Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Adweek and reposted with permission.
In the late ’90s, my grandfather was badly beaten by a group of teenagers. Nothing was stolen. He was simply left to die in one of San Francisco’s famed parks.
Kenji James Toda, a United States World War II veteran, a second-generation American born in Watsonville, California was the target of an anti-Asian hate crime. He was beaten mercilessly as his attackers hurled racial slurs at him. It was a senseless, unprovoked act. The only explanation the police provided was this: They just didn’t like the way he looked.
To the people who attacked him, it didn’t matter that he didn’t have an accent. It didn’t matter that he was born here. It didn’t even matter that he fought for the preservation of their freedom. None of that mattered. He just didn’t look like them on that particular day.
Hateful, painful memories return
I was 14 years old and I remember feeling helpless, sad — and hoping it never happens to me. It has been decades since I thought about that memory. I’ve buried it deep in my mind, hopefully never to revisit how scared I was to see him in a hospital bed, to hear him talk about what happened and the anger washing over me, wishing I was big enough to stand up for him.
In recent days, that memory has come back every single time I turn on the news.
In the past week:
- Vicha Ratanapakdee, a 84-year-old Thai American man, was murdered in San Francisco for merely existing.
- Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino man, had his face slashed ear to ear in a NYC subway.
- Christian Hall, a 19-year-old Asian American teen, was murdered by the police.
- A 91-year-old Asian American elder was shoved to the concrete sidewalk and left to die.
- An older woman in San Jose was mugged in broad daylight.
This happened in one week — and it appears there’s no end in sight. Unlike my grandfather’s beating, today’s incidents are not isolated, nor are they one-offs. Sadly, this isn’t new. Asian Americans have been targeted, physically attacked or murdered from the beginning of our country’s history.
No sign of concern
But today I am terrified — terrified that we are witnessing one of the largest stretches of hate crime against Asian Americans in my lifetime. The surge is staggering: there’s been a 1,900% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in New York City in the past year.
And no one is paying attention. No big news outlets. No brands. No influencers. No hashtags. Silence.
The model minority myth placed on Asian Americans through a systemic, racist system has made us raceless. That dynamic has resulted in silencing us even in the greatest moments of appropriation and violence. (Remember the pass those women got for making a Mahjong Game, claiming it needed a makeover? Surprise, they still got to make the product and make money off it.)
Confronting the myth — and reality
It’s not that we can’t talk; there’s just no one willing to listen to us. The myth has turned other communities against us as we have been inappropriately placed on a pedestal. It’s due to our “heads down, don’t speak” characterization, a sweeping over-generalization as an immigrant community that has achieved the socioeconomic American Dream. It’s a characterization placed on us by oppressors, not ourselves. So when we scream, we’re screaming at backs turned to us.
As John Cho eloquently put this week, the pandemic continues to remind us that our belonging — my belonging — is completely conditional. One moment we’re Americans, the next we are all foreigners, the people who they claim brought this virus here.
I’ve had enough. And I’m now big enough to avenge the hate visited on my grandfather when I was a kid. I’m here not to fight with my fists. Instead, I want to raise an industry that employs some of the greatest, brightest and most creative Asian-American minds in the world. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, we have been speaking up the entire time, loud and clear.
With tears in my eyes, I’m asking you to understand the gravity of my words. I am asking the industry that I’ve given so much of myself to for one thing: I don’t just want you to care, I want you to act. Love me and my people as much as we’ve loved you.
We have the ability to change the perspective of millions with 30 seconds of work. We must use our award-winning creativity to show the realities Asian Americans face. We must use our $138 billion industry to donate to Asian American causes like AAJC. We must lift up leaders in our organizations that break the “model minority” stereotypes cast upon us. And we must extend our storytelling to eradicate racism across all entities — and not just for my Black brothers and sisters, but for all of us.
An industry plea
The brands and agencies we work with wield the most powerful megaphones in the world. As we stood for BLM today, tomorrow and always, I’m asking you to open your heart and stand with the AAPI community. Denounce the hate crimes regardless of race once and for all, and help shed light on what’s happening to us.
Don’t let us die in silence.
We are one of the most impactful industries in the world. And I am proud to represent this industry until I collapse — but this is not the time for that. It’s time for all of us to stand up for all of our people, our community.
About the Author: Eric Toda (@toda) is a marketing executive known for building challenger brands. He is currently the global head of social at Facebook and has built brands at Gap Inc, Airbnb Snapchat and Nike.
Feature Image via Getty