Over the past year, anti-Asian sentiment has again continued to rise. It is worsening across various parts of the world and in America, including (shockingly) even in San Francisco! As an Asian and an immigrant, it sinks my heart every time I see it. Still, I am acutely aware of and disheartened to know that for every one reported by the media, many aren’t being reported either by the media or by victims themselves.
Asia is a continent full of many vibrant cultures full of rich history and customs, some of the oldest on the planet. Our value systems perhaps make us easy targets of bullies that haven’t been taught better and those that continue to harbor resentment and jealousy towards the success of hard-working Asians.
I am an Asian-American immigrant who lost my parents in a horrific and racially motivated incident almost three decades ago. Now there isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t think about how globalization has made America and the world smaller, but these sentiments are still so prevalent (in America of all places)! While it’s not acceptable to see these incidents anywhere but to see them in America in 2021 makes me question why our value systems have not yet evolved, despite globalization?
As we consider the events of 2020 and the increased awareness of the prevalent biases in our environments, it’s easy to see that globalization hasn’t solved these undercurrents of issues. There is another thing at play when it comes to Asian Americans. As a region, our cultures are associated with demonstrating respect to our elders and not desiring to pick a fight. With the sense of respecting others and not bringing shame to yourself or others, we tend to walk away from a fight, leading to Asians being easily targeted by others.
It’s not that we cannot fight or win, but rather, we prefer to win through our minds and hearts. These cultural values result in many of us not reporting biases and racially motivated behavior from others. Perhaps our respectful nature makes us an easier target for racism and misogynistic behaviors as being acceptable by us.
I still remember the aftermath of 9/11 when the Sikh and Muslim communities were targeted and experienced hate crimes across America and in many places worldwide. Now, I see the same because of the fears and biases being carried out based on the color of our skins, the way we look, the way we speak, and because we can and choose to take the higher road.
It is a mistake to think that this ability to walk away is our weakness. Perpetuating violence and displaying poor judgment of behavior from someone who prefers to break trust and respect towards others shouldn’t be held on pedestals for an aspirational value system. Instead, our desire to allow the perpetrator to save face has been serving as a strength to our wonderfully colorful cultures of the many nationalities representing our region. It is the respect for ourselves and others that allows us to walk away with our heads held high, knowing that we can take the higher road.
Perhaps having gone through a racially motivated event at such an early age has made me a fighter. Still, one with the spirit that reflects the notion of Karma binding our cultural fabric will choose to walk away when I see wrong-doings that perpetuate. I recognize that I do not have the tools or support to continue fighting these deeply rooted battles. It is for these reasons that, as an Asian, I ache for my brothers and sisters and want to know when it will it be that we can stand our grounds to say “enough is enough” and gain support from those that claim to be standing in solidarity to show it with their actions and not mere words?
Too many times, I have seen people “talk the talk” but can’t seem to “walk the walk.” Many preach diversity and inclusion in one breath but cannot see their actions or those of others in plain sight to question if their spoken words reflect the values they seem to imply to espouse. Too many have stood by the sidelines while seeing such events play out over the past three decades to cry out, “this is not right,” but never intervene to stop the seeded biased behavior or stop to ask the right questions. Perhaps, if more people spoke out when they see biases displayed, even in small manners, a fundamental change might be possible, and healing can begin.
I distinctly recall how many didn’t want to “get involved” post-9/11 when these hateful incidents occurred. While everyone spoke words condemning the acts, few were willing to act or take a stand beyond the words—as if it was good enough to say it but not demonstrate it by their actions. It bothered me enough that I filmed a documentary so unheard voices could also be heard. My film became an opening weekend film at one of the largest film festivals in the United States and was aired on cable TV. I was so glad that I could give a tiny amplifier to those who didn’t have a voice, or whose voices were being shut down, or those who felt their voices didn’t matter.
I have seen firsthand how deeply engrained biases perpetuate the cycle, while many being sub-conscious, too many hidden in plain sight that is consistently swept under the rug. Unfortunately I am reluctant to share so many of these incidents, because it’s best to keep them to myself.
