None of this will be easy,
but the first step is showing up.
“Reports of hate crimes against East-Asians worldwide have surged”, “Jonathan Mok attacked in London”, “Trump calls Covid-19 ‘The Chinese Virus’”, “Dutch Chinese woman named Cindy attacked in Tilburg”, “8 dead in Atlanta massacre” (Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng).
Eight. Dead. Countless more injured, thousands corroding under the slow, acidic drip of microaggressions. This week, like many of the recent weeks, has hit the Asian community hard. It’s an odd phenomenon ,this, and one I’ll have trouble explaining to friends, children and loved ones in the future. This tragic idea that amidst mass mourning and widespread pain there was somehow room in the world for more darkness and more racist violence against a community that was struggling, just like everyone else, with fear, boredom, loneliness, and bereavement.
It shouldn’t ever have to take a mass murder to demand structural recalibration whether it’s Black Lives Matter or attacks on Asians but in an online sphere with so many headlines spinning their billboards it might feel like a land grab for attention. But there are two important things to remember: collective memory is not real estate (Rothberg 3); there is not limited land inside our minds for grieving lost lives nor are there limited radical thoughts to rethink systems of power. It may sometimes feel that way when our social media feeds are brimming with gofundme’s and awareness stories but that’s exactly why protests are so important.
Protests, in essence, are bodies in the street. They pull us out of the scroll and land us firmly in the entrenched experience of a minority’s everyday. Bodies at protests are bodies that have chosen to take a break from buying overpriced fruit at the Albert Heijn, bodies that have chosen to spend a Saturday afternoon standing in an open space in order to show solidarity with bodies that cannot because they are too weary, or too injured or too…dead. There’s nothing to consume at a protest and most of it is spent listening and exchanging. If we consider that protests can contain as many as 550,000 participants – that’s no small feat. (Hollanditis protest, The Hague)
It’s possible that the fatigue of social media makes us question whether it’s all worth it. What good is it to stand around in a field when we could also simply donate or share? One key aspect of protest relevance is organisation. As Zeynep Tufekci explains, for those in government, “low-effort things [like liking and sharing] don’t communicate credible threats.” A mass organisation of people with several moving parts including permits, sound systems and key speakers show those in power that we care, that we’re willing to take time out of our day to show them that we care and that they should too. For a minority that has typically been repressed under the model minority myth, this is vital. There’s a widespread belief that Asians don’t suffer from racism that we’re somehow ‘better off’ or immune to hate because we keep quiet and don’t complain. These stereotypes are incredibly misleading and mislead even those in our innermost circles. I wonder how many times your Asian friends have admitted to you that they flinch a little when people walk too closely to them on the pavement or how wearing a face mask feels like a lose-lose situation every time; if we wear one outside we get eyed with suspicion, and if we don’t, we’re blamed for the virus’ spread.
It’s high time we did kick up a fuss and complain, because the idea that we don’t want to quickly becomes the idea that we don’t have to. And now we must all reckon with the horrific deaths of eight people.
Six of the victims were women of Asian descent working low wage labour jobs closely connected with the sex work industry. This is an especially important lesson for Amsterdam and a chance to raise awareness not only for Asians in the West but for migrant sex workers worldwide. These sex workers often lead precarious lives only worsened by a lack of legalisation and widespread stigma. Truly effective structural change cannot take place without the legal protection and social support of the most vulnerable: “Decriminalising sex work means systematically rethinking how we regulate work, how we police our borders, how we perpetuate poverty, how we organise public space and who is deserving of human rights. We cannot afford to leave any sex workers behind.” (Stardust)
Attending a protest in all its loud and unpredictable glory breaks down the idea that Asians are submissive and one dimensional, showing up means acknowledging that Asians just like other POC have a right to have a voice, a loud and furious one at that, more importantly, it demands change from those in power. To the Asian community, progessive change looks like: harassment and abuse cases that aren’t immediately dropped because we’re the ‘model minority’, legislation that protects us from violence and verbal abuse, increased visibility and retributions for past injustices.
None of this will be easy, but the first step is showing up.