Editor’s note: Brian Lin taught at Chester High School from 2014-2016.
Scrolling through my Facebook, the last time I posted something that wasn’t about games or model kits was March 22nd, when I shared a video about developing a coronavirus vaccine. Before that was back in December when I posted about anime.
Needless to say, I hardly ever talk about my personal thoughts and opinions on social media. But the past few months, and especially this past week, have been incredibly numbing, both emotionally and mentally.
If there’s anything that coronavirus has taught me, it’s that there’s a rigid, harsh difference between the haves and the have nots. I recognize that I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at today, but that was only made possible by how fortunate and privileged I was to have been raised by a loving family with the financial means to support my education and goals – I’m one of the lucky ones who are able to work from home and have been, at worst, inconvenienced by the virus, but there are millions who are struggling either because they’ve been put out of work, have had to gamble their lives in order to work, or have lost loved ones to COVID.
And yet, although I’ve always been cognizant of my socioeconomic privilege, it’s been hard for me to **truly** empathize with (i.e. **understand the experiences of**) other people of color or LGBTQ who lack the same privilege that I, as a cis Asian male, enjoy. As a member of the “model minority”, the most racist experience I’ve ever had was when I was teaching in southern IL and heard a student whisper, “Mr. Rin… Mr. Rin…”, based on the stereotype that Asians can’t pronounce “L”. I’ve gotten my fair share of “Where are you from?” from people who are curious about my ethnicity, but I’ve always written it off as people simply not realizing that it perpetuates the stereotype that because I look different (i.e. not white), I don’t belong here. I’ve never felt afraid of being openly, systematically discriminated against by an entire system, and I’ve never felt racial unease towards law enforcement.
But with the origins of coronavirus irrefutably stemming from Wuhan in China, there has been a sad and unsettling increase in anti-Asian sentiment. As early as March, and maybe even February, I’ve seen numerous headlines depicting violence and harassment towards Asians (not just towards Chinese), Facebook posts from friends describing racist encounters (including one of my friend who was in the air force), and even seemingly harmless but racist and violent memes (like “There’s more than one way to get an Asian to eat a bat”). Before coronavirus, I would make my way to and from Union station almost completely absorbed in Pokemon Go with minimal care for my surroundings outside of traffic – now, it’s honestly a little unnerving to go outdoors alone and I constantly check my surroundings.
So as someone who’s only recently felt physically uneasy due to racism, I cannot even begin to fathom how frustrating and mind-numbing it must be to live in a society that systematically doles out injustice after injustice based on the color of your skin, to have to be on constant alert for your own safety. I’ve never felt worried that I’d be shot while taking a jog, or that I’d be accused of possessing drugs and have authorities raid my home at night, or be wrongly accused of threatening someone while at a park, or that I’d be choked to death while being detained – but that’s what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd. And that’s only since **February**.
Even so, these aren’t recent developments. Back in 2014, Tamir Rice was shot for playing with a toy gun – because **that’s what 12-year-olds do**. #BlackLivesMatter was trending **6 years ago**, and people responded with “all lives matter” (not using the hashtag and giving it exposure – yes, they do matter, but that detracts from the point). Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem **4 years ago**, and people said it was disrespectful of our country. I’m saddened and disturbed by the riots and looting this past week, and I’m not necessarily justifying the destruction of property (especially when there are some groups who are doing it not to protest), but how is this **not** the expected outcome when peaceful protest has been going on for **years** and both systemic racism and lack of police liability remained unchanged?
I’m not going to pretend that I have any answers for how to address these issues – I haven’t done nearly enough research to propose anything. But when I hear a Black coworker tearfully recount her experience this weekend and how a Chicago police officer shouted at her, “#### George Floyd”, something *must* be done. And there cannot be any discourse if people remain silent.