I am sure that, like myself, so many Asians have experienced them across all ranks at work, school, and our communities. Every Asian can likely recall incidents that have shaped their views to protect themselves, their families, and their careers. Unfortunately, these incidents continue to be consistently “overlooked” by so many others who observe these biases but choose not to speak out, becoming a breeding ground for perpetuating the vicious cycle. The attempt to be politically correct and not speak out against the wrongs being observed have continued to do more harm than good, leading to the events since last year and what we see right now with the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Many elite educational institutions have been denying Asians entry to college programs by making the rules more difficult for them, citing “Asians have high IQ.” Such biases are perpetuating a cycle that has continued to hammer the Asian communities. Education is the other most crucial value of an Asian upbringing after our families. We prioritize education over many other things in our lives. So, why do we need to be penalized for working hard and following the rules? Why are these values being changed by the institutions, be it in our schools or work that imposed them as eligibility for everyone to play in the sandbox? Why does an Asian community member who has applied their value system, worked hard and played by the stated rules have to fear and walk on egg-shells at their homes, schools, work, and in our communities?
What do all of these types of events and experiences demonstrate? To me, it continues to show that as long as people sit on the sideline to watch and not get involved, they are part of the perpetuating cycle that does more harm than good. By not stopping the bad behavior or engaging in a dialogue when biases are displayed, more power is continuously given to those who perpetrate them. On the other hand, sitting by the sideline and watching continues to be detrimental to communities whose cultural values aren’t to attack someone even when they are being harmed.
We are all unique, bring values that add to America’s fabric, and recognizing how globalization needs to benefit ALL in the communities where we live, learn, and work is overdue for acknowledgment. Until we have people, no matter their role or rank at home, work, or in our communities, self-reflect and recognize the positive AND negative impact of their actions or lack thereof, we cannot make meaningful progress on this conversation.
From an Asian American eye, we shouldn’t have to watch our backs and walk on egg-shells because someone is bothered by our value systems of working hard to better our future generations and because they don’t believe in doing the same. The fact that Asians have the same fears today as they had three decades ago doesn’t appear to be the progress America or globalization should have had in our homes, at work, and in our communities.
Make no mistake that globalization’s successes are built on the backbones of Asians of all walks of life. Until people can start to see it, appreciate it, acknowledge it, and value it, these atrocities will continue. Other events in the future will trigger them, perpetuating the cycle.
All Asian countries whose cultures, riches, and communities have been robbed by Anglo-Saxon and Colonialism in the past through the role of “divide and conquer” have left an everlasting impact for generations to come. Asians have long been taken advantage of because we believe in trusting and respecting others. This very essence of our culture opened the door to be conquered by Anglo-Saxons historically, which continues today.
However, this region’s cultural fabric has been the source of strength for our communities’ resilience. This time too, we will manage out of it without displacing our cultural roots and what we believe in, even if no one is standing by our side to help, or throwing monkey wrenches due to their biases with the hopes that maybe we will fail this time. It will take self-reflection to become aware of times when someone chose to look away when a discriminatory behavior was on display directly or indirectly against an Asian.
When one can self-reflect on the times in their lives and careers of their contribution to perpetuating hateful acts, both small and large, against Asians and members of underrepresented minorities, part of the underlying problem can finally begin the process of correcting. Why do events need to be violent to condemn, and how many more decades of atrocities against Asians are needed before people become serious about breaking this vicious cycle? Curbing biases and hate shouldn’t be just limited to current events or until something else comes along to distract us. Asians will continue to take the higher road, but the real question is, when will others be required to do the same and be held accountable for not taking the higher road? Real change requires courage, dialogue, and tenacity to make a dent.
I hope my sharing this perspective will help others see Asians in a different and more positive light than in the past. Perhaps, more will join the efforts to stand up when they see wrongs being done to members of the Asian community, who have been instrumental to prospering America and the world we live in today.
All I would ask is that if you see something, please “say something and do something,” because, without it, this vicious cycle will continue to perpetuate.
This post was originally published on the SIG blog. You can read more of Purvee’s articles on the future of AI, supply chain diversity, procurement, and more on the Future of Sourcing digital magazine.
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