#StopAsianHateMarch 26, 2021
Dear Bow Seat community,
It has been a difficult month in a trying year. In the U.S., we are reeling from two mass shootings in just as many weeks. We sympathize with all victims of violence, here and around the world.
The recent mass shooting in Atlanta reminded us of the lessons that the health pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have illuminated since last spring: that communities of color have faced inequalities and injustices for generations, and continue to do so every day.
Our hearts break for the thousands of Asian American students in our community who have lived with fear, anger, and grief as violence against them and their families has erupted. We stand in solidarity with you. And we pledge to continue providing you with a safe space to share your questions, ideas, and dreams for a safer and healthier world. Thank you for trusting us with your personal stories.
Anne, our Operations Manager, recently put together the thoughts, notes, and memories she has been jotting down over the past year. Like many of our students, Anne found that using her art to speak out about something important to her was cathartic and empowering. In the spirit of community, she is sharing her letter with you.
I have Asian privilege.
I jotted down those words last June, after George Floyd was tragically murdered at the hands, or more rightly, the knee of a police officer.
I wrote down those words even though, as a first-generation Chinese American, I was teased throughout my childhood about the shape of my eyes, the foods that I ate, and the accents of my parents’ speech.
Even though, when I was in my late 20s, a young girl saw me walk into a restaurant and loudly declared that she “hated Chinese people.”
Even though, as a mother, my sons tell me that they are teased about the shape of their eyes, the foods that they eat, and the accents of their grandparents’ speech. (In 30+ years, the insults and taunts have pretty much stayed the same, unwitty and lazy.)
And even though, as COVID-19 infections began soaring worldwide, so did violence against Asian Americans, largely fueled by our then-President’s racist rhetoric. During this time, I only ventured to the supermarket when accompanied by my (White) husband—not because I worried about my physical safety, but because I dreaded those who would sling words of hate and blame.
Even after all that, I still truly felt that I had the benefit of Asian privilege. The jeers and microaggressions may have grazed me… they may have made me cry (as did the words of the girl in the restaurant), but they never penetrated my skin and made me bleed. They didn’t silence me until I could no longer breathe.
Then six Asian women were killed in a shooting spree in Atlanta last week, and my friends started checking in on me. I appreciated the care but thought it was misplaced. Yes, what happened to those victims was tragic, but that had nothing to do with me.
Then I began to read writings like this one that brought to light the oft-ignored, rarely taught history of racism against Asians in the U.S. I began to listen to the stories and experiences of other Asian Americans. And I began to unlearn my perceptions of Asian privilege—that, contrary to my understanding, the discrimination we faced was not a series of one-offs, but indicative of a deep, broad, and enduring systemic problem.
“And I began to unlearn my perceptions of Asian privilege—that, contrary to my understanding, the discrimination we faced was not a series of one-offs, but indicative of a deep, broad, and enduring systemic problem.”
In hindsight, it’s not surprising that I didn’t immediately make the connection between what happened last week in Atlanta and my own life. I grew up in a town where there weren’t many people who looked like me, so I spent my youth trying to blend in with my White peers. I resisted learning my parents’ language. I avoided celebrating my culture. In many ways, I only remembered that I was Chinese when someone made fun of me about it.
It was only in adulthood that I began to accept, and then embrace, my full identity. In college in Boston, I finally met a lot of people who looked like me, and with whom I could bond over shared experiences. When I had children, I pledged to raise them to honor their whole selves—both their Chinese roots as well as their father’s Irish-Scot ancestry. But last week’s tragedy opened my eyes to how much more I have to learn about another difficult part of my country’s history, and how it continues to impact and shape Asian American lives today.
One of my husband’s relatives once told me that when she looks at people, she “doesn’t see color.” I suppose she was trying to convince me that she wasn’t racist. But this misses the point entirely, doesn’t it? I don’t want to live in a grayscale world. I want to live in a world where we see color, in all its hues and shades, and in spite of that—or rather, because of that—we treat each other as equals and rejoice in our awesome diversity.
“I don’t want to live in a grayscale world. I want to live in a world where we see color, in all its hues and shades, and in spite of that—or rather, because of that—we treat each other as equals and rejoice in our awesome diversity.”
I have spent the last five years working at an organization whose very purpose is to give youth a platform to share their concerns, visions, and hopes for the future. I have witnessed the power of this platform for young people, and now I am learning to use it myself. Sharing our stories is essential to reflecting on our own experiences, enlightening others, and inspiring collective action to work towards a more just—and a more colorful—future.
To the thousands of Asian American students who are a part of Bow Seat’s community: we stand with you during this difficult time, and always. We remain committed to uplifting your voices, and of all those who have been stifled for far too long. Let’s stand out, not blend in. And let’s celebrate the fact that there are so many reasons to be proud that we are Asian.