In December, I wrote a column about the dangers of yellow fever. Last April, I wrote an extensive post about the dangers of making anti-Asian COVID jokes. Both were met with non-Asians telling me it wasn’t that serious, that they were “just jokes” and not something to worry about. The attacks on Asian-American owned businesses in Atlanta were the culmination of these racist phenomena — ones that were dismissed even after Asian voices have amplified these issues for as long as they’ve existed.
When I heard about the events in Atlanta, I was horrified. Seeing the faces of the victims and how much they looked like both my grandmother and mother made me sick to my stomach. Beyond that, several facts of the case struck me with rage instantly. The fact the perpetrator acted as if his crimes weren’t racially motivated (a clear ploy to get himself out of a hate crime charge) and the police department’s reluctance to act swiftly. The fact the police couldn’t immediately see that tying sexual addiction to Asian women was a clear example of yellow fever. The fact one of the officers had proudly flaunted racist t-shirts on his social media account using Asians as a scapegoat for the COVID-19 pandemic. But most enraging of all, the fact that Asian people have been working for the elimination of both of these ideologies for years and are constantly dismissed.
Hindsight, especially in this violent aftermath, is not pretty. Since the hate crimes across the country have gained more attention, my Instagram feed has been filled with “Stop Asian Hate” in cursive fonts and aestheticized infographics detailing the same points about yellow fever that I and numerous other Asians have been talking about for far too long. The irony of finding this support on the profiles the “woke” girls who used to ask if I eat dog is not lost on me, a stinging reminder of the hilarity of performative activism. Even worse, in the wake of these events, to see the silence of the boys who have sexualized my race.
Maybe I’m bitter, but it’s not fair to hurl damaging insults at people of color, negatively affecting their perception of their own race, then, in the wake of violent hate crimes across the country, post a colorful infographic as if everything’s okay — or even worse, remain silent– that does not make any meaningful impact whatsoever.
This phenomena is common across all issues in teenage pseudo activism: it wasn’t until George Floyd was killed that we saw these white activists posting about inequality in over policing, and even now the movement has become largely neglected by these same people because of its drop in “popularity.” Granted, they might not have known about the issues until the rapid increase in awareness, but it’s very telling when they suddenly stop their pseudo activism once they stop being praised for it.
This is not to say that all teenagers who consider themselves activists are doing it for attention- social media activism can be incredibly effective when done correctly. We’ve seen teenagers make stunning strides in social equality through the use of social media- but there’s a critical difference between activism and virtual signaling. Activism begins by confronting your own individual prejudice and taking accountability for it, then taking the time to listen to the POC around oneself in order to strive for a future in which we don’t need Canva presets to amplify that message.
You can’t call COVID the “Kung-Flu” and then repost “Stop Asian Hate.” You can’t call yourself an activist if you only care when it’s too late. The narrative of social media activism within this generation needs a fundamental change. Start actively listening to POC voices without immediately dismissing them. Start posting useful resource links instead of meaningless designs for the aesthetic. Prejudice isn’t pretty- trying to make the hate crimes fit a pleasing design diminishes the seriousness of the issue, especially in tandem with repeated patterns of virtue signaling.
And most of all, to remain silent is to remain complicit in the racism that led to these events. Ignoring the issue does not make it go away, especially if you have contributed to that issue in any point in time. Even small donations to charitable organizations, providing resource links in your accounts, or even reaching out to your POC friends, who have undoubtedly been affected by racism, signals support. There is no excuse to remain silent in the face of human rights crises- even the little support listed previously goes a long way. Deliberately choosing to remain ignorant to issues that POC strive to amplify undoubtedly costs lives in Atlanta and across the country.
Performative activism does not warrant one brushing their own racism and prejudice under the rug. Taking accountability doesn’t mean the dreaded cancellation often exaggerated by “cancel culture”- but by admitting your previous prejudice, and expressing remorse, POC are able to move forward in their own struggles with race. I clearly remember nearly every incident of racism I’ve experienced- it’s unfair that I have to live with that weight while the perpetrators get off without even acknowledging their wrongs.
Accountability is a prerequisite to activism- it’s time we remember that.