I was born and raised in southern Ontario, Canada, as the child of hardworking Chinese immigrants. My loving parents sacrificed so much in pursuit of more opportunities for my sister and me. We first lived in a lower-middle-class white neighborhood in downtown Windsor, where I attended a French Catholic school. In class, I was often the only Chinese kid in the room, but I never felt any different from the rest of my little peers. My childhood world consisted of a bubble around my primary school and the local YMCA, hidden away from the more questionable activities of downtown Windsor.
When we moved to a more affluent neighborhood and school district (think of your typical, gentrified suburb), I began experiencing some strange things. Despite attending a grade school where Asians were almost as prevalent as white people, for the first time I felt singled out for my different background. I remember being told that my ethnic lunches were disgusting and that my small eyes were horrendous. As I matured, I began to understand that I would always be different no matter what. I understood what being a visible minority meant. It is getting shifty looks from parents when teaching swim lessons. It is being told that “your people don’t have leadership tendencies”. Despite these so-called microaggressions, I never really felt threatened. I have adopted the mentality to just suck it up and accept the fact that I would never TRULY be accepted. I thought that there was not anything society could do to fix these discrimination problems. I thought politicians did not have a real impact on these subtle racist attitudes.
My previous misconceptions about race relations were gradually erased as I realized how powerful modern media is. When following American politics, I noticed that both Democrat and Republican politicians share the same disdain for the Chinese government. That in and of itself is understandable: the CCP’s core structure and actions go against American ideals and policies. President Trump believes in being strong against the CCP, a potentially admirable stance from a political perspective. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear how toxic his behavior is to Chinese Americans. Trump’s cesspool of a Twitter feed consistently went after China. Perhaps he was blaming the CCP’s inaction for the pandemic, but ultimately his words are interpreted differently by the masses. I heard many anecdotes of Asian-Americans getting harassed and assaulted on the streets, being told to “keep the virus in your country”. When people in a position of power use questionable language or phrases to describe a situation, the aftershocks amongst the masses are detrimental, regardless of the original intentions. Even if Trump believes he is not a racist, his language encourages racist behavior and normalizes discrimination against many groups.
So far, I have painted the image of my rather privileged and sheltered upbringing. My experiences of racism and discrimination were very narrow, and I never had a real conversation to understand its current state in our society. However, I have begun understanding how racism is a disease that can be egged on by leaders and popular figures. I had many black friends growing up, and as they became more outspoken regarding issues they constantly face, I was gradually educated and made more aware.
My attention was first captivated during the NFL protests. Colin Kaepernick, a man, and athlete who I have the utmost respect for, began the iconic protest of taking a knee during the US National Anthem. I saw the furious outrage from many people, claiming that he was disrespecting the flag, veterans, and his country. However, I saw unity more than anything else. I saw entire teams with their arms linked, shielding the men who knelt to express their pain. I saw a harmonized yet silent call for action.
Martin Luther King Jr.
I began talking about the movement to my family and friends, discussing how racism is so prevalent, and how black people are still getting pinned down by a broken system. Many peers claimed that racism no longer exists in modern society, and how everyone already has equal stomping grounds. I saw an amazing satirical argument against that point:
Slavery ended in 1863, right? Didn’t MLK pretty much eradicate all racial injustice after the civil rights movement? Didn’t the last racist go to jail after he shot MLK? /s
We seem to be accustomed to the idea that black people had it bad a LONG time ago. What if I told you that Ruby Bridges, the FIRST black child to go to a desegregated school, is only 65 today. That generation is around our grandparents’ age. Do sentiments and attitudes just not get passed down through just 2 generations?
Everything changed for me after hearing of Ahmaud Arbery. I was scrolling through Reddit when I came across an article about the 25-year-old black jogger in Georgia. The attached video was horrifying. Arbery was chased down by a truck with vigilantes wielding shotguns, claiming to serve justice. The men claimed Arbery was trespassing on a housing construction site, making him a likely suspect in the recent chain of robberies. I did not bother reading further into the garbage robbery excuses. Even if you witness a man stealing from your house (which the pathetic murderers did not), does it give you the right to chase them down and kill them? The actions I witnessed in the video were far from defending one’s property – it was an outright lynching.
What drove me nuts was that the murder occurred in February and that the case only gained traction when the video was released to the public. At the time, the District Attorney had decided not to press charges, saying that the perpetrators acted in reasonable self-defense. Coincidentally, one of the killers was previously employed by the local DA office. Why does it take nationwide public outcry to prosecute crime? This incident made me look further into how the American Justice System is inherently flawed. Local district attorneys and sheriff’s offices can get away with too much and hold too much influence.
The George Floyd murders simply elevated my thoughts on the justice system. Derek Chauvin knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on a man’s neck while 3 other officers simply watched. Chauvin had a plethora of complaints regarding unprofessional and brutal conduct, none of which seemed to ultimately affect his position. Why is it that police officers are not held to the highest possible standards? They take an oath to protect and serve – I saw none of that in this video.
One of my favorite YouTube personalities put together a great video on how I relate to this situation. Asian Americans are used to being a bystander or used to being stepped on and bullied. Our cultural background/upbringing encourages us to keep our heads down and to remain silent. I remember seeing a quote from Inferno by Dan Brown which draws on Dante’s legendary poem:
The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis
I’ve always been a proactive leader in my communities. Through student council, education activism, and charity work, I’ve dedicated my energy and efforts into youth. Yet, for my entire life, I’ve remained silent on issues of race. I may be privileged enough to not face the fear of the (in)justice system, but my minority background still understands racism - I feel for my black brothers and sisters. It is our generational responsibility to create a better society than the one we were born in.
In terms of justice system changes, I want to see more black/POC judges in the system. There’s countless cases of white people getting away with lesser sentences when committing the same crimes as a black person. The Sentencing Project covers how even in a supposedly “fair” court system, black people were disproportionately punished by white judges. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund actively works to solve the issues addressed in this report, which is why I started a birthday fundraiser for their cause. My good friend Hong Yi Chen found a list of prominent figures in tech who were matching donation money towards racial justice charities. The $1469 raised by my friends and I quickly became matched into almost $7000!
Finally, our collective duty is to not let this movement die as “Black Lives Matter Spirit Week”. Americans should vote accordingly this November, but even here in Canada there’s work to be done. COVID-19 isn’t the only plague we’re facing, racism has got to go too.
The cure to racism and injustice starts with every individual’s actions. Speak now, act now.
Black Lives Matter.