America, what is happening? What is going on? We are unraveling.
The nationwide events of the last several weeks—everything regarding Black Lives Matter, multiple instances of police brutality, uncontrolled gun violence and an upward surge of overt racism in general—have left me feeling completely broken. Every time my newsfeed delivers another horrifying article, I want to say something publicly, concerned that my reticence will be misinterpreted as indifference. Instead I lament in silence because I have struggled to find words that can cradle a grief so heavy.
Even when words come to mind, I find myself fearful of uttering them. I am afraid of saying the “wrong” thing in the heat of the moment and having my opinion discounted because I seem too emotional (occupational hazard of being a woman with opinions). I am self-conscious about not wanting to offend, or appear to be speaking on behalf of, those who I intend to support. I often begin to think that I have nothing to contribute to this dialogue at all because many others have commented eloquently about the issues on social media, in the news and in everyday conversations.
In particular, as an Asian American, I occupy a peculiar space at the table. I am neither Black nor White but relate in different ways to both groups. I benefit from privilege (though different in quality and quantity than White privilege) and am cognizant of the ways Asian Americans have been complicit in anti-Black racism historically and presently. Simultaneously, I experience discrimination (though different in quality and quantity than that faced by my Black brothers and sisters) and am no stranger to dissatisfaction with this country’s racial inequity. Navigating a social construct that is so often framed in binary categories can be a delicate dance.
On top of all this, I have close friends and family who are avid social justice champions, who are active in the Black Lives Matter movement, who are in law enforcement, and/or whose recent comments about current events have revealed varying degrees of previously latent racism or unconscious bias.
In short: I’m nearly paralyzed by incredulity over the state of our country. My race makes me doubt that my ideas about it matter at all. My cultural background has taught me to shut up, not speak up, a social norm that feels very unnatural to break. It has also taught me to flee from conflict, but in the context of Black Lives Matter, I’m going to offend people no matter what I do.
I recognize that these circumstances do not excuse inaction or silence, but they do explain it. This reality leaves me feeling overwhelmed and powerless, and it tempts me to take the easy way out—to buy into the lies that it is OK for me to do nothing, that this is not really my fight, and that I have nothing of value to add to the discourse anyway.
But in my heart of hearts, I know there are no sidelines here. Though I am not Black, though I am not an expert in race relations, though I am not a leader in any formal capacity, I have a role in what is going on in our country. It is not an accident that I have been put on Earth at this point in time, in this body with its many matrices of identity, with the particular family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances that are in my circles. There are spheres that I have a hand in influencing for a reason, and I have the privilege (responsibility?) to speak truth and pursue justice in and through them. The same is true for you.
I am a little embarrassed to admit that this realization did not hit me in full until a couple weeks ago, when a former classmate of mine made an offhand comment using racially derogatory language. I paused for a brief moment and considered ignoring his statement and continuing our conversation. A part of me wanted to take the easy way out—to avoid potential conflict, to keep the talk lighthearted. But as I pondered it more, I realized he might not have anyone else in his life willing to discuss racial injustice with him, and I could not let it go. I asked him to refrain from using racial slurs in my presence and to consider why he thought such language was appropriate. It was a small step, but I would like to think he and I are both better for it.
My point is this: If we are serious about effecting real change when it comes to race relations, we all have a part to play, and sometimes those parts begin with ordinary acts of courage. If like myself you have been hesitant to take a more explicit stand, I urge you to not let the color of your skin, your knowledge and experiences (or lack thereof), clumsiness with words, or any other circumstance render you silent indefinitely. You have a voice, one that nobody else can claim, and that voice has power. It has influence. Use it for good. The work will not be finished until Black lives matter—to all of us.