Keeping a level head in a confused world

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

After coming to the United States for the eighth time, I thought the feeling of displacement would be minimal. However, I was still unnerved by the new form of reality that persisted after the pandemic.

From my parents to my friends’ parents, everyone who knew that I was going to university in the States kept “educating” me on the importance of safety and how I should try to minimize time of going out by myself and to always stay alert on the streets — words that I rarely heard even when I left home to go to a boarding school in another city in China. I wanted to say that their understanding of life in the U.S. was only a misconception, but I could not seem to find the courage to convince them as even I was further dissuaded from coming.

When you scroll through Chinese social media, there are increasingly more negative comments about the West, especially targeting America. We see not only comments and criticism about America’s diplomacy but more importantly, the increasing number of reports of mass shootings, violent crime, and anti-Asian hate crimes. Needless to say, some of the content was published under the influence of the post-pandemic world. But as the number of the incidents grew, more reports were issued in both the Western media and later in the Chinese media. As a result, the Chinese public started to respond more vigorously and negatively to such incidents. When all this information is pieced together, this image of America as an incubator of bloodbath emerges, infiltrating our minds and constructing an unrealistic reality that is worshiped by a number of the Chinese public.

Being someone who grew up in a culture and country that doesn’t promote or protect the right of self-armament, such reality was received with horror and disbelief, stoking much fear amongst the Chinese students traveling to study in the States. We are unaccustomed to such forms of reality, visibly seeing people carry arms even if it was for the purpose of self-defense (I remember the shock I experienced when someone recommended buying a taser off Amazon so I could be less worried when walking the streets after dark). We don’t know how to react to the news of other incidents like those on the New York City Subway. In our eyes, we feel that such incidents are much closer to us than we expected, however far away they might really be.

More importantly, perhaps, we don’t know how to assess the information. As most international students have not lived in the States, we face great information asymmetry when we see these reports especially in Western media. From easily misleading statistics to attention-grabbing (possibly inflammatory) titles such as “Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 339 percent nationwide last year, report says”, our understanding of the world in the West and the States have been distracted from the reality.

We assume that we will experience stronger feelings of othering and stares of more pairs of hostile, judgmental eyes because we are the targeted. The news stories call for us to unite against this new prevailing discrimination when in actuality we are further discouraged from discussing this with others in our position, because we don’t want to hold onto our identity of the “othered.”

In our time where media often profits from and preys upon our fears and insecurities, what can we use as our looking glass to see the truth of the society?