Dear Andrew Yang — Racism was the first virus, and there’s no cure for that.
I read your opinion piece in The Washington Post, “We Asian Americans are not the virus, but we can be part of the cure”. I totally get what you’re saying, but it’s what you didn’t say that really frustrated me.
I appreciate you sharing your story of experiencing that shame of being Asian, not just in the grocery store but so many times before in your life. I know that feeling. Honestly, I chose to live in the San Gabriel Valley, one of the most visibly Asian American neighborhoods in the country, specifically because I didn’t want to have that feeling.
But see, you said that the coronavirus outbreak has transformed “some level of background disdain or alienation” into “outright hostility and even aggression”. Here’s where we disagree.
Covid-19 isn’t the disease that’s hurting us right now — racism is, and you can’t cure racism. You fight it.
Like a virus, racism spreads, infecting and taking over systems and structures of human society to the point that we can’t disassociate the virus from the host. This is why activists talk about dismantling oppressive systems. We have to replace them with new systems that orient us towards equity and liberation.
This violence and hate that we’re facing now, we’ve faced it before. In 1882, the federal government signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act which banned all immigration of Chinese laborers. I know you’ve heard of it before. You’ve talked about it in a piece for USA Today last week with the ADL. That was more than “background disdain or alienation” — that was hate. Moreover, specific communities within our Asian American coalition have always faced this. To many Asian Americans, this is nothing new. According to SEARAC, “Southeast Asians refugees are at least three times more likely to be deported on the basis of an old criminal conviction, compared to other immigrants.” If that statistic surprised you, it’s okay, it surprised me too. Maybe it’s because we’re both Taiwanese Americans and we don’t face that in our daily lives. It’s okay to experience privilege, but once you do it’s not okay to ignore it — especially when we’re trying to figure out how to help our community.
You talked about Natalie Chou wearing UCLA gear because it reminded people that she was an American. I wish you wrote more than one sentence about this. I wish you wrote that it really sucks to have your identity, the very essence of who you are, questioned because of how you look. You also wrote about Japanese Americans volunteering for military duty during World War II to prove they were Americans. I wish you wrote about how over 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated, and about the bravery of the No-No boys who showed their American spirit by standing up for their ideals in an impossibly unjust situation.
I wish you wrote about the system.
See — you did something amazing and you’re still doing it now. You have a visibility and an influence few people who look like us ever get to have in this country. You built that through your passion, your dedication, and your ideals. I’m not going to lie — I was never going to vote for you, but I know that your commitment to others and to this country is genuine, and that truly you have earned the platform that you have now.
I wish you used your platform to talk about the system. We can’t let incidents of hate and violence distract us from a systemic analysis of the root causes. That Asian Americans have always had their identity under question and under threat. The coronavirus didn’t make that happen, it just made it more visible. That’s what crises do. They don’t create inequity, they exacerbate the systemic inequity that was always there.
Here’s where I do agree — I agree with what you want us to do. Yes, let’s step up. Let’s pitch in and help each other. Let’s donate, volunteer, yes to all those things. But, if we’re going to use your analogy, these things won’t cure racism.
The cure for racism is in organizing. The cure is in educating ourselves on the history of our identities, and building community to create the world we deserve. The cure is in building power in coalition with other marginalized people. The cure is in realizing that truly, we are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.
The cure is in recognizing that with every action or inaction, we either perpetuate or disrupt oppressive systems of hate, and in doing so we decide what it means to be. Not just to be an American. To be.