I am Korean-Canadian. I moved to North America alone at the age of 19. For the last 17 years, I've lived both in the United States and Canada. Have I been experiencing discrimination against Asians? Yes. Have I actively spoken about it? No. Racism has always been an uncomfortable topic to think about and talk about with anyone, especially publicly.
Anti-Asian racism and anti-Asian sentiment is deeply personal to me, for obvious reasons. The tragic incidents and painful stories shared by many Asians saddens me greatly. Every piece of news and stories fill my eyes with tears. I feel their pain. I feel their grief. I feel the long-standing, persisting agony they have been internalizing and suffering.
I’ve written this piece because I couldn’t stay silent. It took a long time to write it. I’ve revised it many times. There was a voice in my head saying, "why bother when it will not make any significant difference?" I still did it because it is the right thing to do. Because each and every action to stop Asian hate matters, no matter how small the action feels. I've been inspired and encouraged by those who shared their stories.
It is my responsibility to speak up for those who came before me, those who are living through the racism, and those who will come after me. I hope my action inspires, encourages, and comforts someone somewhere. And when they take actions, they will inspire others. These actions together can bring about changes.
Sources of fear and hesitation to speak up about anti-Asian racism
With the recent surge of attacks and assaults against Asian-Americans and Asian-Canadians (I will use "Asians" onward), I reflected on why anti-Asian racism has been such a difficult topic to speak up about. If there was discomfort and fear that has been stopping me from taking actions, I assume many others might have felt the same way. And if so, identifying and recognizing the sources should be our first step. Here are three sources I could identify:
An accusation of victimization.
This has been my biggest fear. There has been systematic racism that generations of Asians have faced. There are also acts of discrimination and racism that are subtle and hard to "prove". I recently learned there is a term for it: Subtle Acts of Discrimination (SAE). Some call it microaggression. I believe SAE is the more appropriate term to use but that is for another post. For anyone who is interested in learning about the concept, I highly recommend a book titled Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions.
In my almost two decades living in the United States and Canada as an immigrant, the examples of racism against Asians I have been facing mostly are the latter. When we speak up about the subtle acts of racism we experience, it can be used to accuse us of playing the victim. And this can be a powerful way to silence us.
The stereotypes of Asians have defined us as "quiet and nice" people and often we have been the overlooked or forgotten racial minority. These can make us seen as overly sensitive and considered lacking in social skills when we do speak about acts of racism. I've seen the surprised look on people's faces, like they were surprised to know that I was willing to and dared to speak up. I've heard condescending comments such as "oh, you simply misunderstood, don't worry about it."
Damaging our personal brand.
We humans all judge, consciously and unconsciously. We form biases and create perceptions. We interpret the world around us in our own unique way. Humans need to rely on perceptions to be efficient. It is because we haven't moved away from our ancient ancestors' "fight-or-flight" responses to the outer world.
Whether we recognize it or not, everything we say and do builds and shapes our personal brand. It is constantly perceived and interpreted by others. When we want to be associated with the accomplishment that we are proud of, when we want our personal brand to represent that more than anything, the fear of damaging it by associating ourselves with racism and the negativities that accompany it is real.
I realize that I've learned to "accept" the disadvantages that come with being an Asian woman. I've talked to myself: "Of course, you're at a disadvantage. Appreciate what you could achieve despite the challenges and roadblocks. Making noise will only increase the disadvantage you will continue to face." There has been the voice, both from outside and inside, saying, "mind your business and don't take up too much space. Be happy with what you've got."
Here is another thought triggered by the foreigner mindset: Anti-Asian racism is not the "mainstream" racism, anti-black racism is. There have been many more tragic incidents, it has a long history, and therefore, it has been in the centre of racism discussions and movements, rightfully so. It felt wrong to actively bring up anti-Asian racism when it could be seen as trying to steal the thunder when a more serious problem was being actively discussed.
Why I am speaking out against anti-Asian racism.
These sources of fear, discomfort, and hesitation to speak up about anti-Asian racism are real. They were fully acting up during the many hours I spent on writing and revising this article. The reasons why I need to speak out are also real. Here are the top three among others:
To fight the stereotypes.
There are plenty of stereotypes that have defined and constrained Asians: quiet, nice, modest, deferential, hard-working, highly educated, respectful, submissive, and self-sacrificing, just to name a few.
These stereotypes have consequences. Data shows that Asians, especially Asian women, are underrepresented in leadership roles. In the technology industry, Asian women represent 47 percent of entry-level employees with a college degree or higher. They are only half as likely as white men and women to advance to leadership positions. In corporate America, even though Asian women are the demographic group most likely to have graduate degrees, they are the least likely to hold executive positions.
Data also shows we expect leaders to be dominant while Asians are seen as modest and submissive. When Asian women speak up and express ideas or opinions, they are seen as too aggressive and demanding instead of being seen as confident and competent.
When we “live up” to the stereotypes, continue to be quiet and nice about the acts of racism, and put our head down to just work hard until we hit the glass ceiling, the racism will persist. I refuse to be quiet, submissive, and self-sacrificing. I’m speaking up. I’m taking actions.
To support and inspire others.
Victims of racism, how small or insignificant the act of racism seems to other, can feel lonely and helpless. The more people talk about it, the more people can be inspired to speak up. This creates more support for all of us. Racial minorities are not the only victims of racism. My husband, who is not Asian, is impacted by anti-Asian racism because his wife is affected by it. We are all connected in some ways.
The stories that have immensely inspired me belong to not only Asians, but also to other racial minorities. There should be no place for any type of racism and discrimination in our society. Fighting against one form of discrimination does not steal thunder from others but ignites interest in them.
Some of the stories that have deeply touched my soul belong to non-Asians. For example, the book I'm devouring at the moment is by Luvvie Ajayi Jones, a Nigerian-American author, speaker, and an influencer. Her authentic and candid voice and stories have shaken me so hard (in a positive way). Her book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, is one of the encouragements that have pushed me to speak up.
To do the right thing.
It is just the right thing to do. It really is a painful topic to think about, read about, and write about. There has been a voice in my head telling me my small action will not matter. It will not be enough to bring any significant change, so why bother? My little voice is right that my action alone will not be enough. One or two movements will not eliminate racism, whether it’s anti-Asian, or Black, or any other race. But each and every action, those sincere and authentic actions that each of us take, do make a difference.
To my fellow Asians who have been afraid and hesitant to talk about anti-Asian racism: I understand you. I feel you. I hope me speaking up about anti-Asian racism helps normalize the discussion of this topic. I hope it helps reduce the discomfort and fear. I hope it helps lessen the pain you’ve internalized for so long. I hope it helps you stop blaming yourself for being on the receiving end of acts of racism. I hope it inspires you to realize that not only is it okay to talk about anti-Asian racism but also it is our responsibility to talk about it.
What we do at ProServeIT to support racial diversity and tolerance.
I am proud to publish this blog on our corporate website. We make space on our website to host articles like this one because our organization's culture and values we stand for do not agree with racism. This is one of the ways we do our part and participate in the #StopAsianHate movement.
In order to support each other and create a safe space to discuss diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging (DEIB), we at ProServeIT have a group on our Workplace from Facebook dedicated to DEIB. It is a virtual space where we can share resources and stories. In addition to strong set of company values and culture that support DEIB, having a dedicated virtual place and champions can help bring them to life and make them more tangible.
Another initiative we have ongoing is a series of virtual events, where we invite our partners and customers who share the same set of values to share stories and best practices when it comes to DEIB.