Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
In a time when Asian Americans need to unify, we are as divided as ever. Many non-Chinese Asian Americans are scapegoating Chinese Americans, insisting on referring to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan” or “Chinese virus.” Others like former presidential candidate Andrew Yang are calling for us to “wear red white and blue,” while also alluding that we aren’t contributing enough. Furthermore, others continue to remain silent, hoping to escape the rising hate coming our way. Suffice it to say, we are far from unified.
But let’s be honest, Asian Americans have a complicated relationship with racism and systems of oppression. While we are the focal point of the racism stemming from COVID-19 fear, for Black and Brown people, this is their everyday reality. Not to mention the role we have knowingly or unknowingly played in perpetuating or even benefiting from racial injustice in the United States. We have no right or credibility to ask for solidarity in this fight if we don’t acknowledge this truth and bring the same energy to the fight against racial injustice for all.
That also means publicly condemning the word vomit that Andrew Yang published. To be clear, that isn’t to invalidate the impact he made. Because for the first time, millions of Asian Americans saw our ceiling rise for how high we could go in this country. But make no mistake, Andrew Yang is not the hero we deserve. He cemented that with his op-ed in the Washington Post. But he did take a major step forward and his campaign was an important moment for the Asian American community, especially in a time where we are under attack
There is also no denying that there are Asian Americans who continue to exploit our closer proximity to whiteness at the expense of other communities. It’s unacceptable, and we have to end it, no excuses. There is a difference between struggling to assimilate, and stepping on others to get ahead. Or going through the growing pains of discovering your identity and worth, and being a bigot. Not only are those who step on others or are bigots’ cowards, but it’s also our responsibility to check and educate them.
We’re long past wasting time excusing or ignoring the wrongs of our community. We are in part going left unheard and unsupported because for too long, we left the injustices committed by our people and the misunderstandings with other communities remain unresolved. We didn’t follow the lead of many Asian Americans who called for action and fought for justice. Instead, as a community, we remained silent and turned a blind eye. Now, we’re suffering the consequences.
Many in our community have fought with their lives to bring us out of the shadows. To honor their sacrifice, we have to acknowledge, repent, and hold ourselves accountable. We can’t just fight for our own prosperity, but we have to fight alongside other marginalized communities. We can’t let their bravery and courage go to waste. They deserve better. Their sacrifices deserve to be honored.
Nobody deserves to be discriminated, but that means we also must continue checking and condemning the racism and inter-race racism that those in our community continue to spread. We have to address this to focus our energy on other countless tragedies society is facing. There are millions of Americans filing for unemployment. Millions of Americans terrified of their futures. There are countless already suffering from incredible injustices even before COVID-19. But instead of uniting to fight the virus, we’re fighting each other.
However, this is what I believe we can do to combat racism. First, hold each other accountable, including yourself. We also have to remember that we’re not the only people suffering because of the virus. There are billions already living in poverty or close to it. Millions in this country living on the streets and millions are unemployed. This virus didn’t bring suffering. It exacerbated it.
Second, we have to speak up. We have to speak up for ourselves, instead of leaving the same people to fight the battles for us. Every post, every like, every share is a form of speaking up. Having conversations with loved ones who are ignorant to the issues is a form of speaking up. Not participating in the problematic behavior, and learning from our mistakes is a form of speaking up. Standing in solidarity with all communities facing oppression is a must in terms of speaking up.
The only way we get through this crisis is by uniting and fighting together. Whether it’s overcoming this pandemic, dismantling systems of oppression, eradicating racism or ending all injustice, we have to fight together. I believe that we can. We have to believe that we can. But also, because it is absolutely within us. We are far from being united, but we can also choose to fight in solidarity from this moment forward. Because after all, we are not a monolith, but we have to come together.
About the Author: Sam Hyun is the Executive Director for the Korean-American Citizens League of New England. Sam also serves on the Asian-American Commission of Massachusetts after being appointed by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. Sam is also pursuing his Master’s in Public Policy at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.
Feature Image via Sam Hyun