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This is a dispatch in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic that has made its way out of East Asia and has now gripped the West. The trajectory of the novel coronavirus travels along the flows of finance capital, with capitalism as its true carrier. It trickles down to the working class and undocumented and raciailized and queer people, who will face suffering both greater in measure and invisibility. Not all lives matter in the same way, especially not in these times.

The virus surges through the fault lines, the cracks in the system, whether in China or the USA. Borders are being tightened as the logic of migrants as disease carriers persists, compounded with the racialization of the disease as the “Wuhan virus.” Anti-Asian sentiment in the US grows in the form of hate crimes and economic avoidance. Chinatowns are empty and East Asian families are being attacked.

Some are calling the pandemic an apocalypse of various kinds. Religious leaders, of course, see it as the herald of the end of days or a punishment for sin. But what of this is new? The pandemic, like climate catastrophe, may be an apocalypse of the white, Western world, but the rest of us have died many deaths before — the deaths of genocide, proxy wars, disease, poverty, and colonialism.

“Why is tonight different from all other nights?” the youngest child traditionally asks during a Passover Seder. The Seder, as it goes, is a pedagogical ritual wherein the Exodus story is retold and reenacted through the Seder meal. This Passover and Easter will certainly be like no other.

Do you have the privilege of working from home and keeping your job? Of maintaining social distance when the workings of caste and class make this impossible for others? Do you have the luxury of ordering in and getting packages on your doorstep when grocery workers and Amazon staff are fighting for protections? How long can you isolate yourself from your neighbor? And to what end?

More than ever, our theological focus must be razor sharp. The Left is agitating for revolution, imagining new worlds and solidarities, while the Right seeks to consolidate power and usher in a second civil war. But whatever vision we may have of life after the pandemic, we can be sure that others, if they have any say in the matter, will not let this crisis go to waste. Any freedom, any liberation that is to be won will not be gained without struggle. Any realization of a socialist or anarchist future, it will not come for free. The fight is already here, and more is yet to come. We cannot be caught sleeping, with our lamps empty, and our houses built on sand. 

What world do we want to live in? What will it take to get there? How will the oppressed be free? How will the refugee be safe? How will the sick be healed? How will the broken be made whole? Why is your faith so small?

This Lenten season has been marked by social distance and death. There will be much more to mourn, to contemplate, to grieve over. There will be great loss to all, some more than others, but for the resurrection future that lays the demons low — the powers and principalities that are capitalism, heteropatriarchy, mass incarceration, antiblackness, fascism, imperialism, and ethnonationalism, that must all be defeated before the last enemy, death— we must be ready. As Asians in the US, we have as much to fight for as there is to answer to. The total liberation of all demands no less.

So ready yourselves.

  • Wong Tian An is a Malaysian, and mathematician by trade. They are writing a book on an Asian American theology of liberation.