The only way to survive

An artwork by Shellie Zhang — yellow font and borders on red background, written "The only way to survive is by taking care of one another."

Shellie Zhang, The Only Way to Survive (2019). via Something I Saw

For some reasons, sleep has always eluded me, but it’s been harder to catch a wink particularly in the time of Covid, and… everything else. There are the protests in America following the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded that he couldn’t breathe while he was held down with a knee by a police officer, which ignited awareness and conversations about how we Malaysians should confront our ingrained antiblackness, xenophobia, colourism, and racism at home. The mass arrests of immigrants and refugees still do not stop in our homeground, as they are huddled against each other in a cramped space with barely any privacy, any food to eat, any slightest basic human rights possible that you and I possess, and of course, barely any space for social distancing. Workers and frontliners were still underpaid, overworked, harassed, and when demanded for their rights, were arrested and cuffed. A number of my friends had just been recently retrenched, and with my own unemployment looming over me — despite with a PhD — all I could hear is someone’s voice from the past telling me I would amount to nothing if I quit my job. Politicians, with no blind bit of care for the people who they once vowed to serve and protect, are in the midst of a masculinity-charged power grab in the country. And this cursed news just landed in my timeline.

Toni Morrison, of which everyone should read, no matter if one thinks it’s too late, said, “there’s no time for despair,” but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that despair is all I have been feeling this week. 

The lockdown, as in many countries, has been ‘eased’ in Malaysia. For the past 3 months, we had been reframing how we structure our everyday lives — how we work, how we educate, how we shop, how we socialise, how we carry ourselves in a public space (with the care of proximity and a slight fear for rando sneeze mist) and even how we get married and how we mourn, and many other instances. At the same time, we are being enlightened on our existing broken systems, and vowed that this should never happen again. But taking my mother to the clinic the other day, I admitted I was a bit alarmed seeing that there was traffic like pre-pandemic days out there. WHO even mentioned that the virus still hasn’t lost its potency, but with the economy ‘reopening’, a lot of people have treated as if we can go back to our normal lives. Some of the people I have followed on Instagram posted Stories of them dining out and hanging out with lack of regards to social distancing, like before. We are nowhere near herd immunity. Even in the hardest-hit cities, the vast majority of people still remain vulnerable to coronavirus, so we must not get complacent especially since almost half of those infected with Covid-19 have no idea that they were infected. It might be a small sample of people that I see, but it seems how easily we forgot about how within 3 months of an opportunity for radical imagination, as our rage was boiling and how we have come to a moral clarity so lucid we could have overturned the whole universe, set it alight, and build something new. 

I am afraid that this is how stunted our attention span is going to be — so we change our Instagram picture to black squares, so brands and universities and corporations and tech companies change theirs too and fulfill their performative wokeness signaling by posting empty statements while having little to no Black people in their team at all, so this is the only time we are going to have the hard conversation with our casually racist friends and family members, so this is the only time we check in with our Black friends while at the same time asking them to educate us on their plights (which I was guilty of too!), so this is the only time we are aware of something poignantly bigger than we assume ourselves are, of which struggles we have the freedom to opt out of, but also that makes us have no obligation not to.

So we are experiencing feed fatigue. So we feel despair. But for our Black friends, this is their everyday lives. For the immigrants and refugees fighting for their places in the world that try to push them away wherever they go, fatigue is ensconced within them, but not despair. For the people in the margins, despair is a word they have no choice but to ignore. So if we feel slight despair, get some rest — also a piece of advice for myself. But not too long, because there’s work to do alongside our friends. 

Reading in my tabs:


  • Reading: Alex S. Vitale’s The End of Policing, and Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue.
  • Listening: I felt like listening to Peterpan, an Indonesian alternative pop/rock band that I was so into about 10-15 years ago.
  • Viewing: The Lord of the Rings cast reunited on a Zoom call.
  • Food & Drink: Made Thai salad and spaghetti with meatballs.

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