Happy Spring, friends! How are you doing? The world is still such an intense and often painful place, but somehow the warmer, lengthening days bring hope and solace.
I find myself still immersed in exploration of tribal experiences… Talking, reading, writing, thinking, connecting, reflecting, learning. What’s on my mind tonight:
Comparative Suffering Is Counterproductive
I have known about abusive and violent acts against Asian Americans since the beginning of the pandemic. I have felt increasingly self-conscious about my Asian-ness for the past five years—more so than at any time since elementary school. So it was somewhat gratifying to see anti-Asian hate crimes get more press in recent weeks. But even as I add my own voice to the call for awareness and action, I hesitate. All violent acts deserve attention and reckoning. But part of me feels sheepish ‘complaining’ when anti-Black racism feels like such a more endemic, urgent, and severe crisis. Even as I read more articles on anti-Asian hate this week, the trial of Derek Chauvin progresses in Minnesota, and so many of us hold our breath, knowing that the outrageous possibility of acquittal is real. But staying quiet about anti-Asian hate helps no one. I’m part of an out-group, too, and our needs are not less important than anyone else’s. It is precisely when we start comparing and ranking the value of one group’s suffering against others that we all lose our collective power and potential to drive positive change for all of us. When I speak up on behalf of the AAPI community, I remember that we are ‘othered’ in different ways and with different consequences from our Black brothers and sisters, but the shared experience of white supremacy binds us together. I will do better to point out that the empathy, education, connection, and solidarity that I want people to foster in themselves must be applied to all marginalized people, not just Asians.
Looking back at summer 2020, I wonder if I did enough to address the concerns and well-being of everyone on my team, but especially my Black coworkers. Did I foster a psychologically safe environment where people could express their concerns and emotions? Did I encourage enough self-awareness in thought, speech, and action? Do I continue to do so? As the leader, how much should I bring up anti-Asian hate, does that center myself too much? How do I maintain a balance of attention and integrate our awareness so as to include the concerns of any and all who feel oppressed? As I face outward to encourage system leaders to speak out, have I done enough on my own team to connect with my AAPI and Black colleagues in support? How will I know I’m doing enough? In the end I submit to the assessment of those I lead. I can solicit feedback and accept it with humility and honesty. And if I falter, I can ask that people look not only at my impact, but also at my earnest intentions to cultivate connection between us all, and keep doing my best as I learn from mistakes. I can also continually work with fellow leaders to develop initiatives to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion—to hold us accountable to tangible results, and not just give lip service.
We Can All Relate
How are you “othered”? I mean based on the tribes in which you claim membership, or certain personal traits, how can you be identified and ostracized by others? Consider a scenario: White woman verbally attacks elderly Black man with racist slur. He retaliates by fat shaming her. We all have our vulnerable parts, those things we fear being called out and held against us, that we cannot necessarily control. Even members of the dominant culture have them, though they may or may not be as readily visible as race, gender, or ethnicity. The fears and anxieties we carry around these soft spots cause varying degrees of personal and collective suffering and social consequence. When we dig deep and recognize our own vulnerabilities reflected in others, then we can truly relate to all who suffer, and we are moved to act on their behalf—because advocating for one of us is advocating for us all.
I finished watching the PBS series “Asian Americans” (which PBS has apparently made free for streaming since the Atlanta shootings) this weekend, which I highly recommend. From it I learned how Asians and other marginalized groups have come together in American history to advocate for one another. Filipino and Mexican farm workers formed the United Farm Workers in 1965. Asian, Latinx and Black students at San Francisco State University joined together and succeeded in creating America’s first ever ethnic studies program in 1968. Jesse Jackson spoke out on behalf of Asian Americans after the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. And since last summer, I’m happy to see increasing solidarity again between Asian and Black communities. From a recent article in TIME magazine: “’We’re not safe until all people of color are safe. Safety doesn’t come in the form of heavier policing calls or of carceral state oppression of poor communities,’ Dao-Yi Chow tells TIME. Chow, who is Chinese American, was one of the organizers of Running to Protest’s ‘Black & Asian Solidarity’ rally. ‘That’s only continuing to align ourselves with white supremacy. And if we continue to do that, those are anti-Black acts that’s only going to continue to drive divisions in between our communities,’ Chow says.”
Call to Action on the Periphery
I’m currently reading Change by Damon Centola. Hear him discuss the central tenets with Shankar Vedantam on this episode of “Hidden Brain”. He asserts, with evidence, that social movements and change originate in the periphery of social networks, through strong and overlapping ties. This means that we each and all have a role to play in making the world more equal for marginalized people and groups. It all starts with the conversations we have in our daily encounters, and the cascade effects they have on our friends’ friends, etc. On my work team, if I’m hearing the same message of solidarity from my manager and my medical director, and then my colleague from another practice, and then my fellow committee member, then I’m more likely to accept and adopt it, and then promote it myself. Whether or not I had a formal training or participated in some system-wide initiative, I’m influenced by those around me whom I respect and care for—and vice versa. That is why no matter who I am, what I say and do also matters—we all lead by example.
The journey is long and arduous. The path winds through caves of uncertainty and adversity.
The only way out is through. The best way through is together.