Friday, June 12, 2020

LETTER TO THE FREE

If you haven't already done so, I strongly recommend that you watch Ava DuVernay's documentary, 13th. It's on Netflix in Singapore, I don't know if it's on the US Netflix. It was released in 2016 but is still as relevant today. 

It's important to watch, and especially important for white people to watch, or for your Asian family members or friends who may not understand the American prison industrial complex. If you have racists among your parents, cousins, aunties, uncles, et cetera, ask them to spend two hours with you and show it to them. 

I've been to America three times. On my first trip, I didn't like parts of San Francisco because it smelled like weed, and for a Singaporean, that was the first time in my 25 years of life I was smelling weed. I didn't know about gentrification or people of color being priced out of their own neighborhoods. I didn't know what being priced out meant. On that trip, I went out on Marina Del Rey in a boat and I thought that was what the average LA transplant experiences.

My second trip I spent almost exclusively in LA, discounting when I crossed the state line to Nevada. I met many white people and families. I met a white lawyer and I followed him to the state court, when he had to file some work before we drove to Lake Tahoe. We drove across deserts for hours and we listened to Spanish music and he taught me about folklore. I met another white Jewish man who makes music, he told me a little about his family and the Jewish community in East LA. 

I think, during that trip, the people I stayed with were already trying to open my eyes to the strange, painful, uneven lifestyles that they were all a part of. I was having fun and I was in love, so I had the most rose-tinted glasses on and refused to see it. The person I liked asked about bank protection in Singapore like the American ones that were too big to fail, and somehow I was an idiot and my brain didn't work. I played into a movie trope, as I always seem to do. 

My third venture was to New York. I was a tiny little bit more mature. I knew about racial and gender injustices, I knew the people on Wall Street were greedy and selfish but I was still willing to live in a city where the same pricing-out was happening to the same communities of color. I didn't know about police brutality, and I was introduced to just the term ACAB. He knew my mother was a cop so he brought it up, but I fell asleep, and I forgot about it, because I was in love again. It was my first time in New York, so I spoke to homeless people of color and I thought that would help somehow, that I as a solitary singular person was talking to a homeless black man about Trump, commiserating, as if I could change anything. About his life or about the system.

I cannot. Not by myself. I can attend all the women's marches and black lives matter protests in the world but I am one person. It took me twenty-eight years to learn about bank foreclosure, twenty-nine for gentrification, thirty to understand police brutality. I watched 13th, and it details how America has transitioned from slavery to mass incarceration. Every aspect of it is covered, like how the biggest corporations involved in political lobbying have vested interests in keeping more people in prison, and for longer. It puts up pillars, of how you might think a black man could defend and help themselves, then knocks them back down again with terribly unfair laws enacted by government. 

Sometimes people are concerned that I worry about things I cannot change, but I like to keep myself aware because I think change can only come with awareness. I was not worried about all the social issues before I was made aware of them. I didn't know what was happening and so I could not care about them, and I was just one more person complicit in allowing an injustice, many injustices to continue. 

I want to believe that if you shared all the facts there are, most people would not act the same way as they did when they were blissfully unaware. Money is not and has never been the driving factor for most people, not the ones I know about. If you knew where your money came from, where it was going towards, if it was perpetuating a slavery that you can see and be accountable for, if it was going towards an endless vicious cycle of policing and ensuring future generations of wronged prisoners, you would want to sever that connection. 

I want to believe that the reason capitalism still continues is that there are a few people who have staggering amounts of money and power and who lack conscience, but that the greater community don't agree with nor support them. And we can work to overturn that, because there is power in numbers. There always has been. If we all just acknowledge that the value of human life is in the love and compassion and connection we all share, more than the monetary wealth we can each attain for ourselves, we can change this.