Ferguson, Racism, and Empathy



I am not African-American.  I cannot say or express how I would feel if I was an African-American person living in America under a power structure created by European-Americans that has, up to this point, mainly benefitted European-American males.  If you would like to know how African-Americans are feeling about not just Ferguson, but all the senseless deaths of African Americans men caused by cops, like Eric Garner or John Crawford III, you can go here or here.

Instead, I can only offer how I feel as an Asian-American person, specifically Vietnamese-American, watching all of this from afar.  And what I feel is sadness. Sadness about the unpunished police brutality and the injustices that happen not just in the black community, but to every minority group in the U.S., from Asians to Latinos.  Sadness because of the idea that this could have been happening in the past, and that the only reason it is so prevalent in the media these days is because of social media and camera phones. But the biggest cause of my sadness is the lack of empathy from minority groups to the struggles of other minority groups in the U.S.

We are all born with privileges, some more than others. Those who live in America have the privilege of living in a relatively peaceful country. No warlords or dictators who are going to kill their friends or family for retribution. They have the privilege of access to clean water and food that many in other countries would kill to have.  Some in the US, however, are born with greater privileges.  The privilege that their name does not preclude them from jobs or university spots.  The privilege that their skin color allows them to be leading actor or actress in movies, TV shows, or the face of modern fashion.

I will not lie. I am happy that I was not born black.  Because I could not imagine living a life in the America where every time I’m pulled over I have to run through a checklist in my head to make sure I get out of the encounter alive.  Because if I did not make it out alive, no one would hear my side, only hear the story of the person that killed me.  I could not imagine knowing that, even in the 21st century, there are people out there who would think of me as as a thug or as an animal. These people would take every opportunity and every crimes done by another person that’s not me to tell themselves, to lie to themselves, that my color is inferior.

I have not experienced this kind of racism, but I have experienced other types.  I had experienced racism from my fellow Asian Americans when I was not let into a Korean nightclub in New York City  because I was not Korean (this club was eventually sued and fined 20k…which is a joke, but whatever). I  had experienced racism when I traveled abroad in Lithuania and was refused entry to three different nightclubs.  I had experienced racism in Poland where I was quickly removed from a bar not for being loud, disrespectful, or super wasted, but only for stopping and taking a sip of my drink as I looked to the dance floor…while being Asia.  In Spain ignorant Spaniards spoke to me in mocking tone and used exaggerated body feature gestures that did not apply to me.  I could go on and on, but for those who have never experienced any of the above, you would never understand the feeling you feel inside.  The embarrassment you feel as you watch your friends try to plead with the bouncers to let you in.  The only thing you can do is just smile and laugh at it.  I consider myself lucky since I have not experienced discrimination that often. I cannot imagine how it would feel to be a black male in New York City being frisked down once a week.

But I digress.  I came to speak to you about empathy.  Out of all of my Asian friends on Facebook, only 3 cried out at the injustice done in Ferguson.  Out of all my white friends, it was the same amount. Out of my Latino friends, none have said anything regarding it.  Ladies and gentlemen, an injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us, including the culturally/population/politically dominant European-descendants.  Do we really need to have an issue affect us for directly us to speak up?  Have we not learned from the past that an action done by those in power to a different minority group can always be replicated to our minority group?  Have we forgotten that the U.S. was built on the backs of oppression of minorities, starting with the Native Americans? Why do Asian-Americans not speak up?  Have we forgotten the unjust internment of Japanese Americans or the Chinese Exclusion Act?  Do we, as Asian-Americans, believe that just because we have gained some wealth that we will be treated as equals?  No.  We.  Are. Not.  Let us not forget we had a presidential candidate used a slur to refer to Vietnamese people (the fact that older Vietnamese Americans applauded him on that made me shook my head and counted the clock).

Those in power have done a great job pitting all of us minorities against each other.  They say to Asians that Latinos and Blacks will take away university spots through affirmative actions (while ignoring the white kid that got in because their parents were alumni or donors).  They say to Blacks that illegal Latin Americans will take away their jobs.  They say to Latinos that Asian business owners are only out to exploit them.  So all this time, at worst, we fight against one another’s interests (even though in the long run they coincide), and at best, we are apathetic to one anothers’ cause.

To my fellow minorities: We have to either stand together or we will die alone.  What’s happening now in Ferguson goes beyond police brutality. It goes beyond an incompetent prosecutor.  It strikes at the core of an institution that does not put a black life on the same level as a white life.  Therefore I say to you all, we must unite.  Imagine if Darren Wilson had shot your brother or your son.  Would you really say, “Oh, it was justified because my brother/son punched the cop?”  Or would you say, “Why didn’t the cop just retreat and wait for backup? Or why did he have to shoot my brother/son that was already running away?”  That is empathy my friends.

To my fellow white Americans (and mayhaps white Europeans as well):  Do not see the protests that are happening in Ferguson and in the rest of the US right now as an attack on your color or your ethnic ancestry.  No one says you have to feel any guilt.  You did not own slaves.  You did not vote for Jim Crow Laws. And for the majority of you, you did not enact a drug war that predominantly targets the minority population.  The only thing you have to do is be aware, and be empathetic.  Be aware that racism is not dead in the US.  The election of a black president did not end it. In fact, in certain places, it has increased it or at least brought it out to the forefront.  But now that racism is not dressed in long white robe and burning crosses.  No.  That racism now dresses in nicely pressed suits and speaks of voter ID laws and welfare queens and lazy workers.  So be aware that it exists, and when you see it, you have to challenge it.  If you do not challenge it, you are in fact putting a rubber stamp of agreement in it.  So be aware, and most important of all, be empathetic.  In the lottery called life you won the 2nd highest jackpot if you’re a female and the jackpot if you’re a male.  It doesn’t matter if you’re poor or if you’re rich.  So know that your privilege exists, and be empathetic to others who do not have your privileges.  Do not shy from conversations about racism. You do not have say you are sorry, but only that you can see where the point is coming from.

Most important of all, to my fellow minorities and to my fellow whites, do not disparage or misjudge one another on the action of another of the same skin color.  Let our differences unite us.  We might be red, brown, black, yellow, or white.  But we are all Americans.

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