, okay, maybe I failed. After these travels, then what else am I supposed to do?”
However, he talked himself off the edge of the cliff by reminding himself that he has family and things that “really matter”, and he was determined never to put himself in that position again.
“I am the sum of a lot of other people that care about me. I am the sum of my parents, my close friends, the people that I work with, my colleagues, so I can’t give up all of that, all of what they’ve given me, just because I don’t feel good about myself,” he said.
That moment on the mountain top changed his perspective on why he was doing what he was doing — and that was to be able to spend time on the things that matter with the people that matter.
He shared: “The priority became to do all this, earn all this and work this hard, so I can spend time with the people I give a s*** about. The problems, they didn’t matter because I’m doing something that affords me the time to live my life and living my life means making my wife smile, visiting my parents, trying to stop my gigantic dog Django from killing my dad.
“These are the real things. I started to realise that all these interactions with these people, what I do for them, what they do for me, that is the real value of my time here.”