Letter: Keep Asian-America in the Foreground


Flags inside the student union (Photo by: The Daily Utah Chronicle).

By Samuel Judd-Kim


Recently, the social media feeds of many students have been graced by a number of popular posts alluding to recent upticks in violence against Asian-Americans, undeniably fueled in part by anti-Chinese racism as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain our country. Celebrities and young activists on Instagram, Tik-Tok, Twitter, and Reddit have disseminated viral posts and stories condemning hate crimes against Asian-Americans and demanding that something is done to ameliorate the insidious sentiments which perpetuate these incidents.

In particular, news articles reporting the murder of an 84-year-old Thai-American man in San Francisco have gone viral, among other accounts of violent and racist attacks. The mainstream news and the Human Rights Watch have latched onto the trend. Along with the masses of Asian-Americans and our allies shocked at these reports, I am angered and sorrowful for the gross savagery that has offended, injured and killed so many in my community. However, I also write to express my indignation at what amounts to a long-overdue and yet tepid response from the mainstream consciousness.

Firstly, increases in violence and harassment against Asian-Americans are most certainly not a recent phenomenon — at least, not as recent as the incidents which have captured mainstream focus. COVID-19 has been around for more than a year now, and anti-Asian prejudice erupted just as quickly as the virus itself. Studies linking spikes in hate crimes against Asians in the United States, Britain and Canada with the coronavirus outbreak began appearing at least as far back as March 2020. Early last summer, Asian-American online forums picked up on a series of alarming incidents, including a woman being set on fire in Brooklyn and reports of over 800 cases of anti-Asian racism in California. By July, racially-motivated attacks on Asian-Americans were receiving attention from major news outlets, supplemented with a surge of new research supporting the trends.

However, just when the voices of Asian-Americans were beginning to be heard, America went silent on our issues, distracted by and (rightfully) focused on the presidential election, protests against police brutality, and worrying record coronavirus death tolls and case counts. Yet though the nation’s pressing issues eclipsed coverage of hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans, our communities still suffered — mostly in silence, waiting for the next tipping point, when white America would begin to take notice again.

I’m not here to argue that America shouldn’t have participated vigorously in these high-stakes efforts. They were and are deeply essential and urgent causes. However, from the perspective of many Asian-Americans — and particularly the younger generations — the breakthrough that almost occurred last year and its subsequent ebbing were all too familiar.

It’s well-documented that different marginalized peoples experience oppression in many different ways. Members of all racial groups experience verbal harassment and physical violence, but the abuse usually springs from different conceptual anatomies (usually based on fear or disgust) and often takes different forms. Our white-, heterosexual-, and male-dominated society is embedded with myriad mechanisms to keep minorities from being heard, differently coded for each identity in turn.

For Asians, that mechanism is to leave us in the background.

While every oppressed group struggling for justice in this country has to cope with the belittling of their experiences, the dismissal of their voices  and the devaluation of their lives, Asian-Americans often aren’t even afforded the platform on which to share our experiences, voices and lives. This mechanism is reinforced by the notorious model minority myth and thrives on generations of Asian-Americans making do in the background, telling us to stay there. Last year, when America began taking interest in Asian-Americans’ interests, we became excited and hopeful. And when American turned a blind eye yet again, we receded — despite noble efforts — back into the darkness.

So, it is my hope that this time will be different. On the heels of the Lunar New Year, resolve not to let the voices of your fellow citizens fall back into a self-contained void. Continue to bring attention to the violence that is plaguing our community. It may have taken a global pandemic to put Asian-America on the national stage; but when the virus is finally expelled from the spotlight, we mustn’t let it take our voices with it.


— Samuel Judd-Kim, student at the University of Utah

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