As a community leader and advocate, I am often asked if incidents like the Atlanta shootings have anything to do with race, and whether Asian Americans are overreacting. Even my Asian friends are doubting whether we have to bring up the topic of race and if we need to keep “color-blind” in our conversations.
Growing up in China, we were rarely exposed to the issue of race and ethnicity, as the country is rather homogenous in social makeup. Therefore, we never learned the language and mechanism of how to talk about and work on such problems.
Yet after seeing such a rise of racial tension and violence especially brought about by the COVID pandemic and heightened by events like George Floyd’s death and the Atlanta shootings, the Asian community is awakened and galvanized to find ways to come out of such trauma that is laid deep in America’s soul since its birth.
As a holistic health specialist, I look at racism as a disease of the mind and a cancer in our body. Prejudice distorts our sense of reality and blinds us from seeing the bright side of other people. When we are engulfed by denial and hate, we can no longer accept the blessings and appreciate what others are bringing to our life. What we often don’t realize is that hate will reciprocate the pain back and destroy the haters themselves, just as in the case of the Atlanta shootings.
Racism not only causes agony to victims but also to the intruders and aggressors.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has put it precisely, “Men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other.” Xenophobia is rooted deeply in the fear and hate that comes when we see others as “aliens,” especially if they look, eat or talk differently. What the Asian community is facing, as in being called “Chinese virus,” or “communists,” or hearing terms like “economic espionage,” etc., is the same in nature as how Black Americans, Native Americans, and Latino Americans have been treated. We have all been living under the collective trauma of racism for centuries.
In today’s social media world, the boundaries of different communities have shifted from segregated neighborhoods to the information domain. If people only talk and interact in their own echo chambers, the gap between groups becomes even larger and impassable. This is how alienation and antagonism can become even more egregious and unhindered, while radical extremism and bigotry are taking a strong footing in the American public mind recently.
The antidote to hate is appreciation. To stop anti-Asian hate and heal from racism, we have to see things differently and step outside of our usual prejudice. We have to interact with each other differently and learn to cross the trench that divides us. Appreciation opens up our hearts and expands our minds, which can transform our fear and enrich our experiences in ways that we may never have otherwise.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Apart from just ordering Chinese rice, Indian curry or Vietnamese noodles, perhaps we can talk to neighbors and co-workers, get to know their families, and read stories behind every Asian family that struggled to come to this country.
Once the illusion of separation gradually disappears, we will be able to appreciate that Asian Americans are just like every other American who shares the same fear and tears, the same love and laughter like every other human being on this planet Earth.
The time to heal and be an upstander is now. Join us to learn how AAPIs have shaped and contributed to American history, outside the narratives of Western domination.
More importantly, you can support our efforts to bring AAPI history into school classrooms and help more Americans become familiar with who AAPIs are and what we value. Visit https://asianpacificheritage.gov/ and https://www.ncapaonline.org/calendar/month/2021-05/ to see some of the related events this month.
Dr. Helen Shih, Ph.D, is a medical physicist and holistic health specialist. She lives in Houston, and has been an active voice for the Asian community in Georgia and elsewhere. Shih leads civic engagement and community empowerment as a board member of civil rights organization United Chinese Americans.