I’d planned on reposting a series I’d done on Facebook in 2018 that compared political cartoons from the late 1800s and early 1900s to issues we were facing today. Turns out a lot of those posts are mysteriously gone from my Facebook feed.
However, we can analyze this one today.
This one was titled ‘The Mongolian Octopus – His Grip on Australia’ and was published in Sydney, from The Bulletin [‘Australia for the White Man’], August 21, 1886.
Fears of the “Yellow Peril” were not a USA only problem. Pretty much any area colonized by white, western europeans also felt threatened by the mass immigration of Chinese people and east asians in general.
You can see how “small pox” and “typhoid” – the medical threats of the day – are associated with Chinese. Today, as Asians all over the world are sharing how they’ve been verbally and physically attacked because of a racist connection between them and the coronavirus, we see not much has changed. #IAmNotAVirus is only necessary in a world that associates anyone east asian with disease and infection.
Other labels in this cartoon (cheap labour, robbery, immorality, drugs), should remind us of the labels being put on immigrants and asylum seekers at the USA’s southern border. When you hear your aunt or neighbor expressing their concern about the criminals coming in from the US-Mexico border, it is the same thing. The fear of Chinese immigrant in the 1880s was no less real to them as the fear of the Latin immigrant is today. And no less racist either.
Today we know that all people are made in the image of God. Right? That there is no race or ethnicity, no culture or heritage that is inherently immoral, diseased, or criminal. I hope so. However, it’s clear we still have not fully eradicated these ideas from our collective cultural conscious.
When the news broke about Coronavirus and media/press grabbed any image of east asian people (images from unrelated events and places) they could find to attach to their articles…it was a false association with damaging effect.
It revealed how the former racist narratives of Chinese and east asian people still exists in our collective imagination. We’ve not done a good enough job of deconstructing these biases.
I think it helps to look at these things from history…look at something from a safe distance of “we know better now” because we can clearly see how wrong this cartoon is and how dehumanizing it is.
Then we can ask ourselves, in what subtle ways are we still doing this? Still tempted too or permissive of associated a racial/ethnic group with infection, disease, immorality or generally being a threat to ‘our way of life’?
I have a new article up at The Art of Taleh:
Here is an exerpt:
“It is not difficult to hate someone once we’ve perceived them to be a threat. The depictions (in words and images) of East Asians as the evil and threatening “yellow peril” have deep roots in our cultural history and COVID-19 is merely proving how little has changed. […] Yet God urges us throughout the Bible to resist all lies and deceptions; to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). What might that look like during the rise of COVID-19?”