Many of the events of the past few months have caused me to reflect on my identity as an Asian American. “Stop Asian Hate” has become the definitive new outcry of an Asian American community that has experienced years and years of maltreatment in a country that boasts its diversity. This is a sensitive subject to grasp and have a candid discussion about, so I really want to stress that this is a pure reflection on my own thoughts as a Korean American having grown up and lived in the United States my entire life.
What constitutes “Asian hate”?
While this is a difficult term to simplify, a lot of media outlets have centered their stories around the Asian hate crimes that have recently plagued our country (if you are not caught up on them, check out this link). Amid the pandemic, most of the “Asian hate” that has been reported revolves around physical harm that is imposed on helpless members of the Asian community—an old woman being hit across the face by a passerby in San Francisco, eight workers being shot at an Atlanta spa, a man being stabbed to death in New York City, and the list goes on.
Physical harm is included in our understanding of what manifested hate looks like, but does it stop there? As a country, are we not aware of the malpractice that has been directed toward Asian Americans throughout our nation’s history? The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, stereotypical depictions of Asian characters in Hollywood films, and the exploitation of Asian immigrants as a labor force are all results of the racial divides within our country. While recent events have shed light on the treatment of Asian Americans in our country, I want to make sure that this reflection does not narrow the scope of my thoughts to the hate crimes we are seeing today. Rather than describing it as “Asian hate,” I hope that my reflection will redefine the events as a lack of empathy for and understanding of a diverse range of cultures.
What are my thoughts? How have I reflected?
Inevitably, as a Christian Korean American, a lot of my own personal thoughts are linked to my understanding of the world. Growing up in the states, I can truly say that I am proud of the country that I live in. With every sentiment of love, however, there is also an understanding that our country is far from perfect. With every promise of diversity and rich culture, America also faces problems of irreverence and bigotry. Every facet of our history is also connected to mistakes that the leaders of our country make. Is America still reeling from the effects of past terrible decisions? Yes. However, has America also displayed the fortitude to continually move forward and hopefully display positive action to mend the mistakes of the past and create a brighter future? Sort of—and that’s the point. My position of reflection has started from the understanding that America is not perfect. It never was and it never will be.
Consequently, it would be illogical to expect perfect treatment and understanding of cultural diversity from people who may have not grown up in environments that promote such understanding. How I perceive the news as an educated Korean American might be completely different from how another individual views the news. There needs to be a mutual understanding that it is okay to disagree. It is okay to have some sort of cognitive dissonance especially in a society today where everyone seems to be directing our thoughts to believe one thing. Stubbornness and unwillingness to accept difference is what leads to physical manifestations of dissonance.
I have never viewed the recent news events and stories as indications of “Asian hate.” These events are just symptoms of the greater problems that America is unwilling to resolve as a nation. It’s deeper than racial divides. It stretches further than lack of education and bigotry. It’s rooted in our unwillingness to love and cover the physical, spiritual, and emotional differences that set each person apart from one another. Instead of bridging the gap between people, America has managed to widen the divide by using our differences as catalysts for deeper discrimination. This is and has always been an issue of empathy, not of sympathy.
My reflections are not meant to give definitive answers to the recent events. In fact, I hope that the best that my reflection can do is actually encourage you to think about these events. What do these events tell us about the American people? Have you ever been negatively affected because you were described as a “minority” due to a certain distinctive character trait? If anything, I want this reflection to be a symbol that the future of this country does not lie in identifying symptoms of a bigger problem and protesting them. Rather, the future of this country lies in our willingness to make effective changes to the underlying causes of hate, so that we can welcome a new generation of individuals who stretch past our comfort levels and enter into a new realm of understanding and love.
Graphic by Meegan Minahan / Heights Editor