Anti-Asian Hate in Context: Getting Out of the Circular Trap

The rise of anti-Asian acts of hate and violence during the pandemic have ushered in another, seemingly repetitive chorus of well-intentioned denouncements of racism and bias attacks to which we have all too well become accustomed in recent years. While the vocal support is very much appreciated, there is a heavy, silent, tacit acknowledgement that nothing will really change. Women, LGBTQ, Black, Latino, immigrants, Asian, etc. It doesn’t matter. This oppression is fungible to us all.

So “what can we do about it” is what first comes to mind from well-meaning folks. But before invoking action, perhaps it would be better if we begin to analyze the root cause, or rather, the underlying strategy of this resultant crisis or “unrest.” Perhaps we are not seeing the disease for the symptoms. And let’s just get past the notion that “education” or “awareness” is going to change anything. It hasn’t and it won’t.

There have been countless atrocities committed on marginalized populations in the past and there will be countless more in the future. But why do we accept this? We shouldn’t. The first reaction is to “fight” or “protest” or some other type of knee jerk reaction in the name of solidarity or empathy. While this feels good in the near-term, we all know that it really does nothing in the long term. Sure, there has been some progress, but it feels glacial and wholly not satisfactory. Indeed, this lack of progress is more concrete evidence that the forces against equity are impressively coordinated and effective.

Let’s Get Out of the Circular Trap

In fact, isn’t this the whole point? If the end game is to create division and chaos to preserve the status quo, aren’t we mere pawns in this immoral game? And even worse, a “fight” response feeds into the well laid out narrative trap that more law and order is needed and that “they” are going to take something away from “you.” It is an obvious trap, but one that is deviously effective and one that possesses an elegant circular logic dynamic. And thus, we are both the victim and the perpetrator. It’s a lose/lose proposition. Check and checkmate.

So how do we get out of this Escher-esque circular loop? Rather than always being behind the curve solely focusing on emergency triage, perhaps we can start with the really boring yeoman’s work of long-term strategic thinking and execution. This is very difficult to do given the truly evil acts that are being committed on a seemingly daily basis, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. And the reality is that we really have no other logical choice at the end of the day.

Why are We Still Asking for Permission?

To state the obvious, why are we even asking to be heard, to be seen, to be respected, to not be dehumanized, to not be marginalized? Why are we asking for permission? A “seat at the table.” Let’s make our own table. Together, we are the majority. Women and minority communities comprise approximately 70% of the population of the US. Of course, we are not a monolithic block among and within our specific groups. Our diversity is indeed our strength, but we must learn to cooperate as well. Again, we have no other choice if we want things to change.

An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. We have so much to gain if we work together. We have all been silenced for too long and we must accept responsibility especially among the Asian communities that we have silenced ourselves as well due to fear, self-preservation, or just plain exhaustion. Importantly, we should not perpetuate the same zero-sum calculus that has been used to pit one group against another. Equity will result in more growth and the unleashing of human potential from all corners of society, and especially from parts that have been the most harshly oppressed.

Politics Should be Boring; Racism is Rooted in Economic Inequity

I know this sounds extremely boring. And very difficult to execute. And perhaps pointless. I can’t argue otherwise. But this is important because long-term success lies in evolving our representative democracy to its basic function of actual representation rather than a mechanism for oppression, gaslighting, obfuscation, and zero accountability. Politics and government should be boring. Effective, but boring. And it basically comes down to fairness and equal opportunity. Our economy and society are evolving at an accelerated rate. Inequality is getting worse. Old paradigms do not work anymore. Trickle-down economics is laughable. Capitalism needs bold reform. We cannot have racial/gender/social harmony without economic equity. This is where the problem and the solution both lie. And the Southern strategy that effectively flipped the South to support self-destructive policies based on divisive dog-whistle tactics appears to be on a precipice. The timing is ripe for historical change on multiple fronts.

We are Beyond “Raising Awareness”

Will this eliminate racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.? Of course not. But the point is that the underlying disease is the ability of manipulators to take advantage of desperate mindsets caused by a feeling of helplessness and despair. This doesn’t excuse whatsoever the heinous bias crimes perpetrated by cowards, or micro and macro aggressions that marginalized communities face every day. Let’s stop pretending that we can somewhat convince some people to not be racist anytime soon. Or even to make them aware that they are racist. This is a waste of scarce time, energy, and political and social capital.

Specific to the Atlanta killings of Asian spa workers last month, the manipulators and the manipulated are again trying to make excuses for the murderers; anonymize, objectify and demonize the victims; and exacerbate the feeling of hopelessness and chaos in another attempt to execute on an increasingly farcical gaslighting strategy. Asians especially can no longer afford to stay silent as we usually tend to do. These murdered women deserve better. And we must understand that our role fits in the context of other minority groups who face similar and different types of oppression and discrimination. We occupy a big tent. We are America. We are the majority. Let’s act like it.

The views expressed herein are those of the author, Mr. Paul Kim, and are not necessarily those of The City College of New York (where Mr. Kim serves as a Senior Fellow) or any other person/entity. The information presented is not intended as legal, tax, financial or regulatory advice. It is based on information Mr. Kim believes to be correct and accurate as of the date published. However, Mr. Kim does not attest to the accuracy of the information gathered. Mr. Kim's opinions are subject to change without notice.