Imagine, you wake up to get ready for school and you see that your mom has already gone to work. It’s fine, she does that all the time anyways, you can just talk to her when she gets back from work. Your mother has always been extremely busy trying to provide for the family as a single parent. Then, you find out that a 21 year old white man, named Robert Aaron Long, has shot down and murdered 8 innocent unexpecting people. And your beloved mother, the only parent you have, was one of them. Murdered at her work, never another word or breath shared together again. Thank god this is something we’re only imagining happening to us, right? Except this is exactly what happened to Eric Park on that awful day of the Atlanta Shootings, March 16, 2021.
The Atlanta shootings is just one heartbreaking case that happened only a month ago. Since the Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged our world, anti-asian racism has soared through the roofs. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, there has been a 150% increase of anti-asian hatecrimes in the U.S. in general since the pandemic began and, according to the NYPD, a whopping 1,900% increase in anti-asian hatecrimes in New York specifically. And each case of anti-asian hatecrime is horrific. In Oakland, California, a 91-year-old senior violently shoved to the pavement from behind. Brooklyn, New York, an 89-year-old woman slapped and set on fire by two strangers. On the New York subway, a 61-year-old passenger's face is slashed right open with a box cutter. The list of murders, stabbings, physical abuse and heartbreaking verbal attacks of Asians grows on and on.
However for today, honourable judges and fellow students, I wanted to bring your attention to the relatively smaller-scale anti-asian racism that happens everyday. Something that perhaps more of us can relate to.
Small-scale, daily racism isn’t something that regularly ends up in the news. But I think this makes it even more crucial to talk about it more often. It is the type of racism that we encouter the most after all. Kelly Hoang, a student at College View High School, recalls the everyday racism that she has faced. Mocking the shape of her eyes, making jokes about the color of her skin. Comments like, “I bet that dog looks delicious to you, doesn’t it?” Kaila Nghiem, a student at Overland Highschool, was called “bat eater”, out-of the blue, in the aisles of a grocery store by a stranger.
And as it happens, I have experienced this kind of daily racism quite recently, just last week actually, at none other than my taekwondo school. As an assistant instructor myself I was chatting with the Senior Instructors in Korean after a class had just finished. One of the kids that was in this class, a young boy, 11 years old at most, sat down on the benches beside us as he was tying his shoes. Then out of nowhere, the boy started mocking and offensively imitating the way we talk. I was stunned and looked at him with disbelief because to me that was one of the most unexpected and random things that happened to me that day. But the boy finished tying his shoes, gave me a look and walked out the door. And the moment was over. I’ll be honest, I felt numb, I didn’t understand what had just happened because I had never, ever expected something like that happening to me. The strange mixture of embarrassment and anger only came to me as I layed in bed that night finally registering what had happened.
The thing is, I don’t think the 11 year old meant any harm. He still comes to Taekwondo every class, I teach him in those classes and I’ve just let it go. I just wanted to avoid it, because it made me feel a kind of hurt and discomfort that nothing else had ever made me feel. It didn’t hurt me physically or anything right?
And this was the moment I failed. This was me contributing to the normalization of anti-asian racism. I let up on the chance to teach that 11 year old boy that what he was doing was hurtful and wrong. I know that all of you here, have at least once either heard, made or have been at the other end of anti-asian jokes or racist comments. When this happens I’ve observed that many of us simply stay quiet in an uncomfortable silence, maybe give a look, or perhaps even laugh along.
And I understand it’s difficult. But this is when we fail them, for not providing them the education and moment of clarity that they clearly need. Fail our friends and family, the ideals that our school so strongly encourages we manifest and ultimately ourselves. I want to encourage you, as you hear about these anti-Asian hate crimes happening all over the world, to think about what you can do from your position. For me, I will talk to that 11 year old boy. That is going to be my first step. I’m not trying to be cheesy when I say it really does start with us. Standing up for ourselves and others and educating people, that’s what we can do. Change starts with you and I. So, now I ask you, what will be your first step?