A lot of people, mostly friends, have been reaching out to me this week.
They want to know how I’m doing. You know, with things.
It’s funny, in a sad little way. Like we have to grade these times on an absurd curve; “was this week of nightmarish humanity better or worse than the ongoing background noise of society run amok? Hard to say.”
So, I’m half-Chinese. That’s come up a few times in these columns. As such, a number of folks felt compelled to ask after my mental wellbeing, given events this week in Atlanta. You know, “how you doing,” “have you had things like this happen more often,” etc. etc.
There’s a lot to unpack for me with questions like this. For one, I’m also half-white, and you best believe that my passably WASP-Y body does not interact with the world the way other Chinese people do.
For another, I cannot possibly stand here and speak for women, and I most definitely can’t speak for sex workers, both factors which absolutely entered into the murders on Tuesday.
What I can say is that the deaths of Soon C. Park, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae. Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng were preventable.
I absolutely do not believe in this frankly looney tunes idea that we are all just “one bad day” away from being spree killers. But I do believe that we all contribute, in small or in large part, to the good and bad of the world.
An incident like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in an environment of social media degradation, and a stunning lack of empathy. We stack up those qualities every time we make a choice — and it is a choice — to contribute to a world of hatred, contempt, and dehumanization.
The killer of these people reduced them to a laundry list of grievances through the collective contributions of our online and offline world. Little by little, they were stripped of their humanity and made into vague concepts for a man with hatred to check off.
Classed and gendered and politicized and hammered down until they were, for this killer, mere things to be eliminated.
We do that. All of us. We make that happen.
I get that the world is upsetting. I get that we cast about, looking for the simple, easy outs, the person or persons to blame. But every time we add more weight onto the scales of hatred, we are pushing more and more for the unbalanced to fill the void.
I realize that COVID-19 merely exacerbated our pre-existing problems, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve seen an increase in hatred coinciding with increased social media time.
In that digital realm, other people are featureless avatars, curious bits and bytes we punch words at like a vending machine, chasing an endless high of feeling superior and Owning each other so hard.
God forbid we instead consider the person on the other end of our razor-sharp wit as a fellow human, with an entire lifetime behind them as well.
Look back in the archives of Ford on Fridays and you’ll notice I pick my targets for comedy pretty carefully. That’s not an accident.
I can’t speak for the people who were killed in Atlanta. I shouldn’t have to, and I hate the loose way I’m almost called on, as one of a handful of Chinese-Canadian journalists in Victoria, to speak from an experience I don’t necessarily have.
All I can tell you is that in my view, we have two paths ahead of us as individuals.
In the first, we continue to double-down on the selfish desire to score dopamine hits on social media, letting that anger flare over into the 3-dimensional world. We can chip each other down to the most reductive of qualities, as this murderer did — right-wing, left-wing, black, white, asian, latino, Indigenous, male, female, trans, gay, straight, homeless, housed, cyclist, motorist — and see each other in the most narrow of lenses, as obstacles against our purity.
Or we can instead embrace the basic sanctity of human life, engage each other as fulsome, complete beings, and practice a standard level of kindness.
Maybe I’m naive. But I favour the second path.
I won’t sit here and tell you that positive vibes™ will fix the world’s problems. But I do know that we make the world measurably worse when we choose the opposite.
Let’s do less of that.
Let’s, at the very least, choose to be kinder.