Monthly Column March: Sophie Tuinstra

It’s just a joke. #NO

⚠️ TW: mention of hate crime, racism and discrimination

As we already promised, there will be an extra column every month on a topic that is of concern for either the topic we are most focused on, namely women in society, or a topic of current developments that is still somehow connected to the theme of our platform. And this month we chose a column of the latter kind. 📇

The column of this month is in line with the focus of this week, the Anti-Racism Awareness week. It is concerned with a topic that is currently very much at the centre of the debates around a society that garantuees a safe enviroment for everyone: the discrimination of people with Asian backgrounds infected by the pandemic.We see developments that are shocking and weighing heavy on the shoulders of those who experience it, or are in danger of experiencing it. See for example the shooting in Atlanta where the victims were of Asian descent, or the growing hate and discrimination on social media against Asian creators. We see that it’s a pressing matter and something that needs to be spoken on. 📣

As this week was dedicated to cover a broad perspective on anti-racism work bringing necessary awareness, we saw our column as an opportunity to create awareness on this particular topic. For this column we have chosen a slightly different approach than we did for the other ones: we wanted to pass on the mic and create an opportunity for our readers to gain an insight in this topic by letting someone else speak on this. 🎤

Sophie Tuinstra, a social media expert with a MA in Communication and Information Studies with a specialisation in Communicatie en Beïnvloeding (Communication and Manipulation), has shared her personal experience and thoughts on this matter. During her masters she decided to focus her research on online discrimination, as there is still a blurry line on what is to be defined as discirmination online. Here she looked into ways of how to go against online discrimination and how to detect it as such. 📲🖥

For us, she has written up a thought provoking piece on how her personal experience relates to the current developments and what her thoughts are on that. 💭

Go give it a read. Let it sink in and you are welcome to leave thoughts, reactions etc in the comments!

Link to the PDF:

“Death wishes for Chinese students in Wageningen”. The first sentence I read in an online article of ‘De Telegraaf’, written February 2020. And to this day I still do not understand how someone can think of, let alone carry out, such an act. Wishing death to innocent people with a Chinese (or any other Asian) background because of the coronavirus, people who in particular have nothing to do with the spread of this virus. I for one,  do not understand. And if you do, this article is exactly what you should be reading. Adding to the prior mentioned death wishes, as if that wasn’t already bad enough, poo and pee was also found in the elevator of these students. Am I too stupid to understand or are the perpetrators too stupid to realize that this behaviour is really not normal? I’m going all-in on the latter.

‘Chingchangchong’, ‘hankypanky Shanghai’, ‘nihao’, ‘sambal bij’, ‘loempia’ and ‘kutchinees’, all examples of comments that are regarded by many Dutch people as jokes. But do people who receive these comments think of them as funny as well? NO. A thousand times no. It’s a shame that these comments are being made, even more so that these comments are seen as a joke. But the biggest shame is that these comments are rooted in our culture, the Dutch culture. The discrimination against Chinese, or Asian people, hasn’t only started with the recent coronavirus, but way before that. All normalized discriminatory comments. This problem exists for as long as I can remember. How do I know that? Because I myself also experienced discrimination based on my Chinese background. I have been bullied, yelled at and scolded enough. Those times were painful, but they also made me who I am now and that is something I’m proud of. With the arrival of the coronavirus I was somewhat afraid that I would have to deal with it again. Fortunately, this was not the case, but it pains me to see how many Chinese people do have to deal with it. And then we are no longer talking about ‘chingchangchong’ comments.

For my master thesis I chose to do research on discrimination against Chinese people. Not only because I am involved in this subject, but also because there is a lack of clarity about the boundaries of discriminatory expressions against Chinese people, but also against many other ethnicities. At the time of choosing this subject, the coronavirus was not discovered yet. When my research started the virus was not only breaking out in China, but also in the Netherlands and other countries around the world. With that, my subject became even more socially and scientifically relevant than it already was. In my research I was curious about the role of involvement in the assessment of discriminatory messages and whether this would change the consequences associated with them; take action or not. The aim of this study was therefore to investigate whether the involvement in a concerned social group (Chinese people) plays a moderating role in the affective, cognitive and pragmatic assessment of discriminatory expressions. To investigate this, I used existing video material in which I distinguished between statements intended as a joke (concealed discrimination) and statements intended as discriminatory (direct discrimination).

