When the Covid-19 outbreak was just beginning to spread in New York, it was mid March. Slowly, over several weeks, I remember watching anti-Asian rhetoric emerge. I remember reading articles about attacks, watching videos of old Asian men and women getting harassed, shooting/murder threats, and outward discrimination.
It crept up on me slowly, but I recall the fear I felt every time I saw a new headline about an Asian person getting hurt. Eventually, some of my Asian friends, and even myself, had experienced some sort of coronavirus-linked harassment. I confided in my close friends, explaining to them that I felt genuinely uneasy going outside. I only felt comfortable leaving the apartment if my roommate came with me. It felt like everyone was watching me, assuming I had coronavirus, that I was from China, and that I was the reason this pandemic was happening to them–the reason they had lost their jobs, their loved ones, and their freedom. It felt like everyone was out to get me–to punish me for what I did to them.
It was this experience that finally, finally, helped me understand just a minuscule bit what it’s like to be a black person in America. And I can say now that I wouldn’t wish that shit on anyone.
What I’ve experienced in the last few months is nothing compared to what black people have been facing for decades, every day of their entire lives. I was scared that people would hurt me because of their assumption of me, however, this assumption of me is not something that has been ingrained in the culture, rhetoric, and history of America. This assumption of me is something that has emerged due to this virus, and it is something that will eventually begin to fade as the virus begins to fade.
The same cannot be said about being black.
My mom has never had to sit me down and train me on what to say if a cop ever pulled me over. I have never feared for my life when a cop was present. I have never once been hesitant to call the cops when I felt like I was in danger for fear that their presence would just put me in more danger. These are things I’ve had the privilege of growing up never thinking about, and will continue to never have to think about. I have been taught that if I acted right and within the confines of the law that I would never have to worry about law enforcement. Hell, we’ve all broken the law, either by jumping a turnstile or smoking some weed, and yet black people have been killed for simply existing.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been a good ally my whole life. I grew up in two places that didn’t educate me on racial inequality further than telling me “just don’t be racist.” It’s hard and humiliating to admit, but while I have never been a racist person, I have also never been antiracist. I am guilty of diminishing the severity of the black experience and even, at times, saying problematic things because I didn't understand why they were problematic. But I'm going to change.
It’s people like me that need to look at the situation that’s happening in the US right now and really, really, reflect. This means going deeper than just acknowledging that what happened to George Floyd was horribly wrong. Force yourself into that uncomfortable moment of self-reflection where you realize and vow to change the problematic things you’ve done in your own life, regardless of if the intentions behind them were not negative.
Ask yourself, "Maybe I'm not a racist person, but have I exactly been helping?" White and non black POC need to really think about their upbringing, their role and place in society, and their privileges, and then after that, be more aware of themselves, their actions, and their potential impact.
George Floyd shouldn’t have had to die for there to be an uprising of this scale, but now that there is one, let’s do what we can to ensure he receives the justice he deserves. I hope, for the sake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, the countless other victims, and every other black person in America, that these protests and the actions taken over the next few weeks are what shakes American culture and society to its core. I hope that from this wreckage and tragedy, real change can be incited, and America can start finally changing for the better.
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