Op-Ed: It’s Past Time to Act to Eliminate Bigotry

One of my friends has a sign that she carries to rallies that is usually fitting for any of them, that simply says “Enough”. Enough Hate. Enough bloodshed. Enough inhumanity. Enough.

As the racism and hate that have deep roots in this country were cultivated over the past several years, we’ve seen them sprout insidiously until we are at once confronted with a massive and disturbing culmination of hate that we simply cannot ignore and that wakes us to harsh realities: The image of men shouting and carrying torches in Charlottesville; The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue; Children ripped from their parents’ arms at the southern border; A man’s last breaths before our very eyes as a knee sits upon his neck. And this week, the brutal shootings in Atlanta that have rocked the Asian community bringing on feelings of sadness and fear and an outrage that we all feel.

As Americans we have a dark history of anti-Asian racism and scapegoating that is rarely talked about or studied in school, but spans the generations. The so called ‘Yellow Peril’ of the 1880’s described a fear of Asian invasion and a resentment of cheap labor from China that led to a ban on new and existing Chinese residents from becoming citizens in the Chinese Exclusion Act.

At the turn of the century, Indian immigration triggered what was called the ‘Dusky Peril’ with many of the same fears leading to the Asiatic Barred Zone Act that put  an end to most Indian and Asian immigration.

In World War Two, with America suspicious of its own Japanese citizens, Roosevelt ordered 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps.

After 9/11, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs– many of them South Asian Americans–were targets of hate crimes across the country.

Most recently, we listened as  anti-Asian rhetoric stoked  the flames of hate from the loudest pulpit in the land, leading to a wave of anti-Asian violence and bigotry that has been sweeping  across the country since the start of the pandemic.

Asians, many of them elderly, most of them women, have been viciously assaulted. They have had racial slurs shouted at them. They have been attacked on subways and on the streets in broad daylight. Businesses and properties have been vandalized. They have been spit on and coughed at and shunned across the country, targets of brutal violence and verbal harassment. All in all an estimated 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents have taken place in the last year alone.

All this, as nearly 2 million Asian Americans have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic, working in healthcare attending to our relatives and friends, and in other industries helping to keep food on our tables.

We can no longer simply shake our heads in sadness and disgust and move on. We must all say “Enough.” We cannot tolerate hate in this country and allow our fellow Americans to walk the streets in fear or be afraid to leave their homes.

I remember how I felt during the wave of anti-Semitism we experienced in recent years, proudly wearing my Jewish star while also understanding that it could make me a target. I remember how comforting it felt to have the community support us when we were feeling threatened.

It would seem that no one has been immune to the rhetoric of the past several years. While all of the hate directed at various groups has its own deeply rooted history and nuance, it teaches us, if we didn’t already know it instinctively, that we must all stand together against hate. We must demand that our leaders speak out. We must protect each other and make sure that law enforcement protects us all and calls a hate crime a hate crime when that’s what it is. We must educate our children about the dark history of hate in this country, targeting different racial, religious and ethnic groups. And we must understand that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

At some of the rallies we have had protesting child separation, we would shout “This is not who we are!” I think that what we have come to realize is that this is who we are; who we have been. This is who we are when we let hate go unanswered, when we tolerate it and look the other way. We must take our history with us and move forward and resolve to teach our children that this hate, this bigotry and racism we have been witnessing – this is not who we want to be. We must continue to strive to create understanding and acceptance and to embrace all the incredible diversity that is America.

We stand together side by side with our Asian neighbors and friends. We are with you.  We support you. We will fight with you and we stand with you always.

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