Home Trending Op-Ed: Qualifying for the Headlines: A Fear for Life

Op-Ed: Qualifying for the Headlines: A Fear for Life

by Ashima

Shannon Tanwani reiterates the importance of the #StopAsianHate movement.

It certainly is petrifying to have a friend fear for her life, to simply step out for some groceries solely because of her ethnicity.

In early March when COVID-19 cases started to rise in Paris, France (mind you this was pre-lockdown) things were certainly normal-ish. People were running around, as they normally do on a busy day in in the city. Or so you’d think. While locals were going about their daily routines, a minority group of Asians were suffering the brunt of what was deemed to be the outbreak of the ‘Chinese Virus, ‘ a term that earned its title all the way from the United States, only for the East Asian minority group to become a target.

A friend of mine, of Chinese origin among others, had begun pre-ordering their groceries for the next month or two, sharing that “people are being spat on, attacked and shouted at. I’m scared for my life.” As she uttered these words, I had goosebumps rise all over my arms because we all know what being locked in feels like. However, to be locked-in due to racism, I think not.

As we continue to come to terms with recent events and acknowledge the grievances that we as a global Asian community are facing, we cannot be dismissive of the many other hate crimes that have occurred leading up to this point, including the recent tragic Atlanta Massage Parlour Shootings and the experiences of everyone else who has ever encountered (possibly oblivious) yet inexcusable forms of racial abuse. It is clear we most certainly need a call to action. A change for the better.

In the daring words (or in this case the iconic speech bubble) of Rosie the Riveter, we see the words – “We Can Do It!” And yet, here we are, unfortunately several conflicts and movements later, sinking in what appears to be a pool of – what some may say– is disingenuous quicksand. It is time for a modern, yet peaceful version of Rosie, to stand forth and challenge the questions that still remain: ‘Can we still do it? And if so, what is it going to take?’

As someone who has grown up in a privileged yet, international and Asian dominant environment from an early age, the recent mass shootings in Atlanta really did hit home. What surprises me to say the very least, is the fact that we had to in some way ‘qualify’ to make it into the headlines. Now that #StopAsianHate has finally come to see the light of day, the question is: “what’s next?” A series of Instagram-able posts, a variety of campaigns featuring ethnically Asian models, and the promotion of Anti-Asian Xenophobic documentaries? While educating oneself is certainly a great start, we need more than just a conversation on racism.

This should be a conversation on ethnicity vs. race, and the terms we’ve excessively thrown around for the entirety of last year, diversity and inclusion. What do these terms mean? How do we get there? What can we learn, or in some cases ‘unlearn,’ to be more aware of our subconscious biases created by the mass media?

As a globalised society with a constant influx of diverse ethnic and social influences, a society in which mono-cultured kids could slowly cease to exist, where are our efforts towards cultural acceptance? In a world where generations have immigrated for better opportunities, why do we fail to see the cultural exchanges we too, accept and indulge in?

We, as students and global citizens are finding ourselves living in communities outside of our home countries. Some of us in our home countries, but not our passport countries, where we have to live in continuous fear of being attacked or spat on.

I bring to your attention cases where persons of Asian ethnicity have been shoved to the ground, repeat occurrences that happened a mere few days apart. Somewhere else, an elderly woman was set aflame, for no fault of theirs.

We have all experienced feeling the need to fit in rather than stand out at some point or another in our lives, but it is never an easy path when physical features come in to play. Be it the South Asian community, where we are judged for the colour of our skin, our accents, and the smell of our food, or in an East Asian community, where may not be nearly as ‘trivial’ but can be seen as the crux of the matter. Globally, a call to be more accepting is what we need. Xenophobia and racism cannot not be tolerated.

A conversation with an East Asian peer of mine highlighted the nature in which some of us see “the easy way out” as the choice that causes the least conflict. While she did acknowledge that it is often a matter of global and international exposure that some lack, we discussed the importance of coming to terms with simply saying “I am not aware and that is okay”. After all, if life doesn’t teach and expose you to different cultures, than I don’t know who or what will. However, it is also somewhat inherent in our Asian nature to let things slide rather than allowing for a conflict to arise. A respectable approach, in the minds of some, but most certainly not in situations where hate crimes may come into play. She went on to say that “it really depends on the situation at hand”.

This also sparked another conversation I had with a Japanese friend who studying in the UK at the time. She shared that while she was waiting in line at an Asian restaurant, a group of white students pulled up in front, only to throw eggs at the shop front. After which they drove away, laughing. Like something out of a scene from a movie. Except it wasn’t a movie, it was real life, and nobody should have been treated this way.

People need to ‘call it as it is’ in the face of racism, treating someone like an outsider, and using inappropriate
jargon towards ethnic groups. It is important to be able to put two-and-two together and see that some of these ‘minuscule’ incidents, as some like to deem them, all contribute to a larger picture. To put things into perspective, to-date there have been 3,800 reported cases of hate related crimes in America alone during the pandemic.

So to communities of multi-cultural people, despite skin colour, race, or ethnicity, it’s more important now than ever to acknowledge the repercussions of a society that refuses to accept minorities.

And to those of us who have lost hope during this time, I’d like to leave you with a short memory of a dear friend. Although he shall not be named, I can tell you that he too belonged to a minority group often unfairly generalised by society. In the years that I knew this friend, he not once failed to acknowledge the diversity we were surrounded by in our international school environment. With an eager mind to learn and be ‘accepting’ as the IB programme often iterates, he set out to learn all of the languages of his peers, including Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, among others. An admirable quality that he continues to do so even now, in a world where some struggle to reach acceptance.

The conversation can start with YOU, to redefine what it means to be living in a globalised, multi-
cultural, and ‘diverse’ world.

There are some great articles that can help you get educated about this pressing issue, such as Time Magazine’s Round up of Historical Asian American Moments. For students and parents of international school-goers around the world, this NY Times article highlights some key reads that re-enforce cultural acceptance and diversity from an early age. Lastly, if you are a patron of the arts, you can join American born, Indo-Thai artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya on her journey (@alonglastname). Her most recent work was in collaboration with the New York Commission for Human Rights, featured around the New York City.

Shannon Tanwani grew up in Bangkok where she attended NIST International School. She recently graduated from the Instituto Marangoni in Paris, France and currently works as a fashion and celebrity stylist.

Featured image credited to The Guardian.

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