• Melia Dunn

I've failed my Asian-American friends

This past Saturday, March 27th, I walked among hundreds of Arizonans who attended the Anti-Asian Violence March and Vigil in Mesa and realized how much I've failed my Asian-American friends.


As the crowd moved along the route, support came from honking horns of the cars along Dobson Road. An event organizer led the crowd’s chant, Racism is a virus. You will not divide us.”


Messages on posters expressed love and solidarity, called for humanity and demanded - Stop Asian Hate, End White Supremacy.


On the stage, the microphone passed from speaker to speaker - individuals who shared their stories, their pride, their hope. Leaders from the Arizona’s Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities came to express their solidarity and remind the crowd it will take us all to defeat racism in America.


There I stood - a white woman who has the privilege to learn about racism rather than experience it. While listening to this beautiful and moving assembly of speakers, I couldn’t help but begin to inventory all the ways anti-Asian messaging and the virus of racism have infected me.


I’ve seen it over and over through tropes of Asian women portrayed in movies and TV.

I’ve heard it when I facilitated anti-bias education workshops and Asian-American students shared stories of other kids cringing at their lunches, “ew, that stinks!”

I’ve seen it in the news reports since the early days of the pandemic and especially following our former President’s ignorant remarks.

I’ve heard it when someone mocks an accent or attempts to imitate speaking Mandarin or Cantonese or Korean or Tagalog or Japanese or Hindi or Urdu…. *I could go on.

And, being very honest, I've seen it in myself -


  • when I repeated jokes or pulled the corners of my eyes back as a kid;

  • when I doubled down on the “good at math” stereotype in college;

  • when I used the “they didn’t mean anything bad by it” defense when my Chinese-American friend was at the receiving end of another friend’s teasing;

  • when I asked that same friend what her dad’s name was - no, his real name;

  • when I would be secretly frustrated because I got a customer service representative who spoke with an accent;

  • when I sat silent while the woman next to me during a pedicure spoke loudly and slowly with such disrespect to her technician;

  • Surely countless times when I asked someone “where are you from?” interrogations before I came to understand microaggressions, the unconscious messages of them and their impact;

  • when I read and heard about the rise in anti-Asian racist incidents of harassment and violence in the wake of COVID-19 and did next to nothing.


Over time, I learned the jokes weren’t funny, they were hurtful. I learned about the long and devastating impact of stereotypes, tropes and microaggressions. I have learned tactics for how to interrupt racist comments and behaviors in myself and in others. And still - I have more work to do if I am committed to truly living my values.


What did it take for me to actually do something? The murders of Asian women in Atlanta. Damn, do I have Work. To. Do.


Racism IS a virus. I caught it by becoming so desensitized to anti-Asian racism that the escalation of hate was easy to ignore. I’m among millions of Americans infected, who’s symptoms show up as apathy and privilege. But I have the choice to become inoculated.


You will not divide us. Do I have work to do? Yes. Am I up for it? Yes. Do I believe in the power of solidarity with the AAPI and other BIPOC communities? Yes. Will I fall short some days? Yes. Will I have the integrity to get up and continue? …


Time will tell.

I’ve failed to live up to my promises before and I know it's time to do better.



PS:

*the breadth of diversity within the Asian American Pacific Islander community is immense and deserves attention. The languages referenced are a mere fraction of the unique ethnicities that have been grouped together in an acronym.


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