(originally performed at The Paper Machete on Saturday, October 4th, 2014)
The seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony—the cultural foundation and seat of America if you believe the historical veracity of Brady Bunch and Sabrina the Teenage Witch episodes—depicts a Native American, or “heathen savage” as the colonists would have called him, with an aesthetically-displeasing speech bubble, which reads:
“COME OVER AND HELP US.”
And, thus, was the fetus of Manifest Destiny gestated. America has a great history of getting into other people’s business, but while also judging and othering them in a really fantastic show of how well California does as a state. From not annexing Mexico during the Mexican-American War for being too “brown” and “uppity” to, you know, starting the Mexican-American War, these United States seem to only unite Voltron-like out of the steady call of the war drum, ready to help tell some other people about how stupid their outfits are while our nation stands pants-less with fanny packs.
So, too, do we find Hong Kong. True, we’re not invading Hong Kong—yet—but it’s the 21st century, and America has other ways to operate, no matter how rarely we choose them. Hong Kong, a British Crown Colony roughly from 1842 until 1997 (with a few Hirohito-era Japan years thrown in to spice things up) due to, in part, The Opium Wars, and since handed back over to China, has had a rather difficult time finding its stride. When handed over, it was granted—by the Sino-British Joint Declaration—a high degree of autonomy from strict Chinese control (well, only for 50 years, but this is NOW and who cares about 50 years from now? Britain rarely ever does and America can’t even figure NOW out). The recent “Umbrella revolution” has sprung up—as they often do—from the young and not-yet downtroddenly cynical youth of Hong Kong in revolt against the Chinese decision that candidates for the post of the territory’s chief executive should be selected by a committee of Communist Party supporters.
News media, politicians, that guy you sat next to on the bus have been spending the last week strumming the ukulele of ideological warfare and touting the orderliness, righteousness, and holiness of the Hong Kong struggle for independence, proper representation, and justice. Because, here’s the funny thing folks… America loves democracy, but only when cool brown-ish people do it on their own—or with our help. I know, harsh words, but examine recent American history.
The Hong Kong protests have been characterized by two major aspects in the news media. Their polite order and cleanliness, and the imminent fear of another Tiananmen Square. These have been key to the characterization of the protests by our politicians, media, and parents. The Hong Kong protests have been held up by the news media as an example of a strong, but respectful protest. Humble and polite, under the brutal, cruel, and wily Chinese Government. One might call the protestors, who represent a small number of China, a “model minority”. Because if there’s one thing we as a country can agree on as it pertains to East Asians, it’s that they are either sinister and cunning or polite and bow a lot.
Nevermind that protestors and demonstrators in Ferguson walked with their hands in the air when they weren’t cleaning up the streets of debris and tear gas canisters. Nevermind that Occupy was physically contained, rarely ever approaching anything near violence—unless you count their clothing choices as ocular violence, which, yes. The Hong Kong protests shine as a beacon of straight-lined cues, double-handed handshakes, and the kid from the Indiana Jones films. America loves an underdog, especially when that underdog is not us and is fighting against something we’ve all agreed is bad—like Communism, or forcing slaves to build your railroad. Wait, not the last one. If the foundation of these united states (and some commonwealths) truly taught us anything, it’s that Americans love a little radical violence in their protesting.
And, of course, we must remain vigilant of the always-looming potential of another Tiananmen Square. America sits perfectly-poised to police the protection of free speech and protest, as in its over 200-year history, the United States has NEVER EVER ruthlessly and violently murdered college students who were assembled for peaceful protest.
So, it is with our SPOTLESS record that we must watch, eagle-like, to ensure that the Chinese Government does not commit such heinous un-American acts as pepper-spraying and shooting innocent people, denying their citizens the ability to vote, or forcing slaves to build their railroads. Wait, not the last one. If there’s one thing that’s definitely NOT happening within the United States of America AT THIS VERY MOMENT, it’s a peaceful protest constantly besieged by tanks and military weapons. At least, since the Hong Kong protests began, that’s what the news media tells us.
Events are still unfolding. Information is still being ascertained and assessed and analyzed. It would be careless to take immediate information and assumptions and couple those with preconceived and potentially racist notions in order to fit a comfortable narrative which makes the United States government appear strong and magnanimous. And that shouldn’t be happening with the Hong Kong protests either.
Ultimately, yes, these are extremely trying and dangerous times. And, if a populace feels committed to rise up against their government to address grievances, then more power and hope to them. They are fighting a long, already incredibly violent and oppressive battle. The fact that Occupy and Ferguson are still mired in governmental rejection while the Chinese Government offered to talk to the protestors is ridiculous and embarrassing. The idea that Americans—media, politicians, or real people—need to cutesify the protests of other, culturally “backwards” people who have finally seen the brilliant light of democracy held high upon the arm of Liberty in order to feel good about themselves and their country,well, that’s a load of Hong Kong phooey.