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  • Reverend James Squire

The Butterfly Effect

Donald Trump is gone but unfortunately not forgotten. His support of white supremacy is still with us, most recently with the prejudice against Asians which manifested itself recently in the killing of Asian woman who were working in a spa. White supremacist propaganda is rising according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League that has documented an increase in hate messages in 2020. The roots of white supremacy run deep so increased vigilance is needed as we attempt to determine free speech which may be hate speech.

It is first helpful to define the groups that are included in the word, Asian. Professors at Clemson University and Lincoln University indicate that Asian refers to people who live in countries such as China, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam. The focus now is on China.

Stereotypes have not helped with prejudice against Asian people. I recently saw the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time. Mickey Rooney, who plays a buck toothed Chinese man in the film, portrays the negative caricature in such a way that it was uncomfortable for me to watch him in the role. When I and some others think of the Far East we think of that classic opera, Madame Butterfly, which is a tragic love story where the woman commits suicide at the end. However, regarding the recent murders in Atlanta, I want to refer to another type of butterfly, the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect was coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz who discovered in the 1960(s) that tiny, butterfly scale changes to the starting point of his computer weather models resulted in anything from sunny skies to violent storms with the no way to predict in advance what the outcome may be. In the movie, Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum explains chaos theory that “it simply deals with unpredictability in complex systems. A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking, and in Central Park, you get rain instead of sunshine”

If a butterfly can do that, I shudder to think what long lasting effects that the toxic four years of Trump will continue to have both here and abroad. Our nation is now concerned with the rise of attacks on Asian Americans. They rose by 150% during 2020 when other hate crimes were going down in numbers. This past week Robert Aaron Long, a white man, was charged with fatally shooting eight people, six women of Asian descent, at spas in the Atlanta area on Tuesday night.

The perception of Asian American women as exotic, hypersexual and submissive can be traced back centuries. One of the earliest examples of prejudice against Asians goes back to the Page Act of 1875 which was a law that was enacted seemingly to limit prostitution but in reality, it was to prevent Chinese women from entering the U.S. under the bias that they were prostitutes.

Trump resurfaced a bias that was already in the culture. He made a point of referring to the Covid-19 virus as the China Virus and Kung Flu. He would grit his teeth and emphasize each syllable. It was his classic defense at the expense of others. He wanted to shift blame for the deaths by the virus to Asian Americans to take the blame away from himself. Throwing people “under the bus” was his prevalent defense when his poor leadership caused the spread.

The wings of the Trump butterfly were always moving the air to create “the other”, anyone who was different. The strategy to keep this butterfly effect working was to divide so that people wouldn’t have safe places to get to know people who were different from them.

I learned a great deal about the Chinese from one of my assistants, the Reverend Dr. Peyton Craighill. His parents were missionaries in China. Peyton was fluid in mandarin and revered the Chinese people and they, in turn, revered him. He led student trips to China and was our school’s unofficial ambassador to that country. Peyton had also taught in China. Students came from China to our school to study for a year. They were smart, talented, and hard-working, and polite. I recall at one of Trump’s press conferences that he was called out by a reporter who was Asian after he repeated again and again the reference to the China Virus. He immediately claimed that the reporter had it all wrong, but he became angry with her, and brushed her off in the manner of a schoolyard bully’s style that he constantly used.

That butterfly wings of Trump’s racism eventually stirred the air in an area near Atlanta in the form of a killer taking the lives of six Asian American women. He still would say, “Don’t blame it on me. I am not responsible.” Somebody should tell him about the butterfly effect.

The irony is that in the Christian tradition the butterfly is a symbol of the Resurrection bringing new life. Now, however, the butterfly effect is a symbol of stereotypes, prejudice, harassment, and death for our Asian brothers and sisters.

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