Fear of the Other and the Need for Inclusion and Belonging
Three years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, life appears to have returned to pre-pandemic normalcy, and the fear and trauma caused by the virus, seemingly a thing of the past. However, in addition to a global pandemic, 2020 also brought with it an increase in overt racism, xenophobia, and a nearly 150% increase in anti-Asian violence. My family, friends, and colleagues of Asian descent shared stories about being targeted, harassed, and, at the height of the violence, afraid to walk outside alone, take public transportation, or leave their homes. Three years later, the pain and threat of harm still lingers–the negative impacts, both physical and mental.
When I woke up to learn about the mass shooting that occurred in Monterey Park on the first day of the Lunar New Year, I felt numb. The day was supposed to be a day of celebration, renewal, and togetherness. That morning my family followed breaking news about the shooting closely–fearing that someone was targeting Asian Americans during a time when they knew that we would be gathering. It was both an example of senseless gun violence and an act of terror against a community, against Asian elders who only wanted to dance and celebrate. When the news broke that the shooter was also Asian, the tragedy was no less potent, but our fears were minimized–as if because the race of the shooter was the same as that of the victims that the fears of further hate-fueled violence against Asian Americans were invalid and another relic of the quickly receding pandemic years.
However, xenophobia and racism against Asian Americans continue still. Recently, Representative Judy Chu, the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress had her competence and loyalty to her country questioned by a Republican congressman. It is not the first time that the loyalty of U.S. citizens of Asian descent has been called into question. During WWII, American citizens were stripped of their rights and forcibly interned in concentration camps after FDR signed Executive Order 9066. While imprisoned, these Americans were given loyalty questionnaires to determine if they were indeed threats to the country that they called home.
As perpetual foreigners, many Asian Americans have felt the need to make themselves small, playing into the model minority trope in order to remain safe and nonthreatening. However, those who play into this stereotype don’t fully realize that the model minority myth causes harm and isolation and sows division between those of Asian descent and other races. The model minority myth is used by white supremacy to exert control and maintain power over others and as we’ve seen again and again that the model minority myth is a lie. The caustic language, scapegoating, and violence against Asian Americans at the start of the pandemic was a reminder that our pacification was exactly what those who benefitted from our own fears and silence wanted.
What we’ve seen both as a result of the pandemic and throughout history, is dangerous and old rhetoric being repeated because it works. It works to dehumanize people of color and preys on baser fears of the unknown. And this repetitive fear and xenophobia must be addressed and transformed through, among other things, inclusion and belonging work. I believe strongly in the potential of people for growth and healing, that we can recognize each other as fellow humans doing our best to navigate existence together. We need to engage and connect with each other, so that we are able to see and understand the humanity in others, so that we are ready and able to support each other through moments of tragedy and moments of celebration. We must do this so that no one stands at the margins, so that injustice is no longer ignored.
We must do this for each other and for ourselves.
*Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash