Tuesday, June 2, 2020

"When will things go back to normal?" 

For many of us, we desire a return to normalcy in our lives as soon as possible. Afterall, that's for the best... right? Isn't it a sure sign that everything's falling back into place again? Yet, we have failed to realize, perhaps only until recently, that for so many people, the previous reality we lived in evidently did not work. A return to the old norms means going back to the same systems that did not view everyone as equal, that oppressed certain groups. A revert to the "status quo" should not be what we should strive for. We need to change.  

Undeniably, this pandemic has exposed the problems which have existed for a long time, but have failed to garner mainstream attention - till now. Yes, I'm referring to racism against the blacks in America. And yes, closer to home, I'm also talking about migrant workers (not the most respectful identifier, but I am referring to them as such for clarity and comprehensibility) and how they have been treated on our shores. Of course, racism in Singapore is also an issue, and while I am not discounting its importance, it will not be discussed at length in this post. 

Sometime in late January this year, when news of the coronavirus started picking up around the world, I was in New Zealand and found myself having slurs directed at me because of my East-Asian appearance and the race I was perceived to be. A car drove past us as we were taking a leisurely stroll, and its passengers rolled down their windows and shouted "Corona!" in our faces before driving away. Initially shocked, I later brushed it off as pure ignorance, laughing about it with my friends who shared the experience.

I was privileged then, and I still am privileged now. I was given the choice to decide how to a single racial taunt was going to affect me. I didn't let it affect me, though at its worst, it was probably only going to be temporal anger or frustration. So many others don't even have that choice. These options are unjustly stripped away from them, mostly by people in power or authority, simply because of the colour of their skin. Countless black people in the US have been held at gun-point, or restrained and suppressed, having to fight for their lives even without having done anything to warrant such treatment. They are automatically placed on the losing end of having to prove their innocence. Of course, police brutality against black lives are just one increasingly visible example of racism - there's so many more instances that should be eradicated as well (and I am also in no way stating that all police are racist).

I mentioned earlier that we need to change. Indeed, it's a bold statement to make, with close to nothing offered by me to move towards this "ideal" reality. How exactly can we help from more than 15,000km away? I don't know, but taking the lead from some people I look up to, deepening my knowledge on black history and their lived experiences through research is one. Understanding what the #blacklivesmatter movement stands for is also a great place to start. Donating is another, though I acknowledge that this one feels a lot far removed and I personally have not done that.

In Singapore, we've lived through the news cycle spotlighting the terrible conditions and treatment received by migrant workers, triggered by the spikes in Covid-19 infection rates amongst those living in dormitories. This invisible group of people was suddenly made visible, and views towards them were largely polarized into those who blamed them for tarnishing the little red dot's squeaky clean track record, and those who sympathized with their plight.

I fell in the latter camp, and donated to several organisations that were doing something to make the lives of migrant workers a little better in the short-term, be it providing meals, purchasing SIM cards for them to contact their families, or coming up with entertainment resources. I donated but did so very silently. While I considered sharing my reasons for donating on my social media pages, in hopes of inspiring others to do the same, I held back for several reasons.

As someone who used to be actively involved in community service, and subsequently completely dropped out for the most part of my university life, it felt almost criminal to act like I was trying to do something to help (and announcing it to the whole world). If I haven't been contributing to causes in a sustainable manner, why was I suddenly doing something one-off, from the comfort of my home, no less?

It was also difficult to admit that media coverage played a huge part in influencing my decision to donate. I didn't know how to reconcile the feeling that my actions did not stem from the goodness of my own heart, but rather being swayed by what the media was spotlighting. And if that's the case, should I be donating to migrant workers or were there other communities that were falling through the cracks of mainstream attention? I wouldn't be able to defend my choice well if someone were to be question me.

In hindsight though, donating was the easiest way out. I probably donated out of the guilt I felt while reading accounts of migrant workers, and simply wanted to stamp these bad feelings out for my own well-being. By not actively engaging in any of the discussions that were happening online on this issue, I was escaping from the the labour that comes with advocating for a cause. Again, this was and still is a sure sign of my privilege. I could choose whether or not I wanted to fight for a cause because it wasn't something that affected me directly.

Where am I going with this? For someone who believes strongly in the power of the written word, I've fallen short in so many ways. On multiple occasions, I should have spoken up for the things that mattered, but I was completely inhibited by a fear of backlash, of saying the "wrong" thing, of not being able to defend my stance if probed. As such, I sincerely urge anyone reading this to think about what's happening in the world right now (though unlikely that you aren't already doing so), and put in some time to think about how you can best help any undeserved group within society, if you aren't already at capacity. More importantly, figure out how you can do it in a sustainable manner especially after the pandemic blows over (hopefully).

With all that said, change does not stop with advocacy. I'll be continuously re-evaluating how I can be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem. We should not return to normalcy. I will not revert to my old ways. 

No comments

Post a Comment