I’ve been struggling to find the words to express the multitude of emotions I’m feeling in the face of the growing wave of anti-Asian violence. It’s particularly poignant in this, the 50th anniversary of my family’s immigration to the U.S.
These hate crimes have triggered painful memories from childhood — of being pushed to the ground, face bloodied, my two front teeth knocked out while being taunted with “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these.” They triggered the memory of Vincent Chin being bludgeoned to death by two white men near my hometown in Michigan in 1982 because they blamed the Japanese for layoffs in the U.S. auto industry. (Chin was Chinese). The two murderers received a $3,000 fine and no prison time. The Asian community in Detroit banded together to march in protest of the sentence and the killing — including my dad, who worked for Ford, my mom, my sister and me.
Last summer, in my own seemingly diverse bubble of Ann Arbor, where people from all over the world live and go to school, I watched an older white man glare at me as he put a mask over his face when I walked by, but removed it when he walked past other white people on the path.
‘I’VE SUFFERED COUNTLESS INDIGNITIES AND SLURS IN SILENCE’
I’ve suffered countless other indignities and slurs in silence. I never spoke up for myself in the moment. And no one spoke up for me.
I was silent because I’ve been taught by my Korean immigrant parents to “chamuh” – to bear, endure, put up with. “Keep your head down, don’t speak up. Just accept the insults and injustices.”
I’ve been silent because I feel a deep sense of guilt in spotlighting violence against Asian Americans when effort and momentum is finally beginning to address anti-Blackness. However, I’m coming to realize that it’s not about whose pain is worse or whose trauma is more deeply felt. It is all racism and all a symptom of white supremacy.
SPEAKING OUT NOW OUT OF FEAR FOR HER PARENTS
I’ve been silent until now because I wondered whether issuing a statement condemning racism and xenophobia will change the perpetrators of racism and xenophobia. Speaking to the echo chamber doesn’t bring about change.
But I am learning from the new generation of Asian-Americans and other BIPOC. They are using their voices. They are demanding to be heard and seen — something my parents’ generation would never have dreamed of — something that I am humbled and awed by.
I’m speaking up now out of fear for my parents. My 80-something year old dad sent me an email with the subject line: “Self-protection for Asian American Hate Crimes; Very Important to Remember.” One of the protections he listed was: “Call 911 (not much help these days)…most Asians do not report crimes because it doesn’t help.” He added, “From now on, I plan to go out with mom to protect her.” As older Asians are being pushed and beaten, I fear for both of them.
‘CONSPICUOUS AND VULNERABLE, I CAN’T HIDE’
I’m speaking up now because I feel conspicuous and vulnerable. I can’t hide or disguise my appearance. Even with a mask on, people can see that I’m Asian.
I’m speaking up now because I owe it to the next generation of Asian Americans and members of marginalized communities. If we don’t use this moment to speak up, we will continue to be invisible and dismissed. We will continue to be discriminated against, “other-ed”, and silenced.
The hate and violence will only stop when we stand up for ourselves and when others stand with us.
Don’t be silent. Change can’t happen by simply wishing for it.
‘DON’T LET RACIAL SLURS AND INSULTS SLIDE BY’
If you hear something, say something. Don’t let racial slurs and insults slide by. Don’t let it be a “normal” part of our conversations and culture.
Create space in your life and in your organizations to learn about the experiences of people who are different from you. Strive to connect with our common humanity.
To stop hate, it is up to all of us to create environments where everyone, regardless of race or other differences, feels safe, visible and respected. We belong, here.
Soojin Kwon is the Managing Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions and Student Experience at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. She graduated magna cum laude with her BA from Yale University, earned her MBA at Michigan Ross, and also earned a master’s in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.