By Assunta Ng
My words were blunt and shocking even to myself when I asked community leaders to contribute to the Asian Weekly’s social justice issue.
“I need white guys to participate,” I said to a colleague.
Instead of feeling offended, one colleague turned to his staff and said, “She’s good.” The reference was vague, but what he saw was my sincerity, honesty, and humor in the comment.
Others might accuse me of being racist. But I meant my comment in a good way. And I have thick skin. The point I was trying to make was –people of color can’t fight racism by themselves. We need everyone– especially those who are not considered minorities, to stand by us, march with us, and hold our hands as we cross the victory line.
That’s why the Asian Weekly founded the Women of Color Empowered (WOCE) with other women. For the past 20 years, we have brought women of all races together to share, network, and learn from each other.
“You see different shapes and color of the purses left on the chairs,” said one woman at our past event. “They came back and sat down without worrying about the color of other women’s skin sitting next to them as if they are old pals.”
It is interesting to note that when we picked Caucasian honorees, a typical response would resemble, “Are you sure you want to honor me?” without saying “You know, I am a whitie.”
“White is a color too,” said WOCE co-chair Bonnie Miller in regards to the upcoming “Women in male-dominated fields” recognition.
A Caucasian herself, Miller is involved because WOCE is inclusive. A rainbow is what you see when you attend a WOCE lunch. Guests often say WOCE is one of the most diverse events they have ever attended.
Believing in diversity is not enough.
What do you actually do about it? How do you practice and encourage acceptance when it comes to diversity?
Realizing that I have the power to make things happen, I have challenged leaders to appreciate and realize their experiences with diversity. For instance, when I have visited some academic institutions, I don’t ask for the number of Asian American scientists working in the laboratory. I know they are well represented.
Instead, I question the low presence of African American scientists who are under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in many parts of the country, including Washington State.
Most of these laboratories’ interviewees answers were inexcusable.
Perhaps the most pathetic reply was, “We have .5 African American scientists in research,” meaning he was doing the other part of the job for the agency. The .5 scientist is a figurehead for the organization, simply to embellish the agency or fulfill federal requirements when applying for grants.
Yes, we have an African American constituency, but…not really.
My role is to ask questions, not only for writing stories, but to help the public develop awareness, challenge the system to make things better.
Leaders have a responsibility to deal with institutionalized racism.
What can we do as a community to help those who need the help?
The Asian Weekly begins with youth. Every year, the Asian Weekly gives out five scholarships of $1,000 each to high school students who have contributed to the community and fostered diversity. It means students have to help others who aren’t like them or act like them. It is imperative to learn and appreciate diversity during youth. It develops character and brilliance in their world view with other races.
Some years, we have no Asian winners. That’s okay. It doesn’t matter if our name is the Northwest Asian Weekly. If there are not qualified Asian applicants, we just have no Asian winners, period. One year, we had all female winners. Hopefully, it’s a message for male youth that they need to step up with their desire to volunteer and make a difference in other people’s lives.
Being the majority (and minority)
I lived with 99 percent Chinese in Hong Kong, a British colony, before I came to America for college. I had little opinion on race for my first five years in America.
Where I was raised—whites, a minority, were the superiors in government posts, corporations; even our high schools’ principals and some upper-class teachers were white. The other mentality was, we perceived teachers who taught English as being smarter, and they had more authority and respect than those who taught Chinese subjects. I was totally brain-washed as a kid.
Living in the U.S., I wasn’t aware that I had been discriminated against as much as I thought—not like my black brothers and sisters who had experienced refusal of service from restaurants, taxis, and being barred from entering certain areas. But I have witnessed a lot of racism in the Asian community, especially those who are not getting jobs and the promotions they deserve, and for being badly treated at work, and getting fired and arrested unfairly.
I wasn’t born to have the ability to speak up. However, I quickly learned from my African American friends to use their voice. Their fighting spirit has inspired me to challenge people like former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, former Boeing CEO Phil Condit, and former University of Washington President Dick McCormick in public.
My friends don’t worry about what others think. They spill their guts with conviction and courage when speaking up.
In the Asian community, there are still deep silences and detachment.
Although it’s getting better, you often see the same old leaders speaking at meetings, while the majority keeps their views hidden, their voices silent. What are they afraid of? Their accents, lack of confidence and practice, and passive attitudes might be some of the reasons. Isn’t it time to break out from the insular self and let the boss, peers, colleagues and community know how you feel? Just do it. There will be something that will follow.
For a girl born in China, I have come a long way, not afraid to confront race and all the obstacles and messiness involved. And I was proud to join my African American friends in their Martin Luther King march last Monday. Some might label me as a radical. Am I!?
The purpose of questioning and challenging the status quo is to contribute to others having a better life.
It is as simple as that. (end)