Hey there, how’s it going? Last time I mentioned how January felt like month 13 of the year 2020, and now I’m starting to think perhaps 2021 is shaping up to just be part 2 of 2020. This 2020-vibe, can we not?
Anyways, there’s been a lot of talk about the not-just-recent, but ongoing rise of anti-Asian hate crime happening in the US. People are justifiably outraged about these clips shown on air and via social media, about how the victims are all Asians, then about how the victims are all elderly, and inevitably people start noticing the perpetrators are… Black.
Inevitably at some point, someone will point out this fact and start asking why is the media not giving these terrible crime as much attention as the death of George Floyd. Even if they are, why aren’t they mentioning that these perpetrators are all Black? Why are people not showing up for us when we showed up for them. A lot of Us. A lot of Them. Ugh.
I don’t have a PHD on racism, I don’t have the perfect answer, and I’m not immune to any of this. I do, however, have some experiences in another type of race — so let’s talk about that for a moment.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have trained, ran, and finished a marathon in 2007, a half marathon in 2019, and a handful of 5 and 10Ks in-between. And in all of these cases, I don’t actually remember who were the first place runners of these races. I have zero idea. But I still vividly remember the weather on the day of these races, the sound of the cowbells people were cheering us with, and in one particular moment when I “hit a wall” just 3 miles away from the marathon finishing line — my running mate lent me her watch and said “You’ve got this!” right when I was so sure I wasn’t able to finish the race. (And I did.)
Point is, we’ve been taught since birth that there is only one winner in competition, in contests, in lottery drawings, and in life. If you’re not the winner, then by default you’re the loser. It’s so ingrained to us that it’s become our reflex to see everything in life this way. It can’t possibly be Britney ANDChristina, or Cardi AND Nicki — there must only be one.
But I would never think that in a marathon (or half or 10k) race. I wouldn’t not run the marathon just because Usain Bolt is also going to be in the race. While there’s only one “winner” in marathon, the rest of us is what makes the experience special. And in fact, I would argue that while I’m happy for the winner, I’m actually happier and prouder for everyone else for finishing the race. We’ve all endured the months long training to be there, freezing our butts off before the crack of dawn, just to put our bodies through hell in the goal of finishing the race. We cheered and clapped for each other, even though none of us were realistically going to be 1st place winners.
So, back to the headlines. What can we do? What can I do? First it’s important to unravel ourselves away from the sensational, knee-jerk feelings we may have at the moment. Take a breath and separate the justified outrage of the actual crime with any negative feelings we may have with any given communities. If the phrase “us” or “them” were mentioned at all in our bullet train of thoughts, take note of it and let’s actively work on turning a “winner takes all” into a “marathon race” mindset. Here’s my personal process (again, I am not perfect so your mileage may vary):
- Yes, these perpetrators in the videos are Black, but they’re not representative of the entire Black community. Thinking or saying something bad about the whole community is the definition of racism. This is a trap and the most important thing to unravel.
- Then, be mindful of the cogs that are so ingrained to us. Why are we reacting this way? Why is it so important for anyone to say “the perpetrators are all Black” when the actual hate crime already speak for themselves? (I’m also skeptical that there are no instances of hate crime done by non-Black perpetrators?) Does mentioning it help solve or reduce the series of hate crime? If so, how? (And if the potential solution is to apply that to an entire community, see point #1.)
- Also, as humans we instinctively apply our past experiences as learnings as a way to protect our current selves. Take inventory of media portrayal of Black communities and how it affects the way we see our world today. I also grew up in a Black-majority neighborhood and was often bullied as a kid and into high school. To this day, I can still fall into the trap of relating some of my fears, biases, and prejudices with the traumatic experiences I had in the past. But then I sit for a minute and do my best to unravel — these experiences were caused by specific people (again, not groups), many of whom are different today than they were back then. These experiences do not define them just as they do not define who I am today.
- Next, unravel from the mindset of ALL / None / Always / Never — because reality usually take place between all and none, and between always and never. It’s easy to think we NEVER get media coverage, or we’re ALWAYS the punchline to a joke, but that’s just as ridiculous to say ALL or NONE of the Black people are [insert blanket statement here]. A quick scroll on social media or Tumblr will also show plenty of outrage and coverage at things happening in Asia — the Hong Kong protest from 2019, the ongoing protests of Burmese civilians and Indian farmers today, and yes the not-just-recent wave of Asian-targeted hate crimes. (It’s finally gaining traction.)
- Finally, fight discrimination with compassion. The Black voters in Georgia single-handedly gave America a fighting chance for a better future. My Black teachers, friends, and mentors who have loved, supported, and cared for me through the years. The never-ending list of art, food, music, culture, and joy Black people have given humanity. Other things that make me smile every time: Bowen Yang and Ego Nwodim. Black Joy. Black K-pop stans.
What it ultimately comes down to is simply that we can win together only by working together. And instead of thinking of us or them, as media and society LOVES to pin things against one another, we should really think of it as a race; we need to actively shift from “we need to win” to “we all need to finish”.
Geez, every time I write these letters I aim to keep it short, only to keep getting increasingly longer. I do think this was important for me to write it all out though, and hopefully it was helpful for you as well. Again I’m not an expert nor am I immune to any of this, and it does take a lot of active work to reflect and unravel these “What if…” and “How about…” thoughts.
But through these mental exercises I do find myself landing in a lighter place afterwards — please reply let me know if you have thoughts on all this, even and especially if you disagree so we can all learn together. And please feel free to share this newsletter if you think other people can benefit from it! They can also subscribe to this and future newsletters below: