As a single Black father, I have always tried to teach my son lessons about culture, which I was not exposed to until much later in life. Among these lessons was taking him to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. I wanted him to understand that despite the “model minority” label stereotype, America has committed atrocities against Asians with little to no justification. In addition to the World War II historical black eye that still is shaded in the makeup of under-coverage, I exposed him to the legal shenanigans aimed at Chinese American railroad workers over a century ago. I gave him examples of laws (many only overturned in recent decades), specifically banning “Chinamen” from owning land in states like Oregon. I needed him to understand that we, as Black people, did not have a monopoly on receiving hate and discrimination without reason.
In modern America, it is easy to forget that Asian Americans can be the subject to the ugliness of unreasonable hate. As problematic as it is being stereotyped as math wizards, kung fu experts, and other Hollywood nonsense, the general image of Asians in the United States is “positive.” From the popularity of K-pop, to the overwhelming ubiquity of anime, Asian pop culture is bigger than ever in the U.S. Sadly, the coronavirus panic, like the fear spread during World War II, seems to be turning “nice” people into absolute bigots. The hateful memes disgust me, particularly when I see people who look like me sharing them. The blaming of a race or culture for a non-discriminatory virus sickens me. The violence against Asians pains me to my soul. The ghosts of hate past seem alive and well, as I read about the drop in business in places like Hong Kong Market in Kent and Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
I can’t speak for all of America. I can’t speak for all Black people. I will, however, speak to my neighbors, family, and friends. Relations between Asians and Blacks are not always perfect. Hell, relationships with our own families are not always perfect. We cannot allow ourselves to be part of the problem of irrational hate against those who have shared a history of discrimination. No, it was not exactly the same. This is not a contest. It is, however, wrong and we are better than this. We owe it to ourselves to BE better than this. Our Asian fellow countrymen need our support, love, and patronage as they are reminded that they too are once again treated as “other” when it comes to the American Dream. I have made it a point to patronize an Asian-owned business even more than I usually do to help offset the irrational plague of ignorance. If finances or desire to avoid people hinder you from doing that, at least take the time before you say ignorant things or share racist memes. Viruses don’t give a damn about race. Regardless of where it started, it is here and the only way to minimize the damage is to not be the ugliness that we have both been subjected to. When history looks back at this outbreak, make sure you are on the right side of history.
— R. Oneil Edwards