Over the last few weeks, there has been a louder – not loud enough, in my opinion – but at least louder conversation about anti-Asian racism and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. This is in part due to Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu raising awareness about the attack on a 91-year-old East Asian man in Oakland recently and putting up a reward for information leading to an arrest.
I know I’ve posted that video before and I’m sorry you had to watch that disturbing scene again but the reason why the discussion about anti-Asian racism is getting louder is because people had to see that sh-t to acknowledge the reality. The impact of seeing that spry old man, making his way around the neighbourhood, still independent at 91, and getting f-cked up by that asshole is undeniable. That’s why so many started to pay attention. Which is encouraging…but also really tragic. Because it shouldn’t have happened at all. And it shouldn’t have to happen to make people sit up. But also because it’s still happening at a devastating rate. The New York Times just reported today that anti-Asian crime rates are soaring in New York City. In Vancouver, anti-Asian hate crimes rose by 717% last year. That is not a typo. Seven hundred and seventeen percent. And activists have been doing the work of trying to get people to care for a long time:
"WE ARE NOT A VIRUS": As hate crimes rise against Asian Americans, members of the #AAPI community share their experiences with racism during the pandemic and why it's important to speak up against hate.@nguyen_amanda @AndrewYang @evachen212 @charlottejcho @NextShark @BennyLuo pic.twitter.com/ZF5wCEnOER— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) February 25, 2021
There is no one solution, obviously, to addressing these social problems. In fact, it’s going to take a lot of solutions, including arts and entertainment, which is what we do here – talk about culture and its value. This is why Raya and the Last Dragon is important (premiering next Friday on Disney +) and Minari too. This is why we need to see more people of various backgrounds in our stories, why we need a wider range of stories, and a wider range of who gets to tell them. This is why BTS is more than just a band out of South Korea, why their significance goes beyond how many records they sell and how many times they top the charts.
When acts like BTS are exposed to a wider audience, when their presence in the culture is more and more normalised, when hearing them sing in their native language and singing in English the way they sing in English, becomes a common occurrence, it expands our familiarity with who gets to be popular and praised, who gets to be on stage, who gets to be seen and heard, and hopefully, eventually, who gets to be understood, respected, and protected.
Along the way though, there will be resistance. That’s the sh-tty but necessary part about change: it’s uncomfortable, sometimes traumatic. And while they push for change, marginalised people have to eat that sh-t over and over again, even as they’re serving a bigger purpose that, ultimately, will lead to greater good.
BTS Unplugged aired earlier this week around the world on MTV – and it was a big deal, it made news everywhere, as RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook continue to push past the limits to what they can achieve. Some people weren’t so excited by it though. A radio host in Germany is drawing international attention for comments he made about BTS’s Unplugged and specifically their version of Coldplay’s “Fix You”. Bayern 3 radio announcer Matthias Matuschik called BTS a virus, comparing them to COVID-19 and hoped there would be a vaccine for the virus known as BTS soon. His f-cksh-t went on from there:
not only being racist towards bts but also to the whole entire asian community. being a racist is not an opinion, you offended every asian that heard this. this kind of racism should not be tolerated #Bayern3Racist #RassismusbeiBayern3 pic.twitter.com/r4FHfu4A9j— moved @97PR0D (@vocalsjmin) February 26, 2021
Claiming you’re not racist because you drive a Korean car is an all-time racist greatest hit. Anyway, as you can imagine, because the reach and passion of BTS’s ARMY, Matthias and Bayern 3 were soon made aware of how much they suck. And they have now issued an apology:
The apology by Bayern 3 would've been better if they ommitted the unnecessary middle part. DJ's apology is just insincere. He was forced to apologize and tried to protect his image first and foremost. He still thinks he is the victim here as seen of his socials. pic.twitter.com/7PBsx1GJT6— Rayaâ· (@Raya_for_BTS) February 26, 2021
I don’t want to spend time focusing on why this apology isn’t it; I’d rather focus on the greater consequence of his words, and the liberty with which he said them. If an American president can speak and tweet using this kind of language so liberally, and radio hosts can speak like this so liberally, so self-righteously (and this dude isn’t the only one), of course people are going to keep getting hurt, both physically and emotionally. Asians around the world are being attacked, Asians around the world are being told that they’re viruses, that their ethnicity is a disease, and non-Asians around the world are internalising that to mean that Asian-ness is contaminating, must be wiped clean, stomped on, and pushed off the sidewalk.
Here in Canada the #FaceRace campaign was launched recently to raise awareness about anti-Asian racism. It’s a joint project between the Chinese Canadian National Council for Justice and the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic with online resources and tips for how to deal with racism. I cried when I read one of their suggestions on how to reply when encountering racist behaviour which is to try saying:
“Like you, I’m also stressed and hurting from this virus -- but your racism is making it worse, for all of us."
I’m imagining my parents memorising this script, and trying to deescalate the situation by empathising… “like you, I’m also stressed”…when empathy clearly wouldn’t be extended to them if they were on the receiving end of whatever precipitated the need for this reaction. But it’s suggested to them as a way they might be able to stay safe. As Kathleen said last year, it’s pleading for their humanity, as if that’s a thing anyone should have to do.
As we inch (and I mean INCH) towards reopening then, as the vaccines become more available and we start, ever so slowly, getting back out there, and being around other people, hopefully this might be something you keep in mind when you see members of the Asian community and what risks they may be encountering in these times, as we all share space and move around each other, alongside one another, ideally in support of one another.
And if you haven’t already, once again here’s BTS’s singing “Fix You”, the performance that was for whatever reason so offensive it gave a radio host the virus energy. Not to be corny but maybe BTS is exactly the kind of community spread we need more of.