If You Truly Want To #StopAsianHate, Then Let This Moment Radicalize You
In response to the anti-Asian attacks that happened over the last few weeks, there’s been a tremendous public show of support for the Asian and Asian American community on the news and in social media. I’ve been a part of these in my own small way. Two weeks ago a few friends and I co-authored a Medium article on what API ERGs can do in the wake of anti-API violence, and I’ve been a part of more processing calls, planning calls, and calls to action than I can keep track of. I’ve helped read and write dozens of company statements, talked to dozens of people, and frankly, I’m exhausted, but not for the reasons you might expect.
I’m exhausted because I’m anxious. I’m anxiously waiting for all of this attention, energy, and momentum to come to a dead halt. I’m waiting for the moment when people stop caring and everyone’s Instagram stories go back to life as usual, and I’ll be left wondering if any of this made a difference. It always happens in my Asian community, and even though I’m less surprised each time I’m still somehow more drained.
I want to be clear who I’m referring to when I say “my Asian community.” Perception informs reality and I’m conscious of how my privileges inflate my tiny corner of the Asian American community, a group far too large and diverse to ever be adequately encapsulated by a hyphen or two words. I grew up in an extremely affluent suburb of Southern California surrounded by Asian kids. When I graduated from Columbia University, most of the Asian classmates that I knew joined the worlds of finance, management consulting, tech, law, and medicine. I’m a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultant now and I run into my old high school and college classmates often, usually when I’m pulled into work supporting Asian American ERGs. It is this mix of highly-educated, white-collar, often East Asian Americans working in high-paying industries, that I think of when I write about my Asian community. Up until last year they’ve been silent on most issues of race and inequity, and when asked about Asian American issues whitewashing in media representation will be the #1 thought. Of course, I’m absolutely aware that they’re not representative of all Asian folks, they’re not even representative of the incredible Asian community organizers and activists I’ve met, but they do remain the majority of the Asian folks I know.
A few years ago I was living in St. Paul, Minnesota, when I woke up to see a heart-wrenching video of Philando Castile murdered by a police officer only a couple miles away from my apartment. To say that video radicalized and activated me would be an understatement. I was angry, and I channeled it into the only ways I knew how. The energy I felt in the crowd when I joined my first Black Lives Matter march was matched by the energy of my social media feed. Classmates and old friends living across the country reached out to ask how they could help, and it was hard not to feel hope that justice might be possible when you have this many people calling for it.
And then a few days later, Pokémon Go was released. All mention of Black Lives Matter and Philando Castile from my Asian friends outside the Twin Cities disappeared instantly, replaced by excited screenshots of catching a childhood favorite. Look, I get it. I know I was more impacted by the proximity of living in the Twin Cities, and trust me, I will never forget the love I had for Pokémon as a kid growing up in the 90s. But I’ll also never forget how painful it was to see my Asian friends so quickly drop their attention away from a man’s murder.
That’s why I’m so anxious now. I’m holding my breath waiting for it to happen again. I’m waiting for folks to finish “doing their part”. When the statements fade, the donations drop, the Clubhouse rooms go quiet, and the systems of oppression that are the root causes behind the attacks will exist just as before without any actual change.
We’re all pretty comfortable talking about how the Asian community isn’t a monolith, but we’re not as comfortable actually naming the privilege and oppression that mark those differences. I’ve read a ton of statements that talk about how xenophobia didn’t start with COVID-19, and they cite the murder of Vincent Chin and the Chinese Exclusion Act as examples. I read far less statements that talk about the rise in deportation of Southeast Asians and hate crimes against our South Asian, Muslim, and Sikh communities after 9/11. In moments of crisis and hurt we love to donate our dollars to nonprofits, but we don’t give the most valuable resource, our time. We’re happy to follow and re-share the local nonprofit on Twitter, but we don’t actually show up when they ask us to come out to the local city council meeting to hold our leaders accountable. We’re so happy to thank celebrities for raising awareness that we haven’t even stopped to ask why we needed celebrities to raise awareness in the first place.
When Justice Ginsburg passed away late last year just weeks before Election Day, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said to her followers, “Let this moment radicalize you. Let this moment really put everything into stark focus.” This quote feels particularly timely right now because as much as I appreciate the visibility, systemic problems require systemic solutions. Unless we’re centering anti-racism, Black liberation, and a fundamental change in the distribution of power in this country, at best the only thing that’s going to change is your conscience.
Like I said before, I get it. This is really hard work, and we’re doing the best with what we know. I’m not expecting everyone to quit their job and become full-time community organizers, but I also think the access to information we have today means that everyone has a profound opportunity to challenge themselves to do more. If you really want to #StopAsianHate, then you must identify the root causes of the violent attacks and seek to dismantle those underlying systems.
If that sounds really scary and big, that’s because it is. Going up against systems is incredibly hard. Solidarity takes work, and you’re going to make mistakes. It’ll feel terrible when you do and you’ll feel guilty and ashamed. You’ll start noticing things in conversation and you’ll lose friends and job opportunities because you can’t unhear what you heard. You’ll feel sad, tired, angry, hopeless, and you’ll unplug because you need a break, and then you’ll feel guilty about unplugging.
But here’s what I’ve also experienced in just a few short years of trying to commit myself to social justice work. I’ve met some of the kindest and smartest people in the world, who have a deeper capacity for love than I could ever imagine. I’ve found a powerful sense of purpose, of being part of something much larger than myself. I have so much hope and joy when I think about the future because I can more clearly see just what a win looks like and how meaningful each and everyone of them is. I’m not perfect, I have a lot to learn and I make mistakes all the time, but it’s all worth it in ways I can’t find words to express. Everyday, we’re building a world that’s never existed before, and I hope you’ll join, and stay, with us.