A story is making its way around social media about the death of a Chinese man and his mother who perished after wading into a cesspool to retrieve a lost cellphone. While the story is obviously the normal type of gross – it’s also the social justice type of gross. It’s the problematic type of gross.
The problem here is that the story is being shared without any semblance of reverence or respect for the dead. Two thirds of a family perished in a giant toilet, and the vast majority of people commenting think there’s something funny about that. There’s not even a moment of reflection to consider what caused this accident or what it means about safety regulations at public cesspools. It begs the question – is this really how little respect we have for the lives of people of color who die in poop and pee?
This is indicative of negative societal perceptions of minorities. For some reason, when a Chinese person drowns in caca and piss, it’s a big joke. The thought of a man of color collapsing into a big pile of turds because of the piss and dump stench is something we collectively point at, laugh, and ultimately dismiss without any regard to the reality that a life – a life that’s just as valuable as, if not more valuable than, a white life – is gone. How fucked up is that?
The bottom line is that when a minority dies, especially a minority in a foreign country, we think it’s funny. But when I try to explain that to people, they tell me I need to understand context. They tell me that they aren’t laughing because a minority died, they’re laughing because people died in such an absurd manner. But, why is it that minorities are always asked to understand context? Why can’t you understand the context of oppressed people? If you’re laughing at a minority for any reason whatsoever, you’re still laughing at a minority – regardless of whether or not they suffocated in a big puddle of diarrhea and urine.
I want to tell you guys a story. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes and listen to me for a second. Listen to yourselves.
This is a story about a young woman – a little girl if you will – walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl. Suddenly, a rickshaw races up, and her friend jumps out. Her friend says she wants to go down to the local cesspool so she can take a dump. This little girl says okay, and the two skip down the road singing songs together. But when they get to that cesspool, things don’t go as planned.
This little girl drops her phone into the cesspool. Her little sweet cellphone has fallen into a bog filled with feces and urine. Her little cellphone – a symbol of everything pure and innocent – has fallen, and shattered, in a sea of waste. She starts crying.
Now the woman’s husband is there. He sees his bride crying. He sees his wife – his beautiful innocent wife – reduced to tears over the loss of the only piece of valuable property she had. He does what any man would do. He says to hell with the consequences and he jumps in after the phone. The smell is so overwhelming that he quickly loses consciousness and collapses into the filth.
The man’s mother is there. She sees her son dying. She sees her daughter in law crying over the loss of her cellphone – her beautiful innocent cellphone – and she does what any mother would do. She jumps right in after her son. She too succumbs to the smell, and quickly falls into the excrement and urine.
Now the girl is alone, and she follows her family into the pit. Her fate isn’t any different than the other two, and she collapses almost instantly. Her body growing limp as the oxygen supply is cut off and she dizzies. Her limbs flailing, she at first reaches out for safety. She searches for something to grab onto, a way to pull herself out. Realizing the impossibility of escape, she searches for something different. She searches for something familiar – the hands of her husband or mother in law – or her precious innocent and pure cellphone. Her flailing slows as she slips into unconsciousness.
Can you see her? Her smelly, soiled, pooplogged body, soaked in urined, soaked in feces, and soaked in her own blood – left to die?
Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl.
Now imagine she’s white.