Years ago when I was in college, I sat down for lunch with a bunch of friends. We were in the cafeteria and it was a normal day. Nothing else stood out about this day. Everyone was having fun, talking about classes. What we were going to do that weekend, what we did the previous weekend. The group around me was fairly diverse. By diverse, black and white, oh and an Asian. By most standards in the early 2000’s that would have been an classic Gap commercial and would have been considered progressive. You guessed it though, I was that Asian. Honestly, I’m always that Asian. I’m the Asian friend that you tell other Asian people that you are friends with. I’m that Asian guy at work you ask if he’s seen Minari after Steven Yuen’s Oscar nod. I’m that Asian guy around Greensburg that walks the crazy dog with three legs. I’m that Asian. It’s something that I’ve gotten use to, mostly.
The conversation at the lunch table came to a full stop when someone asked me if I saw differently because of my eyes. Yep, real question, from, you guessed it, a white girl. To this person’s credit, they apologized years later and I would consider them a friend. In that moment though, I walked away. I literally just got up and walked out of the cafeteria. I honestly did not know what else to do or say. As I was walking away, I heard the group of people I was with jump all over the person and explain why it was wrong, why her question was terrible, what was she thinking?? It wasn’t the first time and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time I would hear, face, and have to walk away from something someone said.
20 years later, hate crimes against Asian-Americans are soaring. One report cites that Asian-Americans have been targeted 500 times in the past two months. The former president pouring gas on the situation by continuously calling COVID-19 the “China virus” or “Kung Flu”. These attacks have come in several forms. From verbal harassments, physical attacks, a 67yr old man beaten and robbed at a laundry mat, and now 6 women shot and killed throughout the Atlanta area. These people did not have a chance to walk away. They did not have friends at the table stand up for them. They will not get an apology years later.
To me the question is not “do I see differently because of my eyes” but do you see me differently because of my eyes? Am I your Asian friend, coworker, neighbor or am I just your friend, coworker, neighbor?