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Fighting against racism starts with recognition

By Jocelyn Eikenburg | China Daily | Updated: 2020-07-03 07:35

Imagine that, while riding the bus, a passenger approached you and told you to "go back to your country".

That's what happened to a friend of mine during her brief stint living and working abroad in the United Kingdom, a time that shattered the idyllic notions she once harbored about the West.

The animus behind this and other similarly racist encounters she experienced had shocked her. She had never thought people could be capable of behaving like that in public.

Her story, however, didn't surprise me-and not just because I had seen many reports over the years on racism in the UK, or that I had read Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race, British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge's award-winning deep dive into race relations in her country.

Rather, it was because I had lived a version of it in the United States with my husband Jun, when we resided there for nearly eight years. That period served as a painful education in just how widespread racism and discrimination was in my own country. I saw the many ways, both covert and overt, in which people treated him worse than his white peers.

I shouldn't have needed an education like this to realize that the scourge of racism and discrimination still thrived in the US. And my friend shouldn't have had to spend time in the UK to discover the truth there.

The protests that have emerged in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other people of color have made it impossible to ignore what has been dubbed the pandemic of racism, an epidemic that didn't begin in 2020. It has infected societies like the US and the UK for hundreds of years-and it is not a relic of the past that has magically disappeared.

In The Psychology of American Racism, a recent article in the respected journal American Psychologist, the authors observed how "American racism is alive and well" and that, contrary to what many believe, "Racism is a system of advantage based on race. It is a hierarchy. It is a pandemic. Racism is so deeply embedded within US minds and US society that it is virtually impossible to escape." The greatest factor that perpetuates racism is what the authors call passivism or passive racism-indifference to such systems of advantage based on race or even a refusal to believe they are there.

This moment in history has witnessed a seismic shift in public opinion, where more people than ever are acknowledging the problem of racism. For example, a recent Monmouth University poll revealed that 76 percent of respondents considered racial discrimination as a big problem in the US, up 25 points compared to 2015. While making progress will ultimately require taking concrete action against racism, none of that is possible until people around the world recognize how pervasive and serious racism really is.

I've seen signs of encouragement while reading recent media reports about Mona Wang, an Asian nursing student in Canada who says she was physically abused and emotionally scarred during a police wellness check, with video showing her being dragged facedown on the ground, with the officer at one point even placing a foot on Wang's head. Netizens, who have largely condemned the incident, have also stressed the need to see this as racism-and to speak up. One commenter wisely wrote, "People might think, what does this have to do with me? Don't affect my ability to earn money. But next time, it might be you."

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