A reflection… by Sehee Thomas

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Photo credit: NBC News

For weeks, I’ve been “processing” the violence against the AAPI community. A fellow AAPI friend and mother wrote a reflection and her strength encouraged me to do something similar b/c frankly, there are days where the sadness and fear for my community is unbearable. I needed a place to get this out of my head.

I write this reflection as a PTA board member, member of my school’s equity committee, employee within King County, and resident of LFP, but first and foremost, as an AAPI woman and mother. I am of Korean descent but raised in the middle of white America since I was 2½. To say I have been aware of my race since a very early age is an understatement. I’ve been called chink, gook, slanty eyes… I’ve been sexually harassed and almost assaulted b/c of my race. I have been told I have good English, asked where I’m really from, which nail salon I work at, and COUNTLESS other microaggressions to ensure I feel unwanted and like I’m an outsider. I have spent much of my life trying to convince others (and at times, myself) that I am indeed American, and this is my country. I have changed the spelling and pronunciation of my Korean name to make it easier and less of a burden for others and grew up wishing I had a more common name. My husband is half Black and half white – he looks Black so the world very much sees and treats him as such. Our family is mixed, which leads to a shockingly large number of brazen questions from people we don’t even know who want to “understand” ‘what’s going on here’ when they see our family.

It has become apparent that Asian American experiences are minimized, and we often minimize ourselves. In case you don’t realize the severity of the hate crimes against Asian Americans, there has been a 1900% rise in hate crimes since the start of COVID-19. Take that number in for a moment - 1900%. This lack of acknowledgment is nothing new for our community. We are used to being ignored; we are used to minimizing our pain b/c we don’t want to rock the boat. We fear taking up space when discussing racism b/c we don’t want to diminish other BIPOC experiences. In our minds, we ‘don’t have it as bad,’ after all, we are the ‘model minority.’ This Model Minority Myth is doing exactly what it was designed to do – pit us against other Black and Brown populations. If we work hard enough, and behave well enough, we will be equals – as white. At times, I feel self-conscious calling myself a person of color because of my proximity to whiteness. But as my life has made evident, I am not white. I am regularly reminded of this when I’m told I don’t belong here.

Here are recent examples (that made headlines) of violence against the AAPI community:

  • An 84-year-old Thai man was forcibly shoved onto the ground and killed while walking on the street in San Francisco.
  • A 64-year-old grandmother was assaulted and robbed in San Jose.
  • A 61-year old Filipino man was slashed on his face with a box cutter and left bleeding inside a subway train in NYC.
  • An elderly Chinese woman was punched in the face by a stranger on a busy street in San Francisco.
  • Six women of Asian descent were gunned down in Atlanta.
  • A 65-year old Asian woman was brutally assaulted on her way to church near Times Square while bystanders did nothing.

To make it more local for you, an AAPI man at a West Seattle ATM was threatened w/ anti-Asian rhetoric by someone driving by, a Northshore high school teacher of Japanese descent was attacked with a brick while walking in the International District with her boyfriend. A friend of mine was screamed at with racial slurs while hiking with her two young daughters, and her mother was pushed down - breaking her wrist. And two weeks ago, I was called a chink in the Albertson’s parking lot right here in the LFP Town Center. Running a simple errand gives me anxiety – I am constantly aware of my surroundings, who’s around, where my car is, can I flee if I have to, do I have keys in my hand to protect myself… Depending on the time of the day/night, I have my husband come with me, or have a designated white friend.

Like the Black racism we’ve seen and been learning about over the past year, racism against the AAPI community is nothing new: Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese American detention camps, murder of Vincent Chin by displaced Detroit autoworkers… The list goes on.

I don’t expect anyone to respond to this reflection. I know it’s difficult to come up with something to say and I’m not writing this for acknowledgement. I am writing this so you can act.

People often ask, ‘What can I do?’ If you read nothing else, read this. As my fellow AAPI friend said: The best thing you can do for me and my kids that will have lasting effects, is to teach your children about racism, and how to be effective bystanders and friends, so that WHEN my child, or any other Black, Indigenous or other child of color, experiences casual or overt racism, their friends will know how to interrupt and challenge that racism on behalf of those who are harmed by it.

My Black and Brown children don’t get to not understand racism. They are forced to learn a hard reality that simply because of the color of their skin, or the shape of their eyes, they will be hated. I live with a fear that my husband or my children will be the next hashtag. Ignoring is not an option. We do a deep disservice to our community by running a blind eye and pretending these events aren’t impacting all of us. I ask you, and even beg you, to teach your children about being anti-racist.

What else can you do?

  • Don’t retraumatize people of color. When I talk about these local events, and what’s happened to me, there’s a unique reaction of shock and denial that I’ve seen from the white community in Seattle – “What? Not here!”
  • Take a bystander’s training.
  • There is a lack of media coverage of these racially motivated attacks. Spread awareness but don’t be a performative ally.
  • Report hate crimes and harassment to the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center.
  • Bring up anti-Asian harassment w/out being anti-Black – it is not true that most of the anti-Asian violence is happening at the hands of Black people (it’s what has gone viral).
  • Donate to community organizations.
  • Support our local International District.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of believing all Asian Americans are successful and therefore can’t be victims of racism. There is a world of diversity among Asians and aggregating this population into one group minimizes and masks differences among the subgroups.
  • Check in w/ your Asian friends. Allyship can also mean just checking in – you can be direct: “With all the racism against Asians lately, I was wondering how you are doing.” Listen and support – please don’t minimize their experiences.
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