What Calls You?  How Will You Answer?

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What a long, strange, heartbreaking trip it’s been, and there is no end in sight.

As if a global pandemic and 100,000 lives lost in the US alone were not enough, the inescapable reality of systemic racism and police brutality is now on full display and we must engage.  Anyone paying attention is right and justified to feel fatigued, frustrated, and at the end of their rope.

Each of us experiences all of this from our own unique perspective, informed by our personal and ‘tribal’ experiences to this point.  And we also share a genuinely collective experience in many ways.  It is the ultimate human paradox, no?

In the end, I always come back to our universal need for meaningful connection–love, really–as the light that will show us the way through.

For me, two main questions arise that I feel are the most important to answer at this point in history and my own life:

  1. What am I learning about my own biases, prejudices, assumptions, and attitudes in this time?  Corollaries:  When do I notice those tendencies arise?  What is that about?  And how do they affect my words and actions, and thus all of my relationships?
  2. With this ever-emerging awareness, how can I commit to being a contribution?  How will I, in this time of severe personal and societal disruption and upheaval, help to connect and heal rather than to divide and destroy–what specific, concrete actions will I take?

Asians occupy a strange Middle Space of racial identity.  We are ‘white-adjacent’—we enjoy some privileges similar to whites in America.  We also suffer some prejudice—more so since the 2016 presidential election, and much more so since the COVID-19 pandemic.  It’s all so complex.  I think I knew before, but now it’s crystal clear: Asians have a unique role to play in dismantling systemic racism and supporting Black Lives.

This article on Amy Cooper, the white woman who called 911 to falsely report that Christian Cooper, a black man, was threatening her life, captured the challenge well:

“What the Amy Cooper situation reveals to me is what instances of racism in America always reveal: There’s a level of self-examination and self-awareness that white people are not doing that they must do. There’s something that white people, even the ones who believe that they hold no biases, that they wield no power, must admit to themselves and begin to unpack. They are complicit — and even participatory — in the system of white supremacy. Individual white people may not believe they are, but their ability to tap into that system is always within reach.”  (emphasis mine)

For the most part, I enjoy enough privilege to not worry about my safety or that of my husband or son when we go out in public (though I have lately).  But as the coronavirus has now reminded me, Asians really don’t have access to the system of privilege that white people do.  So, my work is to find those specific, concrete actions that will advance anti-racism, primarily that against black people.  Because Black Lives seem to matter the least right now, and none are free until all are.  We Asians have some reckoning of our own to do, because we as a group do participate in and contribute to anti-black culture.

So now I commit to learning more by following writers like Professor Ibram Kendi.  I will listen to and read the stories posted by my black colleagues on social media, such as this one and this one.  I will look for opportunities to ‘upstand’ when I witness racist behavior in public or online.  I can follow groups who walk the talk, like Asians4BlackLives.  And I can find other resources to engage and participate in, like the myriad ones listed on President Obama’s Anguish and Action page.

This inner work is difficult, slow, and profoundly uncomfortable.  But it must be done for the outer work to have meaning and efficacy.  I believe we can overcome systemic racism and oppression.  And as always, we must do it all together.