Over recent weeks, political turmoil raged in the form of mass demonstrations that saw 1 in 7 Hong Kong residents take to the streets to protest an extradition bill that would have allowed alleged suspects to be deported to stand trial in Mainland China, where the legal system is subject to the arbitrariness and discretion of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The fear that any dissident could be targeted isn’t unfounded as stories about billionaires and booksellers being kidnapped by Beijing operatives, only to be prosecuted in show trials on the Mainland and in some cases even tortured in jail, are well known. The extradition bill left almost no room for doubt about China’s ambitions to further override the civil rights guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and renege on the agreed-upon “One Country, Two Systems” framework.

Elsewhere, Union Jack flags were handed out and flown in the streets. As photographs of these flag-bearing protesters, many of whom cut across demographic lines, began making the rounds on social media, two things became apparent: a) the uneasy reluctance of mainstream Western media to conduct any sort of meaningful analysis of these scenes and b) the ready willingness of some quarters of Twitter to engage in vitriolic attacks of the Hong Kong protesters, accusing them of being complicit in colonialism.

For those who embrace the ideological frameworks of various forms of “Social Justice” Theory including postcolonialism, decolonialism, critical race theory and intersectional feminism, seeing the Asian inhabitants of a former colony raise its colonial flag simply does not compute. Within this ideological conception of the world there is a very simple understanding of power dynamics in which oppression must always come from people seen as having dominant identities – white, male, western, heterosexual, cisgender, ablebodied and thin – and be inflicted upon those seen as having marginalized identities – people of color, colonized or indigenous people, women, LGBT, disabled and fat people.  When all of these elements are considered together, we get the framework of ‘intersectionality’ and it is through the language and activism of intersectional scholars and activists that most people encounter these ideas.

Eastern people who complicate the narrative of Western oppressor and Eastern Oppressed are understood to be speaking into and perpetuating oppressive discourses of colonial power which apply much more broadly than their own situation. From this perspective, by aligning themselves symbolically with the flag or philosophically with the ideas wrought by colonial legacy, the protesters were understood to completely invalidate the legitimacy of their liberation movement. Other criticisms reserved for the protesters include rebukes for lacking sensitivity and solidarity toward other countries with victims of colonialism. The journalist Ben Norton went so far as to say that the British flag was a symbol of “genocide, murder, racism, oppression and robbery,” and that the “pro-democracy” activists in Hong Kong were in effect, pro-colonialist groups, funded and backed by the “Western NGO-Industrial Complex.”

This argument perfectly exemplifies how one’s basic reasoning and moral calculus can get muddled when steeped too heavily in this kind of postcolonial theory.

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