These photos are meant to be a protest against racism

"Land," from the project "Gui." (Yunfei Ren)
"Land," from the project "Gui." (Yunfei Ren)

Photographer Yunfei Ren came to the United States in 2020. He settled in San Francisco, a city with a long history of Chinese immigration. Not long after, the United States experienced a hideous wave of hate crimes against people of Asian descent.

To try to understand where his own part in the city’s history might fit, Ren looked for a way to connect the dots. He settled on a project called “Gui” — the Chinese word for “ghost” — about the apparition of a Chinese laborer who worked on the transcontinental railroad.

In Ren’s project, the ghost appears at night in San Francisco’s Chinatown, popping up in locations that tell the history and experience of the Chinese diaspora. Anti-Asian sentiments Ren has observed fueled his desire to “present this series not only as a protest against racism, but also as a reminder of how immigrants have been treated throughout American history and to the present day.”

Sadly, Ren’s project remains relevant.

Although I know the world has never been an easy place, the last few years, even weeks, seem to have reinforced that in unmistakably bold letters.

For a time, it felt as if we might be making some progress toward tolerance — toward lifting people up when they needed it. But then it was almost as if a switch had been flipped and horrific news events began to dominate our everyday reality.

I’d say this has been a more or less global phenomenon. In 2016, when I was on the international desk here at The Post, one of the series we began working on was the rise of the far right, and nationalism and intolerance, in Europe.

That series was propelled in part by the sense that the same thing was happening here in the United States. And six years later, it doesn’t seem as if any of it has changed. In fact, in some respects, it seems to have escalated.

We don’t have to look very far to find examples of violence and hate. Last week, we had one of the most horrific school shootings in U.S. history when an 18-year-old gunman went into a school in Uvalde, Tex., and wiped out the lives of 19 children and two adults. And days before that, a shooter erased the lives of 10 people in a grocery store in Buffalo.

Something in the world feels irreparably broken. Words, and even photos, can’t begin to translate the utter grief and despair these shootings have imprinted on families, friends and others connected to the victims.

Ren’s project is just one of many that force us to recognize that the world keeps churning out disparity and destruction.

Some believe that history is cyclical and that, if we forget, we are condemned to repeat it. It does seem we have very short memories, doesn’t it?

You can see more of Ren’s work on his website, here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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