Silence Does Not Mean it Doesn’t Exist

It is ironic, that so many of us can be deeply religious and follow a practice that relies on deep faith; believing in so many unknowns when we cannot visibly see or tangibly encounter, yet we refuse to display that same level of faith in people when they tell us bad things are happening.

I make this statement as someone who cares deeply about her faith – I am not attacking myself or others, but instead I want us to ask ourselves if we are putting faith in other people as well? Or are we deciding for ourselves when the narratives of others matter?

When the Black Lives Matter Protests swept the nation in 2020, after the killing of George Floyd, I wasn’t aware that Black Lives Matter was not a brand slogan, but instead it was an ideology that was established long before. For those of us who are privileged enough to be ignorant about the true extent of racism within our nation (and within the world), it was easy to forget that racially motivated crimes did not suddenly stop, just because we didn’t hear about them for awhile. I would pose that when we stop hearing about it, that is when racism is at its worst, because crimes and hatred continue to take place, but voices are successfully being silenced.

I will not claim expertise on racism, only that I wake up every day knowing that I need to allow my perspectives to be challenged.

Learning about the rampant hate crimes against members of the Asian Community have been a huge waking up for me.

If I were to stop and think about the question: “is there racism against Asians?” I would remember that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first piece of legislation (note: first piece of legislation, not the first action) aimed at keeping one group of people out of the United States simply because of their race. I would remember horribly insulting names and cariactures often used in Hollywood and other tropes used to depict Asians. I would think about the stereotypes that persist about Asians, and the one time that my friend in college, who was Filipino – Korean, was called “Exotic” by someone in her class.

My answer would easily be yes, but then I would feel doubtful because I feel that I don’t hear about Asian hate crimes.

You know how parents always say that if a child is playing and they are suddenly super quiet, you know that they are in trouble? We need to start paying attention to the silence and checking in on any communities who we don’t hear from – starting with the Asian community.

Hate crimes and brutal attacks against Asian Americans are on the rise, according to CNN and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). Events have escalated more due to the COVID-19 Virus, but why was this not being talked about before COVID-19? There are countless recent news articles about these horrible attacks, from lethal beatings of elderly Asian Americans to the recent shooting we know all too well. There are now initiatives to be a walking companion for the elderly members of the Asian American community – because they are so terrified to leave their homes.

I would pose that when we stop hearing about it, that is when racism is at its worst, because crimes and hatred continue to take place, but voices are successfully being silenced.

AAJC created a campaign, Stand Against Hatred, to help break that silence and to help document the crimes that are happening on a daily basis. I have re-printed a few of those stories below; you can visit their website to read and learn more. I encourage you to sit with these stories and ask yourself, “did I know this was happening?”

My 11-year-old daughter came home crying from school repeatedly because children in her class said they hoped COVID would go back to China and kill all the Chinese people. They also said Chinese people are dirty, lying cheaters who can’t be trusted. I reported it to the school administration and never even got a response to my email asking for support. We have never felt more invisible.

Shopping at local grocery market, was in the aisle next to beers. White man talking loudly on phone comes to the middle of the aisle near where I’m standing and starts asking his buddy on the phone what kind of beer to get. I ask him to keep his distance given that he didn’t have a mask. He turns to me, and says on his phone, “Hold on, I’ve got this oriental MFer bitching to me.” I quickly leave the aisle, but the man follows me, yelling things like, “Hey Ching Chang Chong, go back to your f***ing restaurant and make me some chicken fried rice.”

I was taking the subway home from the airport when a White man (not wearing a mask) started verbally harassing me. He started singing about America and continually said things like, “Get out of my country and go back to where you came from,” and “Thanks for killing us all.” When I didn’t respond, he said “We speak AMERICAN here, you know that?” and made fun of my name that was on my suitcase saying, “What kind of a name is that!” He also banged on the windows and stomped his feet to make as much noise as possible. The subway had an emergency button to talk to the operator, but unfortunately he was sitting in front of it. I felt uncomfortable speaking out or taking action because I was sitting in the corner and was afraid he would try to prevent me from leaving. I think the worst part was when I tried to look around for help, I saw everyone else in the car with headphones in, heads down, completely ignoring the situation. I was able to leave the car safely, but it has made me concerned about the safety of fellow AAPIs and I feel like we can’t hope that others will intervene on our behalf.

According to Manjusha Kulkarni, the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, and Robin Toma, the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, a middle school boy from the San Fernando Valley has been bullied, physically attacked, and sent to the emergency room because his assailants believed he had the coronavirus. Unfortunately, the young child has been one of many victims of hate crimes as the recent coronavirus scare, combined with people’s pre-existing prejudices, has led to a rise in hostility against Asians and Asian Americans.

Now we can say that we have heard the stories (if we hadn’t before) and that we honor the narrative – but what now? Education and understanding are important elements, and one of the first steps that can be taken, but it is not enough. How will we now become allies and how will we listen to the voices that are being silenced, so that we can learn what role we should play?

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