Image: Jorge Franganillo (license)
the word ‘corona’ is latin for crown,
sometimes prickly, pressed down
until blood forms at the temple. at
times it is a yellow burnish, a skin worn
too lightly, broken by the swinging of
savage fists. the quadrangle of juvenile
rage makes a splatter on oxford street. there
is no royalty in mockery, viscous, in your hair,
nor in glass shattering between your eyes.
there is no fanfare to anxious processions,
the solemn march from vacant chinatowns.
this is no jaundice to be washed off hands and feet.
a crown is a mark, the skin presses inward,
and all masks are dirty, worn or otherwise.
This poem was written in March, just as COVID-19 was beginning its transmission across the globe. At the time, the reality of a novel virus seemed distant in the minds of those living in Britain, but its justifiable potential for racist violence had begun to make its way into British cities. Reports of discrimination, Chinatowns emptied of patronage, and harassment and violence of those of East Asian descent, whether British or international, began to proliferate. I’ve written about some of my feelings of fear and resentment, in a previous piece for Zeteo, one that developed out of an amorphous mix of anger and frustration toward God. Racial violence against East Asians has made it clear that there were limits to assimilation across the Western world, weaponised as pliant, submissive, model minorities to bolster negative stereotypes primarily against those of African or Afro-Caribbean descent. Violence against East Asians made the provisionality of acceptance apparent, an anti-Asian prejudice applied in equal vehemence against East Asian Britons and international students.
A recent piece by Sawen Ali in Varsity argues for the reductiveness of aggregating the experiences of all non-white minorities under the moniker of ‘BAME’. The disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on different communities within the demarcations of the ‘BAME’ demographic made that clear, with those of Black Caribbean and Indian descent being more at risk of dying from the disease than those of Chinese descent. And yet, when I wrote this poem, all I could think about was of shared, interlocking experiences of prejudice, variously employed by the tendrils of white supremacy. Marginality is constructed along the lines of foreignness, one that can easily give way to violence. Stereotypes, whether positive or negative, ultimately operate along an axis of dehumanisation, refuting the sacred principle that all humans are created in the image of God and derive their dignity from Him. Where those who identify as BAME can agree is that they know what it is to be classified, racialised, ethnicised, demeaned, or ignored on the basis of one’s skin.
To have condemnation stamped on you for reasons that are unjust or irrational brought me back to the foot of the Cross, crying out to Jesus, who suffered the most egregious of tortures that we may live in peace with Him and one another. That is a foundational belief to Christians and has spurred me on to persist in love for every person, but not at the expense of the specificity of our ethnic or cultural identities. This desire has driven me to be consistent in loving my neighbours, in understanding how Christ inheres in cultures both shared and distinct, and in resisting any urge to succumb to the racism endemic in our societal and worldly structures. It is the least that I owe to the world as a Christian.
‘Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.’ Colossians 3:11 (NIV)