I am offended by your "satire" and I won’t remain silent

Copyright Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom (Instagram: @chung.woolrim)

In the past week, the world has seen the rage caused by long-lasting systematic racism against African Americans. I am deeply touched and inspired by the solidarity I see. I do not intend to distract the attention from the ongoing movement—in fact, I don't think I can—but I am determined to speak up about the news that deeply upsets me.

The Dutch Prosecution Service announced that Radio10 DJ Lex Gaarthuis would not be prosecuted for his Carnival song "Voorkomen is beter dan Chinezen" [prevention is better than Chinese] because it "fits within the context of artistic expression...and should be interpreted satirically". The Dutch Justice claims that their decision is also based on the fact that "(this song) is not unnecessarily offensive" and Mr. Gaarthuis had apologized. For people who do not know what happened and why I think this is unacceptable, I would like to provide the background first.

In early February, DJ Lex Gaarthuis broadcasted a song titled "Voorkomen is beter dan Chinezen". The title is a play on "Voorkomen is beter dan genezen" and links the coronavirus to Chinese people and eating Chinese food. The lyrics of this song goes like this (translated):

Hey guys, that virus doesn't take a break, we shouldn't have that in our country, it's all because of those stinky Chinese. Hundreds of dead people, things are getting out of hand now. Corona, it was a nice beer, but now I get nervous about it. If in doubt, you should already be quarantined and out of nassie later if that is no longer possible. Do not eat Chinese, then you have nothing to fear, because prevention is better than the Chinese ...

According to the news, after this song was broadcasted, a 24-year-old Dutch-Chinese woman was attacked in the elevator in her student flat in Tilburg after she asked a group of young people to stop singing this song at her. The group said they wanted to eradicate the coronavirus and she was left with a concussion and several cuts on her chest and stomach.

Later, Vincent Yeers and Hui-Hui Pan initiated an online petition to stop discrimination against Asians in the Netherlands due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. It was signed over 25 thousand times. The Dutch institutions started to look into this incident after receiving the petition and thousands of reports. And this is their decision and their reasoning.

What upsets me is not the fact that the DJ is not prosecuted (I would rather believe that his apology is sincere and therefore no harsher punishment is needed), but the reasoning the court is providing. It indicates that "people having fun with Dutch humour" takes priority over minorities' well-being and safety. It indicates that no other price needs to be paid for discriminating and racist utterances as long as one will apologize. It indicates that Chinese and Asian people shouldn't feel offended if the Dutch institutions do not think it is "unnecessarily offensive". This sets an example for the Dutch society that discriminating against Chinese and Asians is 'OK' and will be tolerated. I don’t agree with this. I cannot agree with this.

Asians have always been perceived as the "model minority". We work hard and keep quiet. We don’t want to cause trouble. Only in recent years have we started to raise our voices. Does that mean racism against Asians is rare in the Netherlands? No. On the contrary, I think it has been institutionalized. Just like what happened yesterday, mocking and discriminating Asians is regarded as non-offensive humor and satire. This has become so normalized that people feel shocked when we tell them we are offended. My Dutch friends told me, in some Dutch schools, teachers teach the class how to sing a "Chinese" version of the “Happy Birthday” song with ridiculous and absolutely meaningless words that sound like Chinese such as "hanky panky Shanghai" and the kids are sometimes encouraged to use fingers to pull back their eyes to "really get into the Asian vibe".

I don't think I can stay silent anymore. I want the Dutch society to know that Asians feel hurt and offended by jokes like this. And I really hope Asians can come together, forget about our "model minority" mentality, join those who already spoke up, and make our voices heard.

Portrait of Qian Huang

Author

Qian Huang is a PhD candidate at the Department of Media & Communication. Under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Trottier and Prof. Susanne Janssen, she studies digital vigilantism in China. Qian received a Bachelor’s degree in English and International Studies from China Foreign Affairs University, followed by a Master’s degree in Global Communication from Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include social media, China studies, intercultural communication, gender studies, and pop culture