Ending the Silence for Asian American Hate Crimes: one man’s story

My name is Henry Zhang.

I am a doctoral student at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology.

I am caretaker for my mother with stage 3 cancer.  I run my own business as a freelance programmer for psychologists. I am a long-time practitioner of Thai Boxing, Wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu.

I am on the spectrum.

I am an Asian-American.

It may surprise many of you that 2020 has made being Asian-American, particularly anyone who looks remotely Chinese, one of the heavier responsibilities on that list.

In 2020, being Asian-American entails surviving another epidemic that most of this country is oblivious to. While I do not speak for all Asian-Americans, I can assure you that for the last eight months, ever since someone in the oval office named this pandemic the China Virus, your Asian-American friends, classmates and colleagues have suffered alone in silence. They have feared either for their lives or their parents’ lives.

Results that according to some statistics include an 845% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes compared to previous years.

My mother and grandmother are afraid to leave the house. They are afraid to let each other leave the house. I yelled at my fiancée for the first time in years because she left her house without a weapon. This fear was not merely because of a few callous words, but because of the results of those callous words that blamed people like me for everyone’s suffering.

Results that according to some statistics include an 845% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes compared to previous years. I can say with confidence that many of these same Asian-Americans wondered why everyone else remained silent even as the attacks became progressively heinous, ranging from a stabbing at Sam’s club, to an 89-year-old Chinese-American woman who got set on fire in Brooklyn, to a Japanese man who had his arm broken after being attacked eight people because they thought he was Chinese.

I saw some Asian Americans turn to fear, only speaking up for others….while others turned to hate….blaming the entire groups of the marginalized. However I knew neither of them were the way.

My journey through the pandemic led me and handful others down another road, preparing for a less civilized society.

1 in 4 young Asian Americans have personally experienced anti-Asian hate amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

I spent every single every day the last six months running a martial arts self-defense club over Zoom to train myself and others to fight against this growing epidemic. Even when I had to stay at another person’s place so that I could visit my mom in the hospital, I trained. Even when I found out my best friend who I started the club me passed away right during the week of my dissertation proposal, I trained. Even though my martial arts competition/tournament days are far over, I did it because I believed that this was my responsibility as an Asian-American.

Because of silence and indifference to our pain from those around me, I spent the last six months believing that preparing myself and others for violence was the only way Asian-Americans could deal with racism.

Neither mainstream media nor the first few days of the presidential debates mention any of these hate crimes. Coverage is limited to Asian-American run media sites.

In recent weeks, upon hearing another heinous hate crime and the silence around me, I revealed my anger to the world.

I used to believe that because everyone else suffered so horribly in 2020 that there was no longer room in their hearts to care for some perpetual foreigners.  In reality, it wasn’t the lack of room in their hearts, but the cloth over their eyes. When politicians treat us as if we do not matter, neither does mainstream media, and such behaviors marginalize Asian-Americans everywhere, including the very institutions that claim to preach diversity, including this one.

I write this, not because I want to, but because I HAVE to.

Because if I don’t, the consequences of silence will be fatal, possibly for those that I know. I have personally witnessed what has happened after the president called our pandemic the China virus.

I knew somebody’s mother was kicked after being called the coronavirus, my fiancée got yelled at by a bunch of men for having the coronavirus yet I consider her lucky (that the confrontation didn’t devolve into violence).

I know too well what more rounds of blaming the Chinese by other politicians and words such as “stand back and stand by” will lead to.

I have done my part fighting the very racism that makes my family afraid by myself and I will continue that fight alone if I have to. While you have heard my story, I want to remind you that I am not here for myself. Because when you look at the long list of under-reported hate crimes against Asian-Americans, you may notice that most of these victims are either women, elderly or physically weak.

That could be my mother. That could be my grandmother.

For the sake of the people wrongly blamed for this pandemic while the rest of the world is oblivious to their suffering who cannot defend themselves the way that I can, I am asking that you join me in ending this.

I need you to make everyone responsible for learning the history of anti-Asian racism and the sequence of events that led to the movement “They Can’t Burn Us All.”

It begins with actions you can take to being aware of our plight and making sure everyone does their part in making our stories visible such as following Asian-American run media sites.  

I need you to make those around you responsible for their part in ending the silence.  

I need you to make everyone responsible for learning the history of anti-Asian racism and the sequence of events that led to the movement “They Can’t Burn Us All.”

The Asian-American experience has historically been a combination of both privileges and hardships, and I readily acknowledge that the fact that most of my attackers are merely civilians and the option to use physical force is a privilege. However, I ask that such acknowledgments do not impede you from listening to us our pain with your hearts.

I know that spreading awareness is just the first step in the long game.

I know that even in best-case scenario, even if you all do your due diligence, I will still wake up week after week to news of another defenseless person being violently beaten for having the “China Virus” while most of the country will be silent, just as I have in the last six months.

I know that even in best-case scenario, I will be contemplating after dinner every night at night, for a long time about not only if I did my due diligence as a doctoral student, but if I did my due diligence in training myself and others.

This morning, like other days, I reminded my training partners: “let’s help each other survive and be able to protect the weak, that is the way.”  We have lived for a long time without hope, and in the absence of hope, purpose is what keeps me going. I want to one day be able to look them in the eye, and to be able to look at my loved ones in the eye, and finally tell them, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I am begging you to help me make that hope a reality.

Articles to Read on Recent Asian American Violence

·       https://www.adl.org/blog/reports-of-anti-asian-assaults-harassment-and-hate-crimes-rise-as-coronavirus-spreads?fbclid=IwAR0Cs3lOSk39rW9vSywVIMHD7hfszg7AdN5W4DIl9juCMg4vQywj8SzmpTQ 

·       https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/12/covid-19-fueling-anti-asian-racism-and-xenophobia-worldwide 

·       https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7286555/ 

·       https://www.nbcboston.com/news/coronavirus/amid-covid-19-pandemic-asian-americans-facing-discrimination/2128180/?fbclid=IwAR3LDL3Eft-ylfbOzqOQ299FUpLIAmFeR3em_tHOjrlM2zKJFvVgdoN_8NY 

Articles to Read About the History of Asian American Violence

·       https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/japanese-relocation?fbclid=IwAR05KJWc3EfqS_MyzZDEabh_31oWFvIB8jFT0gw3S9h1s4y4fRUhIHLnlTM 

·       https://time.com/5834427/violence-against-asian-americans-history/?fbclid=IwAR1oL_FMVIQK3772VJWYQbHQ4fakWZ2x7p8eGTPQfQFyWLJXS6pTckPQiFo 

·      https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/chinese-massacre-1871?fbclid=IwAR2pP46PBfYYKtSSfwmLCP3iUq8miC9qP8Y-LKuEHId6jU7rwgUD-LinSKI 

Articles to Read about Microaggressions