Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: If I had not been a naturalized US Citizen, I would have applied for dual citizenship in one of the ASEAN countries. However, my preferred choice considered a citizen would be Thailand because of my strong ties and relationship to specific individuals like a former Harvard classmate and former Senator and Minister in the Thai government, a grounded public intellectual, Dr. Joy Taveesin, and a closed academic friend, Dr. Por Chin, a researcher, and the co-author of my next book also a disciple and a fine scholar on one the exponent of utilitarianism John Stuart Mills as well as my numerous Asian students around the world.
I also have a lifelong decent Chinese friend and colleague during Nieman’s fellowship at Harvard Foundation for Journalism, Mr. Yuyu Dong ad his wife and son, Yifu Dong, now a Yale graduate, a prolific writer like his father and a New York Times contributor. We still good friends and still maintaining a healthy platonic friendship.
As a purely factual matter, it is not offensive to call a group of people or things by the label that applies to a subset of that group, but it is just wrong (e.g., calling all “fruits,” “apples” is offensive in of itself). Calling all Asian people “Chinese” is similarly factually incorrect and is not, I would argue, inherently awful. So what makes it offensive?
Fatoumatta: It is morally ambiguous and equivocating to assigned a moral equivalence to the good, the bad, the ugly, the evil, and those lacking human decency tolerating evil. Furthermore, at this moment, I knew the threat to xenophobia is accurate, and I have seen and witnessed the traumatic impact of racism and discrimination on black people all over the world and seen xenophobia increasing globally in my lifetime.
Given that most Asians (to make a sweeping generalization) have some measure of self-identity and pride in such self-identity, the statement, or sentiment, that All Asians Are the Same is patently offensive; it is disrespectful to the extreme and shows a blatant disregard for the individualism and culture of all Asians. There are also overtones of stereotyping and racism in this statement. A great deal of history makes it far more offensive than it might seem from reading the relatively dry argument I set below.
To Asian family and friends. Listen to me devoid of prejudice. Here is my dry-eyed truth. All week long, I have had a case of empathy deficiency, like one forced to empathize with an abuser who is suddenly the victim of abuse. I acknowledge your humanity and defend it, but I accuse the Asian Americans of lacking the empathy they now seek from the rest of the black community. You have been cold-hearted, insular, uncaring, and abusive. You do not hear much from Africans, but today you will hear from one. Sit down. I tell you a story.
Fatoumatta: One day, I ran late to catch the bus back to Washington DC from New York. When I arrived at 34th and 7tth Avenue, I had just missed it. The following bus was still there and was about to leave. I asked the three Chinese ladies at the ticketing office if there were seats on the bus. They said yes, plenty. I showed them my ticket for the last bus and asked if I could use it. They said no, buy a new ticket.
Fatoumatta: These tickets are cheap, and I could easily have bought a new one, but I could feel it was not about the ticket for them. They were being mean and having fun at my expense. They would look at me, say something in their language, and then burst out laughing. They shooed me out of the office with sounds, “Shoo! Shoo!” It is because I looked pitiful. Let me explain.
Usually, I put up a pretty good fight in situations like these, but I emotionally wrecked this time. I had gone to see a terminally ill friend, and I was hurting inside. To date, I believe what they saw was the typical image of the stereotyped African: a pitiful ignorant man standing there looking beggarly, and no fight. It does not take much to google video clips of “Asian racism in Africa” to see what I am talking about. Before Chinese racism, we had Indian bias and discrimination in Africa. Another story for another day.
Let me wind up this story. In situations where I am outgunned, I become a silent observer. I bought a new ticket while they still laughed. A narrative is like an American playwright August Wilson plays where a white person tells this black guy, “N* can you dance!” Furthermore, it forces him to dance just for laughs. I sat in that, but as the rain kept pounding outside. I let the rain inside of me come pouring out. I got to the park-and-ride in Washington DC, jumped into an Uber taxi late at night, and shoved the incident into the delete folder at the back of my mind.
Fatoumatta: I am telling you this story because it captures an unspoken reality for African peoples. We know how to delete these incidents and pretend we are okay or pretend they mean nothing. We tell ourselves we have got bigger fish to fry, and if someone chipped off a piece of your humanity, you would grow it back.
However, the memory kept demanding attention because racism and hate crimes in African countries were increasing rapidly. Chinese settling there were calling Africans monkeys and treating them like trash. New factories with their Chinese bosses were mistreating, overworking, and underpaying their African workers. America’s Jim Crow had arrived in Africa. Chinese employees were being given separate spaces and better treatment than their African counterparts.
Fatoumatta: A young lady lost her hand at a Chinese factory in one African country, and the company fired her without compensation. She had a little child and an overworked husband who also got fired for standing up for her. Human rights activists managed to reach her and help out as she struggled to forget in a country where her injustice was her private burden. In Angola, the Gamba, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Africans were rising against the inhumanity of the Asian newcomers.
Then Covid-19 hit, and the Africans living in China were thrown out into the cold. They blamed these “monkeys” (they use this word a lot when referring to Africans) for bringing them Corona. The sheer irony of it. The general Chinese population never stood up against their fellow Chinese’s racism and hate crimes against Africans.
I know it is wrong, wrong, wrong what the Asian community is going through in the US. However, I also take umbrage against people who have shut themselves away and refused to stand up for my African people when their own have been the perpetrators of hate crimes. For many Asians, Africans have fallen short of being a part of the human race and being worthy of empathy.
Fatoumatta: Asians living in countries like the US that have freedom of speech chose to stay silent throughout the black struggle. A trickle may have woken up during George Floyd, but they sure went back to sleep quickly. Collectively, Asians also need to speak out when the most influential Asian country sets plunder and subjugation policies in Africa. For now, this African will vigorously defend your humanity with a dry eye
Alagi Yorro Jallow