Chinatown. Singapore 2018.
Uncles playing checkers in the Buddha Tooth Relic temple square. There’s always a bunch of them here, playing, watching, talking, smoking, drinking coffee, napping, lost in thought. An utterly ordinary day…
…back when we didn’t know about the deadly infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus. Before the Covid-19 pandemic. Before we all had to wear face masks. Then came the political + media circus and subsequent rounds of memes and viral videos about white people getting violent about facemasks because communism. Or something like that. The rabbit hole that is WhatsApp on an old person’s phone is some kind of a a social indicator…. hmmm, there’s a project in there… Watch out Mum!
But seriously, face masks went from disease precaution to political symbol so quickly it wasn’t funny.
Racism is a powerful tool. Sort people into haves and have nots, gets and get nots. Divide and conquer.
I’m kind of beat by all the racist sentiment going around. I am a brown, mixed race woman, a minority wherever I’ve lived. My father was Indian, and my mother is Chinese. There is almost nothing visibly Chinese about me. My national identity card says I am Indian, as does every Chinese person out there (until I object to something racist they say / do, then—and only then—is my Chinese-ness excavated in defence if they know). Otherwise I’m just another smelly, dirty, dumb Indian up to no good.
The recent Black Lives Matter protests, following the death of George Floyd, has drawn a ton of attention to how much race and colour are embedded in our psychology. If you are a minority, you are probably too familiar with this.
But what is encouraging is the sheet number of majority ethnic/race people sitting up and taking notice. Wanting to address how race is an issue from public policy and accepted history to casual conversation. Recognising that it is a big deal. That it affects millions of lives in tragic ways.
It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, collectively, but also how far we have to go to level the playing field.
On the camera front, Fujifilm joined the movement and to uplift photographers of colour, with the American, British and European divisions pledging actively to work towards diversity and inclusion. The US office has been most active in this regard, and you can read their program updates here. I’m a Fujifilm ambassador—an X-Photographer—which I enjoy and am immensely grateful for. I belong to a close knit community of photographers, and my professional relationship with Fujifilm and fellow ambassadors is a source of much growth, and something I cherish greatly. I’ve never been so proud to be a part of Fujifilm as I was, the day it declared that Black lives matter. What a tremendous milestone. Props to the Fuji community for making that happen!
In Singapore, elections were held amid intense debate (mostly online, because pandemic) about all sorts of things, with race being one of the strident conversations. Minority candidate Raeesah Khan was taken to task for truthfully calling out racial discrimination. This is business as usual in Chinese-majority Singapore, where ethnic integration is tightly regulated across various facets of society, and widely declared a success. Any talk that our racially harmonious nation isn’t quite that, generally causes a meltdown in public dialogue. Our country was built on the idea of Chinese superiority. But to acknowledge this would shake entirely too many foundations.
The spike in abuse and violence towards Americans of East Asian descent also highlighting the anti-blackness that runs strong in Asian communities.
• Racism harms black people most. It’s time to recognise ‘anti-blackness’
• ‘I Will Not Stand Silent.’ 10 Asian Americans Reflect on Racism During the Pandemic and the Need for Equality
• Anti-Asian racism during coronavirus: How the language of disease produces hate and violence
• China: Covid-19 Discrimination Against Africans
When I was growing up in Singapore, minorities knew never to make it about race, especially when it was. Our survival—getting a job, getting a promotion, getting ahead—depended on going with the no-racism-in-Singapore flow. It’s scary to talk about race in Singapore. Police reports, lawsuits, and not to mention the endless trolling you’d get online and off, as minority activists well know.
• In 2020, Singapore Still Doesn’t Know How To Talk About Race
• The policies that shaped a multiracial nation
• Singapore Is Trying to Forget Migrant Workers Are People
• Older generation of S’poreans not ready for non-Chinese PM: Heng Swee Keat (our next Prime Minister)
• Race in Singapore: We can’t trust politicians; people need to step up
• George Floyd killing stirs Asian feelings on region’s own racial strife, from police custody deaths in Malaysia to Chinese privilege in Singapore
The threat of China against mostly white world powers is running high. That this has affecting public policy and sentiment, most notably—but not only—in the States, is absolutely no surprise. In East and Southeast Asia (Singapore and Malaysia) the public policy of East Asians against darker skinned/non dominant minorites is… sadly also no surprise. The scale and intensity at which is happening is scary.
I hate wearing a mask. It’s uncomfortable, hard to breathe in, and in so many ways, is a muzzle. But I wear one because I really don’t want to get sick. It helps that my government has mandated it, so everyone has to wear a mask. That has been important. No one feels discomfited wearing this weird thing on their face, because everyone’s doing it.
14 million of us have gotten sick all over the world. More of us are getting sicker, faster. Over 600,000 have died.
I think back to when this picture was made and the friend I was walking around Chinatown with. I find myself not quite remembering/ believing what it felt like to be there then.
Ordinary life was so long ago, the phrase has lost its meaning