Source: Umbrella Creation (via.)
“I repeat , I’m only representing the donors who called themselves ‘the anonymous teachers from HK’. And no, the donors do not represent HKBU or the English department. The gesture signals disgust at corporations that forget their social responsibilities. The prize may be small but it is intended as a reminder that social justice is a long road requiring sustained years of dedication across each graduating class.”
I repeated those lines in response to criticism against (can you believe it?) the donation given to set up the Rainbow Umbrella for Social Justice Prize at the Department of English Language and Literature, Hong Kong Baptist University. I won’t say the critics are cynical, they look more like cowards. They cannot understand that regular folks can and will stand up against the powers represented by corporations or politicians. There is really nothing complicated in this, is there? Students fight for their future. The brave and the enlightened ask questions based on justice and equality; the cowards and the greedy ask questions based on self-interest. And on either side of any struggle, there is a mix of the admirable and the abominable. Among other things, education suffers as a collateral damage, as did the rule of law.
The donors? Well, they are not rich, they are not powerful, and their donation is no panacea. Their donation is no menace either (as some critics appear to perceive). I can’t tell you who these donors are, I am sworn to secrecy. I can about them though.
Fact #1 They argue amongst themselves rigorously. Some of them have never been observed to sit together for a meal without explosive tension in their conversation. The post-modern, the scientific, the romantic, the poetic, the creative, the caringly human, the religious, the anti-theist, the poly-theist, the sports-addict, the yogi, the marketeer, the mathematician. It is the socratic marketplace when they sit together. Just to be sure, I’m sure some of them would write to me in response that Fact #1 is not Fact, and “there are no facts, only interpretations”.
Fact #2 They cannot be put into little categories. If for a moment, one thinks that their donation was in support of the Umbrella Movement, then one is only partially right (or only partially wrong). After all, one can support causes with different actions, and one can support actions for results not necessarily aligned with causes. If you find the preceding sentence confusing, try parsing “Yesterday will be a better tomorrow today.” Similarly, if you think these donors are trying to slap humanity into the monetarily rich, you’d only be half-wrong/right.
Fact #3 They are perpetually tormented by their own fears and aspirations. These donors are not youths in physical age, but are often more youthful than most youths can imagine. They have child-like senses of fantasy and child-like senses of fairness. They say things like “that’s not fair” and if everyone nods in agreement after any necessary discussion, then the judgment is accepted. They may ask if something is legal, but the answer is rarely relevant. They tend to ask if something is right. Now, there is no way of knowing what is right unless one knows what is “true” at least. And no one knows what is true, is there? Since there is no way of knowing, these people have to live with the insecurity of ignorance all the time, and worse, with the knowledge that the ignorami (plural?) who believe they KNOW and who are not necessarily civil or fair. If you have a boss you believe is selfish and cowardly, try feeling safe about your job or your boyfriend/girlfriend who might be this boss’s personal secretary.
Fact #4 They are talented in various ways, and believe that they can help. See, if one were talented and used the talents to make oneself happy, one is likely to feel great. But if you think your talent is going to help make the world better, you’re a damned idiot. And you know, these are the idiots I am proud to have as friends because they truly make little bits of the world better. In this sense, they are counterexamples to the maxim “those who can do, those who cannot teach and those who cannot teach teach the teachers”. These Anonymous Teachers from Hong Kong do and teach.
The Rainbow Umbrella for Social Justice is officially named “The Rainbow Award for Honours Project on Social Justice”. Among other reasons, one that I resonate with is that “umbrellas” shouldn’t be necessary so that we can see the rainbow, and even enjoy the drizzle that makes the flowers grow.
[Also see “Umbrella Uprising — What We Think”]
Lian-Hee Wee is Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by or about Lian-Hee.]