Words matter. The rise in anti-Asian xenophobia around the world is more than proof enough
In November 2016, the day Donald Trump was elected President, my sister was telling me that the United States has very strong checks and balances, and Trump will not be able to execute most of his xenophobic agenda. Now that the nightmare of a Trump presidency is over, it would be naive to say that no damage has been done. But I suppose it is also true that it could have been far worse if the President had unchecked power and everyone else in the government just fell in line with his wishes. I suppose that credit has to be given to the US system, although I feel compelled to add that on January 6th 2021, Donald Trump probably came as close to upending the most famous democracy in the world and establishing a dictatorship as anyone ever has.
But in 2016, I had a different concern. I genuinely believed that there is immense inertia in the machinations of an entire government, and that Trump will not be able to change the essentially democratic and transparent nature of the state easily. My concerns were at once of lesser and greater import. I was telling my sister that when the President is openly sexist, racist, and xenophobic, it will normalize those behaviours for the common man. If the President openly bashes Muslims/Asians/women, it makes the man on the street feel safe in doing the same. Put simply, I feared that the Trump era would normalize hatred of the other. Looking back, that is exactly what has happened.
Over the past nearly fourteen months, the world has been living in fear of a deadly virus. For a little over a year, many nations around the world have been under lockdown. We are living through very tough times, and the Trump Presidency did not make it any easier. But yet again, I have faith that most of the harm he has done, can be undone. However, this past week reminded me that he has left behind a legacy of hate and prejudice that might only get worse in time.
The media has it that despite being explicitly requested to use the words “covid 19” or “novel coronavirus”, Trump kept insisting on using phrases like “China virus”, “Wuhan virus”, or “Kung Flu” when referring to the pandemic. And every time he did so, he was met with cheers. On one occasion, when a reporter of Asian descent asked him a perfectly reasonable question, the President snapped back like a petulant child, “Ask China!” I was going to say this is behaviour that does not suit a president. But really, this is behaviour that does not suit any decent human being. As for his opinion of women, we all heard that even before the 2016 elections. It is disturbing that so many chose to ignore it.
Why am I talking about Trump today? Because last week, a white man opened fire at a spa and killed eight people of Asian descent. His rationale is that this place was causing him to sin. I am guessing he means the sin of coveting. What I do not understand is why he felt it would be fine to carry out the far greater sin of murder. Another thing I do not understand is why he felt the need to drive specifically into the spa that mostly employs people of Asian descent to purge the world of sin. A small voice inside tells me that maybe this is what happens when the highest executive of the land is an unabashed racist and misogynist? The eight people that were shot to death just trying to make a living, are ultimately victims of the culture of hate and division Donald Trump has normalized. He loaded the gun. Someone else just fired it.
Then, of course, there is the eternal problem of how the police treat white murderers with what borders on deference, while people of color dare not stand outside their own apartment after dark. To be clear, because someone will throw a tantrum, I am not saying the police should also abuse white criminals. I am just holding out hope they will treat persons of color, particularly those who have committed no crime at all, with the same decency they extend to white genocidal maniacs.
Lastly, I was pretty sure I just heard wrong when someone on the radio said that this shooter, this murderer of eight human beings, this man-child who cannot control his own sinful thoughts and instead kills people for making him sin, claimed he was just having a bad day?
Now, I am no perfect person. However, when I have a bad day, and I have had several just in the past four months, I stay in bed. I watch some old familiar TV shows. I might eat some comfort food, knowing full well it is not good for my health. But never, in all the days of my life, in the worst of those days, have I felt entitled to even punch another person because I was having a shitty day. Let alone grab a gun and shoot multiple people.
And to think that Republicans/Conservatives/The Far Right/The establishment call us entitled for wanting to not go bankrupt because we needed to see a doctor. They call us entitled because we think we should earn a fair wage after backbreaking work, that a job should not keep you just poor enough that you can never hope for anything better. They accuse us of over-reacting when a man is choked to death under a police officer's knees. They accuse us of being entitled when we get stopped and questioned for the very color of our skin, the shape of our eyes, and even the way we speak English.
One last thing. I fully believe that the killer was in need of mental health and other social support services. I empathize with his own battles, and have to concede, he himself is a victim of the profit-hungry capitalist machinery the USA has created. So I just express one small hope. Dear USA, until you make sure that racism and misogyny are not preached from the highest offices of the land, until you make sure that people desperately in need of mental health treatment are not deprived of it because of crappy health insurance, until you make sure that the visible minorities in your land are not going to pay the price of one of your “real Americans” having a bad day, could you at least see that they cannot get hold of a gun so easily? Eight lives may have been saved if getting a gun was at least as hard as getting health insurance. It is ironic, but think about it.
Hammad Ali is a PhD student and a lover of fountain pens