The worldly and elite journalistic caste indulged in a little cultural chauvinism last night when many determined that the Ferguson protesters were the first group of human beings in history to put their hands up with their palms forward as a gesture of supplication.
As massive demonstrations engulf Hong Kong, protests which have been ongoing for weeks since the Chinese government revealed its intention to vet candidates for elected office in the former British colony for the first time since unification in 1997, demonstrators began marching with their hands up in a display of submission to police. The similarities to those protesters in Ferguson who adopted a similar pose are purely cosmetic, unless you are seeking to inflate your own sense of importance by reducing the actions of pro-democracy protesters challenging an authoritarian and violent government to mere mimicry.
In spite of the obvious distinctions between protest movements, many decided that the Hong Kong protesters were only aping what they saw on television in the streets of Missouri:
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) September 29, 2014
— msnbc (@msnbc) September 29, 2014
— mary dudziak (@marydudziak) September 29, 2014
Hong Kong "hands up, don't shoot" emulation of Ferguson protests is such a powerful image: pic.twitter.com/1Sk27MO1Y2
— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) September 28, 2014
Always one with a helpful explanation, Ezra Klein’s Vox.com chimed in with a piece legitimizing the wish-casting of those who wanted to reduce Hong Kong’s tradition of jealously guarding its liberties to mere satellite protest in support of Ferguson. In that post, however, Vox’s Max Fisher conceded that the very premise of the post, one which flatly asserts in the headline that “Hong Kong’s protesters are using the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ gesture from Ferguson,” might not be accurate.
“It’s impossible to say the degree to which protesters are using the gesture as a deliberate nod to Ferguson, or borrowing something they’d seen on the news for their own purposes, or using it coincidentally,” Vox’s Fisher wrote. “But Hong Kongers, particularly young Hong Kongers, pride themselves on being plugged in to the world, so it is well within the realm of possibility that they followed the events in Ferguson and are now appropriating the gesture for their own use.”
“Within the realm of possibility.” This translates as, ‘The basic evidentiary threshold which would justify making this claim, even with caveats, cannot be met, but Hong Kong does have the internet… so…’
You won’t be shocked to learn that there aren’t even tenuous links between the actions of the Hong Kong protesters and those who demonstrated in Ferguson and elsewhere. Quartz’s Lily Kuo, the outlet’s emerging markets reporter who has been featured in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and Taipei’s China Post, took to the streets of Hong Kong where she learned, astonishingly, that a tumultuous St. Louis suburb was the furthest thing from the minds of the Occupy Central protesters.
“Most Hong Kong protesters aren’t purposefully mimicking “hands up, don’t shoot,”as some have suggested,” Kuo reported. “Instead, the gesture is a result of training and instructions from protest leaders, who have told demonstrators to raise their hands with palms forward to signal their peaceful intentions to police.”
Asked about any link between the gesture and Ferguson, Icy Ng, a 22-year-old design student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University said, “I don’t think so. We have our hands up for showing both the police and media that we have no weapons in our hands.” Ng had not heard of the Ferguson protests. Another demonstrator, with the pro-democracy group Occupy Central, Ellie Ng said the gesture had nothing to do with Ferguson and is intended to demonstrate that “Hong Kong protesters are peaceful, unarmed, and mild.”
There may be a larger issue exposed by this lazy display of appropriation on the part of so many. It might have simply been an honest mistake born out of the presumption that the world revolves around American domestic affairs, but it may have been a reflection of the need some have to confirm that the events in Ferguson were, as we were so often told in August, transformative. Shouldn’t the transformative powers of the Ferguson protests speak for themselves?