One of the most important insights obtained through this research is that individuals, who feel involved in the Chinese community, judge discriminatory comments that contain hidden discrimination more negatively than directly discriminatory comments. This was an unexpected outcome, but can be explained afterwards: the fact that one is seen as a joke can be more painful and feel duplicated. Discriminatory jokes can therefore be experienced as double discrimination, which, badly enough, is also accepted. With that I also came to the title of my master thesis: “Accepted Discrimination Is Double Discrimination”. But in whatever way there is discrimination, discrimination should never be accepted.

Another important insight obtained through the research is that the more individuals think and feel about perceiving discriminatory statements online, the faster they will take action. Subsequently, the results showed that individuals have a more negative affective and cognitive assessment after perceiving direct discrimination, than after perceiving concealed discrimination. However, the intention to take action is higher after perceiving concealed discrimination. Furthermore, the study showed that the role of engagement plays an important role in a person’s affective assessment and their intention to take action as a result of watching the video clips about discrimination against Chinese people. Finally, the most important practical insight of the research was the importance of responding to an individual’s emotions in (online) campaigns against discrimination, which offers the best chance of action against (online) discrimination.

Currently I work as a social media expert and unfortunately I still, on a daily basis, come across terrible comments, statements and conversations against Chinese people (or people from another Asian descent), and trust me when I say it’s bad, it really is bad. But also on the streets, discrimination against people with Asian backgrounds have increased. Do people have nothing better to do? I wonder. Why can’t they just leave others alone and mind their own life. It’s so simple. It’s anything but funny. Why do we keep joking about it? And by ‘we’, I mean Dutch people who see themselves as superior and think they are better than, in this case, Chinese people. Funny, because in contrast, you are anything but that when you discriminate against someone based on ethnicity.

Some people claim or believe that you can make a joke of anything because it lightens things up. I disagree with that. When you see someone who looks Chinese, or with Asian features, it’s easy to shout “coronavirus” or “nihao”. Some people may laugh. But why? Have you ever thought of how this person feels after hearing such a comment? That answer should not be difficult to come up with. That is, if you have any feelings at all. Does anyone ever say: “You’re not only Dutch, but also stupid”? No, because being Dutch and stupid is not a combination we make in our head. However, a connection is being made between being Chinese (or coming from another Asian descent), and the current existence of the coronavirus, isn’t it? It may be a joke to some, but there is clearly discrimination behind it. And if that is the case, you should not be joking about it.

People with a Chinese or Asian background are currently having a hard time. With the coronavirus, discriminatory comments against our people have evolved into not only discriminatory comments but also discriminatory acts. The examples mentioned in the first paragraph are a perfect example of discrimination, but also think of the song hosted by radio DJ Lex Gaarthuis. Don’t people like him think ahead how this type of content must feel for someone else? Especially for the people it is about? Don’t you think about the fact that you encourage people to accept that kind of content and see it as acceptable? Are you proud of yourself when a few hundred (Dutch) people, who are apparently of the same level, go along with your creation and think you are funny?

I refuse to believe that this is our reality. There is no point in making excuses afterwards, and passing the act off to freedom of speech is even more disappointing. Even if everything goes under the guise of: everyone is who they are and I joke about it. Possibly because you think the other is probably over the fact that he or she is compared to a virus, that he or she is contagious or looks different than others and/or yourself? Not enough time has passed, and that time will never come, that jokes can be made about something that is fundamentally painful. As long as this keeps happening, we will never see each other as equals. Despite the importance of this issue being often brought up by politicians, victims of discrimination and other people in our society (who can muster empathy). Despite how hard we work to see each other as equals: we have still not succeeded and in my eyes we still have a very long way to go.


Author: Sophie Tuinstra
Image: Private Collection

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