“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
– Nelson Mandela
Black Lives Matter
I hadn’t planned to wade into this topic. So much has already been said—in words more informed and eloquent than mine.
But I know now that silence is compliance. By not speaking out and not changing what I can, I’m allowing racism and prejudice to fester.
I cannot allow that anymore.
Do better, be better
I may not have the power to address systemic racism on my own. But I can be part of the change.
I can support people and organizations who are making a difference. I can also tell my story, own up to my wrongdoings, and share how I’ll do better and be better.
This post will be my first step out of the role of bystander, and into the role of helper.
Admitting to my wrongdoings
This is hard to admit, but I’ve been a perpetrator of racism more often than I’ve been a victim.
It’s true—I’m a visible minority myself, but I’ve experienced very little racism in my life. And yet, I’ve wrongly judged and inflicted pain on others.
As a child, I remember teasing my brown-skinned friends, calling them ‘burnt toast’. At the time, I didn’t register the pain on their faces as being caused by me.
In high school, my friends often referred to indigenous people using a derogatory name. I did nothing to stop them and simply laughed along.
I cringe at these horrible memories. My parents, victims of racism themselves, didn’t raise us to be racists. Why was I so cruel and ignorant?
I still don’t know why I did what I did, and I’m so sorry for the pain I caused. I wish I could go back, apologize to my friends, and right my wrongs.
Better, but still not enough
Since overcoming my racist actions in childhood, I’ve come to see myself as staunchly anti-racism.
I take great offence and call people out when they use racial slurs or stereotypes. I celebrate and share success stories of immigrants and other marginalized groups.
I learn about the stories and struggles of our indigenous people. (And I’ll continue to learn and find ways to help them heal and restore their communities.)
I teach our kids about equality and issues of race by discussing current events and modelling tolerance and respect for others.
But even as I list these things, I know it’s not nearly enough. I still have a lot of work to do. I’ve been unknowingly racist in several ways, and it’s time for me to face and change these issues in myself:
1) Implicit biases
As much as I’d like to believe I’m anti-racist, I’ve unknowingly contributed to systemic racism through the implicit biases that I hold. If this term is new to you, you’re not alone—I only learned about it recently.
Implicit biases are unconsciously-held beliefs about specific groups of people. An article on Vox describes implicit biases as, “thoughts about people you didn’t know you had.”
The problem with implicit biases is they’re a very subtle form of racism. In fact, some even sound like compliments. (For example: Asians are good at math; Black people are good at sports.)
This is why implicit biases are so damaging. Since they don’t seem racist, it’s easy for us to overlook them. But if we are to end systemic racism, we need to become aware of and shift these harmful beliefs.
If you’d like to find out if you hold implicit biases, complete the tests at Project Implicit from Harvard. You may discover something uncomfortable about yourself, but this is how we will all improve. Only when we face our own harmful beliefs can we start to change.
2) The model minority myth
As a person of Asian descent, one set of implicit biases that I’m very aware of is what’s known as the ‘model minority’. It implies that Asians are successful because they’re polite, hard-working, and law-abiding.
According to those who believe in the model minority myth, this is why Asians were able to overcome issues that plague other minority groups. (For example, the income wage gap and university acceptance rates.)
While the model minority myth may seem to be complimentary to Asians, it actually feeds inaccurate stereotypes and is harmful to Asians. Additionally, I didn’t realize until recently that the model minority myth is just as damaging to other minorities, including Blacks.
You see, the model minority myth lets us off the hook. We can say, “Look—if Asians can do well, that means racism isn’t what holds Blacks down. It’s that they don’t do the things Asians (or whites) do.”
This is so, so wrong. I had no idea that a myth about Asians could contribute to the oppression of Black people. It’s an insidious form of racism, and I intend to help stamp it out.
3) Not recognizing the privilege of my race
I’d always believed that Tiger Mom parenting, multi-generational familial support, and the hard-working nature of our immigrant elders helped Asians succeed.
While these things may have helped Asians do well in white-dominated cultures, that’s not the whole story. The truth is: Asians have been able to overcome racial barriers because others became less racist towards us.
For various reasons, Asians were more readily accepted and favoured by non-Asians. This led to us being given advantages over other minorities, but most notably, Blacks and Hispanics.
Over many decades, these advantages compounded positively for Asians. Unfortunately, at the same time, prejudices and harmful beliefs compounded negatively for Blacks and Hispanics.
If I am to understand the struggles of Blacks, Hispanics, and other marginalized groups, I need to first recognize that I, as an Asian, have had some privileges that they did not.
How I’m going to do and be better
For all of my adult life, I’ve opposed all forms of overt racism. I wrongly believed that was enough. It’s not. By not recognizing my implicit biases and privilege, I’ve unknowingly engaged in covert racism.
It’s time for me to end that. I wish it hadn’t taken me this long. But here I am, in June 2020, and I’m ready and committed to change. This will be a continuous journey for me, but here is where I’m going to start:
1) Acknowledge my privilege
As an Asian woman, I never get the side-eye when I go into a store. I don’t have to teach my kids how to safely talk to the police.
I can wear a facemask into a bank without causing a stir. If I was peacefully bird watching in Central Park, I’d never get the cops called on me.
I’m privileged to be treated with basic human decency. And I’m infuriated that all humans do not receive the same fair treatment.
By acknowledging my privilege, I can recognize how much more work we need to do. Until everyone feels as safe and accepted as I do, I need to keep fighting.
2) Understand the issues
I’ve assigned myself some homework, which includes educating myself through documentaries, videos, and books. Here are some that I’ll get started with:
- 13th (Netflix)
- When They See Us (Netflix)
- Explained: The Racial Wealth Gap (Netflix, but free on YouTube)
- Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man* (YouTube)
- White Fragility1 (book)
- Anti-racism resources for white people* (Google Doc)
- The 1619 Project from The New York Times Magazine (blog and podcast)
*Thanks to Jim from Route to Retire for sharing these and other helpful resources in his post, Racism and Privilege—My Naivety is Astounding!
3) Amplify Black (and other minority) voices
I plan to make more of an effort to share content from Black and other minority voices. To start, here’s some recent content that I found particularly insightful:
- Chonce Maddox: This Needs to Be Said
- Jamila Souffrant: Black Lives Matter & The Black Tax
- Michelle Jackson: A Candid Conversation About Race in America
- Chris Browning from Popcorn Finance on ChooseFI: How to Make FI More Inclusive
- Julien and Kiersten Saunders: Letter to Middle Class Black America
- Late Starter FIRE: Growing up with Racism
- Revanche: Just a little (link) love: past time for justice in the US edition
- Joe Udo: Inequity and Financial Independence
- Bob Lai: The world needs more love & empathy
4) Fight racism of all kinds
Wherever I encounter racism (including in myself) I will do what I can to speak up and fight. Some current areas of concern for me include:
The indigenous people of Canada are the rightful heirs of the land that we live on. And yet, we continue to prolong their suffering with repeated injustices and indignities. I intend to learn more about their struggles and how I can help.
Recently, racist acts against Asians have been on the rise—largely due to a certain leader’s ignorant comments. This is unacceptable. We need to fight the misconceptions and #WashTheHate.
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”
– Ijeoma Oluo
Let’s fight this together
Let’s not allow this to become another forgotten moment in time. This time, let’s make it count.
It wasn’t easy to reveal my shortcomings and admit to the pain I’ve caused. But I hope that my honesty will show others how they might also do better and be better.
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