“I know there is a lot to worry about right now,” is the mandatory “Don’t change the channel!” preamble to any story not concerning the ongoing pandemic, Donald Trump’s murderous mismanagement of the pandemic, or the upcoming presidential election to determine whether America was just a neat idea that died choking on unidentified fascist tear gas in 2020. John Oliver knows that. But his Last Week Tonight continues to cover unjust, horrifying, and/or ludicrous developments around the world even if they’re not currently topping his viewers’ daily nightmare list.
Take, for Sunday’s example, the fact that, right now, there are over 1 million members of an ethnic and religious minority being herded into what are 100 percent concentration camps, and forced to toil in both forced labor and good old government “re-education” to eliminate their culture. That’s what’s happening in China’s Xinjiang region, where the mostly-Muslim Uighur (pronounced “Wee-gur”) population has been demonized as terrorists (or Minority Report predictive-profiled as such), subjected to mass arrest, shipped to distant factories (including those for companies like Nike and Volkswagen), forcibly sterilized, and systematically separated from their families and their culture. As Oliver put it, drawing some all-too-evident parallels, it’s like “the Patriot Act on steroids.”
But certainly, even in our quarantine-frazzled, death-of-democracy doom-watch of a collective existence, Americans aren’t just going to ignore ethic and religious genocide, right? Anyone? Right? Well, as Oliver laid out, Congress has actually passed something called the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act of late (the only on-the-record holdout against condemning religious genocide—Republican Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky), even that meager pressure is just slightly undermined by Donald Trump telling Chinese leader Xi Jinping, that his concentration camps for Muslims are “exactly the right thing to do.”
As Oliver put it when examining official Chinese trolling of America for its own genocidal history and current civil rights abuses (China having deftly learned the all-American tactic of moral “whataboutism”), it is “also completely possible for two things to be wrong at the same time.” Continuing that “human rights should be completely non-negotiable,” the host nudged viewers toward an examination of where they spend their money, suggesting that, should you currently be purchasing from companies benefitting from Uighur slave labor (like, again, Nike and Volkswagen, among many well-known others), one way to affect actual change is to, you know, stop doing that. And—if you’ve got your own HBO show—help an already beleaguered viewership remember that awareness is “a necessary precondition to action.”
For American viewers, learn more about what’s going on in (Chinese) human rights violations here. For what’s going on at home, look out the window. Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved