*First posted on March 23 2021.

Listen here Asian people. Here’s my dry-eyed truth. All week long, I’ve had a case of empathy deficiency. Like one forced to empathize with an abuser who is suddenly the victim of abuse. I acknowledge your humanity and will actually defend it, but I accuse you of lacking the empathy you now seek from the rest of us. You’ve been cold-hearted, insular, uncaring and abusive. You don’t hear much from Africans but today you’ll hear from one. Sit down and listen to my story.

One day I was running late to catch the bus back to Baltimore from NY. When I arrived at 34th and 7th, I had just missed it. The next bus was still there and was about to leave. I asked the 3 Asian ladies at the ticketing office if there were seats available on the bus. They said yes, plenty. I showed them my ticket for the previous bus and asked if I could use it. They said no, I must buy a new ticket.

Now, these tickets are affordable and I could easily have bought a new one, but I could feel it wasn’t about the ticket for them. They were just being mean and openly having fun at my expense. They would look at me, say something in their language and then burst out laughing. I felt like a caged monkey. They shooed me out of the office with sounds, “Shoo! Shoo!” They actually did that. It stung deep. I must have looked pitiful. There was a reason for this.

Usually I put up a pretty good fight in situations like these, but this time I was an emotional wreck. I had gone to see a terminally ill uncle and I was hurting inside. I cannot begin to explain here what this uncle meant to me. He’s the one who walked me down the aisle six years back when dad couldn’t make it to the US. Now he was suffering terribly, and we were all helpless. Here I was going back home after visiting with him. We would lose him a couple of months later, only 5 years after losing my closest aunt to cancer. I was an open wound when I arrived at that bus stop.

To date, I believe what those Asian woman saw was the typical image of the stereotyped African: a pitiful ignorant woman standing there going ooga-booga, looking beggarly, and no fight. It doesn’t take much to google clips of  “Asian racism in Africa” to see what I’m talking about. Before the current Chinese racism in Africa, we had Indian racism. Another story for another day.

In situations where I’m outgunned, I become a silent observer. I bought a new ticket while they still laughed. There’s a narrative in an August Wilson play where a white person tells this black guy “N***** can you dance!” And forces him to dance just for laughs. I sat in that but as the rain kept pounding outside. I let the rain inside of me come pouring out all the way home. I cried over everything I’d forgotten to cry for. I got to the park-and-ride in Baltimore, jumped into my car late at night and shoved the incident into the delete folder at the back of my mind.

I’m telling you this story because it captures an unspoken reality for African peoples. We know how to delete these incidents of racism and pretend we’re okay, or pretend they mean nothing. We tell ourselves we’ve got bigger fish to fry and if someone chipped off a piece of your humanity you’ll grow it back.

But the memory kept demanding attention because the cases of racism and hate crimes in Kenya were increasing rapidly. Chinese settling there were calling Kenyans monkeys and treating them like trash. New factories with their Chinese bosses were mistreating, overworking and underpaying their Kenyan workers. Jim Crow had arrived in Africa, again. Chinese employees were being given separate spaces and better treatment than their African counterparts.

A young lady lost her hand at a Chinese factory in Kenya and the company fired her without compensation. She had a little child and an overworked husband who also got fired for standing up for her. There was a phone number provided with her story. I managed to reach her and help out as she struggled to forget in a country where this kind of injustice becomes a private burden. In Angola, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria… Africans were rising up against the inhumanity of the Asian newcomers. It shouldn’t be that way, not in the 21st century. But it is.

Then Covid-19 hit, and the Africans living in China were thrown out into the cold. Chinese blamed these “monkeys” (they use this word a lot when referring to Africans) for bringing them Corona. The sheer irony of it. The general Chinese population never stood up against the racism and hate crimes of their fellow countryfolk against Africans.

Now here we are with a rising wave of shocking violence, insult and injury against Asians. I know it is wrong, wrong, wrong what the Asian community is going through in the US right now, but I also take umbrage against a people who have shut themselves away and refused to stand up for my African people when their own have been the perpetrators of hate crimes. For many Asians, Africans have fallen short of being a part of the human race and being worthy of empathy.

Asians living in countries like the US that have freedom of speech chose to stay silent throughout the Black struggle. A trickle may have woken up during George Floyd, but they sure went back to sleep quickly. Collectively, Asians also need to speak out when the most powerful Asian country sets policies of plunder and subjugation in Africa. For now, this African will vigorously defend your humanity, with a dry eye.

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