As I get older, I learn not to be too swift in offering words of support, comfort, or encouragement that are disposed without due thoughts. You often hear words like, “Stay strong” or “They’re in a much better place now” that are spoken to somebody who has just lost a loved ones. I get it that it’s such an emotionally awkward situation that it’s a difficult struggle to resist the urge to say something. When I lost some loved ones, my feelings were acutely sensitive to separate those who disposed clichés to those who were sincere. A silent hug and a pair of supporting ears speak much louder than “I know how you feel”. During those times, I felt like hurling words to the effect of “Do you? Do you really?”. That’s why I won’t say anything to that effect to somebody who had a misfortune that I haven’t had to experience. I would force myself to think first and see if I could do something that they would really appreciate.
We are too easy to throw support or opposition to a matter in recent times – without thinking.
The same gesture – with the right thoughts behind it – would be far more meaningful than vacuous profile picture filter change on the social media, a hashtag, a tweet, or a status update.
The death of George Floyd brought years of pent-up emotions and hopelessness in the United States. The reactions are seen and heard across the world. I read commentaries by mostly non-black authors who urge the protesters to stop, and remind them that things are truly not as bad as it seems. If you follow the logic that I presented to you earlier, it’s akin to a man telling a mother who has just had a miscarriage: “Be strong. Things are not as bad as it seems.”
I have experienced racism throughout my life – either direct or systemic racism in Indonesia, or casual racism in Australia. What refrained me from reacting at the onset is that I don’t want to offer empty cliché – and yet at the same time, I don’t want to stay silent on this important topic either. Although I faced racism and discrimination in Indonesia – being a Christian and an Indonesian of Chinese descent – most Chinese-Indonesians live very comfortably. We are more likely to be better-off, well-educated group of the population. The threats and name-calling that we have to endure are far outweighed by the position of privilege in the society. Although technically Chinese Indonesians live far away from their ancestral land, we are not haunted by despair and hopelessness. Yes, maybe there is a longing to return to the ‘homeland’ among the first generation Chinese Indonesians, but this feeling is virtually absent in the subsequent generations.
Contrast this to black community in the US.
Despair and hopelessness started from day one, when the slavemasters brought people against their will to the new land hundreds of years ago. To the majority, they have never tasted the ‘success’ of having good-paying jobs, living in desirable parts of town , or walking through a neighbourhood without suspicious looks or 911 calls – simply having a hope for the future. Compared to the longing that first-generation migrants towards their homeland, the black community are caught in limbo – of not desiring to return to where their ancestors came from, and yet not being made to feel accepted as equals in the place they call home.
First of all, I would offer an apology as this is an outsider’s observation – as again, although there is a shared experience of racism between my experience and what the black community face on an ongoing basis, this intersection is small compared to whole injustice and discrimination.
Compare this as well to the indigenous population in Australia … not only this is their homeland, and yet they are not allowed to grieve for the loss of homeland when we (usually, the non-indigenous) say words to the effects of, “That is in the past, move on please.” or “See how good government supports are for you. What else do you want?” – again, it’s similar if you blazély say, “Come on mate, life’s not that bad.” to somebody who is grieving after their house was robbed empty. Whilst the words are true, there are better ways to show the same sentiment.
So, why do I wade into this dangerous and sensitive territory?
Elie Wiesel – Nobel Peace Price winner and a Holoucaust survivor says this, “The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference.” There is a parallel to what Martin Luther King, Jr. says on the matter of injustice, “We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
So, I speak out.
I won’t claim I know everything about the injustice, the discrimination, and the racism in the US or here in Australia. Through this simple gesture, I just want to say – I am here and I am willing to learn more. I hear what you have to say and I stand with you.