I was raised in predominantly African American working class communities. I had very few interactions with Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. I did not have an Asian friend until high school, and her Cambodian family was the only Asian family in our high school that I recall. When I went to college, there was a larger Asian community from Pakistan, Nepal, Korea and China. I was a junior in college when 911 occurred, and I was very close to one of my Pakistani classmates. I recall that there were so many anti-middle eastern and anti-Muslim sentiments. For this reason, I was determined to show up for her.
We were already in community, so it was natural to stand in solidarity. When one has spent time cultivating authentic relationships, outreach in times of pain is much more genuine. I wrote my classmate a letter (an email). I still have it archived in my files today. In a time when her very existence was under attack, my communication meant a great deal to her.
As I am typing this blog, I am tearing up. All of the emotions of 2001 are flooding me. As a young college student, I could not understand how my sweet friend, whom everyone loved yesterday, was now considered an enemy of the state. As I look out over our nation today, amidst widespread Anti-Asian violence, I see the skeletons of the past infiltrating our psyche. On Tuesday, March 16, 2021, a lone white male gunman, Robert Long (21 years old), murdered 8 people, 6 of them Asian.
These murders demonstrate rising Anti-Asian violence. According to the analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, hate crimes decreased in 2020 by 7 percent. However, those targeting Asians rose by almost 150 percent. What has caused this increase? I believe the antecedents are multifaceted.
In recent conversations with an Asian-American colleague, she surmised the following rationales for the rise in Anti-Asian violence. Note: My colleague needs space, and has opted to take some much needed time for herself. For this reason, I will not name her. She certainly holds the gunman responsible, and all who commit acts of violence against Asian communities; however, her analysis is far more comprehensive.
First, she cited the myth of the model minority. This myth perpetuates the notion that Asians are devoid of the impact of a minoritized identity. This myth states that Asians are well accepted, have the luxury of fully assimilating into White culture, and thereby are shielded from disenfranchisement, targeting, and abuse.
She also cited a lack of understanding of intersectionality. Intersectionality was coined by attorney and critical race theorist Kimberle Crenshaw. It is a theoretical framework that brings attention to how multiple marginalized identities impact our lives and our existence. In the case of the recent murders, it cannot be lost that the majority of the victims were Asian and women. When we fail to situate Asians’ experiences with those of other marginalized people, we fail to draw attention to their plight. The invisibility of Asian victims of racism and hate crimes further separate them from their Black and Brown counterparts and other disenfranchised communities.
In building greater networks of solidarity, White cultures, Black and Brown cultures, and others must combat such invisibility by expanding our tables. I would also call upon Asian siblings to engage minoritized spaces with greater intentionality. Working across differences, we can begin to mend the islands that have long divided us. Also, as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion professionals, we must be more intentional about providing spaces, programming, and policies that extend beyond the Black-White binary.
Finally, my Asian-American colleague overtly named the political climate. She made it clear that we cannot separate the hurtful and hateful rhetoric at the highest levels from what befalls us now. Whatever political party we support, we must call out hate, even if it means standing alone. When I stood with my Pakistani friend just days after 911, trust me, I stood alone. Few understood my solidarity. Nevertheless, years later, I know I did the right thing.
When I got married in 2007, my husband and I decided to have an international wedding. The church that we attended at the time was international with over 20 nations represented. Our neighborhood was international, as were our lives. We had 10 nations and 11 languages represented in our wedding.
These individuals were people with whom we were in community. They added so much value to our lives. We could not imagine our special day moving forward without them. When we asked them to accompany us down the aisle, they were honored. They wore their native attire, spoke in their native languages, and celebrated the occasion as if we had all been raised in the same family together.
Upon hearing of my nuptials, Kim, the Korean owner of one our town’s longest running Beauty Supply stores called me. She asked me to come by her store so that she could give me a wedding gift. Then in my thirties, I entered the same shop that I had frequented since I was in high school. One of my Korean friends, Grace, a member of my wedding party accompanied me. Although meeting for the first time, Kim and Grace embraced and spoke Korean (which I did not understand) as if they were long lost sisters.
Although I did not understand the language, I never felt left out. They were unknown compatriots excited to meet for the first time. The same warmth that Kim had shown to me since I was a teenager, she showed to my friend Grace. Although I did not understand their words, I understood the spirit behind their words.
Family, Familia, Famille, Ezinụlọ, Ebi, Fanmi 家庭, 가족
As we walk out our lives on this planet, together, let us be led by the Spirit. Let us have resolute, unwavering convictions that compel us to show love, to denounce hatred, and to intentionally stand in solidarity with our neighbors. The blood that unites us is thicker than the waters that divide us.