Towards the end of May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, a video of George Floyd’s death rocked the internet and shocked the entire world. It catapulted the #BlackLivesMatter hashtags to trend on every social media platform, and sparked heated discussions about police brutality and racism. Not long after, protesters around the world took to the streets to demand justice, and this was probably the first time people of different races stood as a united front to fight an injustice that has been around since the beginning of time. You thought this was the turning point; that this was finally when racism would start to dwindle. After all, the whole world just witnessed it in its most brutal form, but a month or two after Floyd’s tragic death, the hashtag #StopAsianHate joined #BlackLivesMatter in the trending pages. It was a rough year for everyone, and they were looking for somebody to blame, so Asians became their target simply because their race is associated with the origin of the virus. This was when it became clear that many people still have a long way to go before they fully learn the meaning of racism.
The widespread coverage of racially-motivated hate crimes has given rise to two ideas about racism, the first one is that something is only considered racist when it involves violence against a certain ethnic group, and the second one is that racism can be found in almost anything and everything. Indeed, there are many facets to racism, but while these two ideas are true to some extent, they can also be harmful when they are taken too far.
Violence is the most brutal and most widely discussed form of racism, and yet there are still people who try to excuse racially-motivated hate crimes with self-righteous reasoning. No one will willingly admit that they are racist, instead they would use excuses like: “They fought back” or “I mistook the gun for a taser” or “They spread the virus.” This just goes to show that if there are people who will try to sweep crime and murder under the rug, then limiting the definition of racism to acts of violence will only allow non-violent forms of racism to prevail.
Discrimination, microaggressions, and stereotypes, are all covert forms of racism that don’t involve violence, and more often than not, they are condoned and are sometimes not even considered racist. In Western countries, discrimination may take the form of employers hiring white employees over black or Asian employees even though they’re not necessarily more qualified. Microaggressions could be as serious as a political figure referring to the Coronavirus as “China virus” or as casual as a colleague asking: “Where are you really from?” And stereotypes are manifested through forms of media that cast people of color in antagonistic roles.
It’s not different here in the Philippines. There might not be as many diverse cultures in the Philippines compared to the US, but the Chinoy community is a significant part of the population. It doesn’t help that the Chinoy community had the tendency to keep to themselves, and now the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China has led more people to question the cultural identity of Chinoys. As a result, Chinoys are seen as more Chinese than Filipino, even though they were born and raised in the Philippines, and such regard has led to covert racism to become a part of our norm. You have people questioning why a Chinoy graduated Magna Cum Laude in the University of the Philippines, saying that their slot could have been given to a Filipino, even though everyone has to take an entrance exam before they can study at UP in the first place. You have well-known news anchors using the words “yung Chinese na iyan” during interviews when they are supposed to be impartial, not even bothering to distinguish between Chinese nationals and Chinoys. And then you have the widespread stereotype that all Chinoys are rich.
Of course, like many other things, this isn’t a one-way street because the Chinoy community also has some beliefs (e.g. The Great Wall) that are considered racist. And this just goes to show that covert racism can be just as harmful even when there’s no violence involved because it creates the sense of alienation and rejection from a community.
The second idea is where racism becomes somewhat of a slippery slope. Discussions about racism have become the new hot topic in social media, and rightfully so, but there are some people who believe that racism can be found in anything and everything, and that those who commit racist acts should be cancelled. While it’s true that racism can be found in our rhetoric, actions, and beliefs, it’s not always intentional since it sometimes comes from a place of ignorance. Not all situations warrant people to come storming onto the streets (or this case onto social media) with pitchforks to rip apart someone’s character when it could have easily been resolved through information and education.
The most common example of which is cultural appropriation. For those who might not be familiar with this, it’s basically the adoption of certain aspects of other cultures (usually minorities) by people who belong to more dominant cultures. For simpler examples, it’s when people wear qipaos as a prom dress despite not having Chinese heritage, dress up as Native Americans for a Halloween party or use another culture’s religious symbol as an accessory. Cultural appropriation is almost always associated with racism, and while it’s true that the practice has racist connotations, the people who do it aren’t always racist. Again, it might just come from a place of ignorance, especially since the topic of cultural appropriation only started being widely discussed in recent years, so it might be unfair to cancel someone when an old photo of them wearing something they’re not supposed to resurfaces.
I remember my kindergarten organizing a “multicultural Halloween party,” and at that time, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. You can’t accuse a bunch of children for cultural appropriation when those photos resurface now, can you? The age of social media has given rise to so many keyboard activists that people think the first step to justice is through cancel culture, but in situations like this, the first step should really be education. Take the time to explain how their actions are considered cultural appropriation and why it’s wrong, and if they still refuse to listen, then maybe it’s acceptable to cancel them for their problematic behavior.
Speaking of keyboard activism, the age of social media has also made performative activism more prevalent. As the name suggests, performative activism happens when people feel the need to participate in activism for the sake of sharing it on social media, but in truth, they are not that dedicated to the cause. During the peak of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a lot of people took to social media to share the hashtag or share posts that condemn racism, and it’s great that people are using their platforms to spread awareness, but it’s not exactly a requirement. The problem is, there are some people who think that it is and tend to equate social media silence to racism, which is a huge stretch. There are other ways to show that you care, to fight for a cause, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be broadcasted on social media. So go ahead and share posts if it’s your own little way to show that you care for the cause, but don’t attack others for not doing the same as you.
There are many facets to racism, some of which haven’t even been touched on in this article. And even though the recent events have paved the way for social justice and awareness, there is still a long way to go before we are able to grasp what racism means. At the moment, it seems like most people walk the line between condoning everyday racism simply because it’s a non-violent act or accusing everyone and everything of racism. Racist isn’t a word that should be thrown around lightly. There are still a lot of grey areas to be explored, such as: Is a person truly racist, or was it just their actions that were racist? Were the actions born out of malice or out of ignorance and societal conditioning? As long as their actions aren’t outright brutal or their words an explicit display of bigotry, let us take the opportunity to facilitate healthy discussion about racism rather than immediately resorting to cancel culture.