My Personal Plea for Empathy

Racism is wrong no matter who it targets


Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 4 min read

In late March, my dad sent me a text urging me to be careful when I leave my apartment. Attached was a link to an article about a young woman who was yelled at and spit on in San Francisco. What did she do to deserve that? She is Chinese.

As a kid, I remember the booming voice of my Italian grandfather telling me San Francisco was an amazing city. He was right. I’ve lived in San Francisco for 8 years after moving from my job at ESPN in Connecticut for the launch of the Pac-12 Network in 2012. I was born in the Bronx, grew up in blue collar New Jersey suburbs, attended Fordham University and worked in midtown Manhattan at SiriusXM radio after graduation. I’ve always been comfortable in urban environments and the diversity of San Francisco was appealing.

I’m not sure if I’m more aware of social issues now that I’m getting older or if the cathartic act of self reflection in the wake of senseless violence has given me new perspective; but I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about conversations I’ve had with friends over the years.

I can still hear the disappointment in the voice of a Jewish friend when speaking about antisemitic acts. I remember the confusion and shock as to why two of my black friends in college had guns drawn on them and were questioned by police as they walked home.

I’ll never forget when a Muslim friend told me he couldn’t move to a particular town because he heard his boys might have a tough time being welcomed at school. My heart broke for a friend who told me she was shunned by friends and teammates when she came out as gay.

When I wrote “How an Undocumented Immigrant Made Me the Luckiest Sportscaster in the World,” I came to realize how fortunate I am because of the sacrifices my family has made. I also realized how blessed I am for never having to endure obvious hardship that comes from looking a certain way or for my religious beliefs. I know racism exists.

I’m not saying I haven’t been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments or negatively stereotyped, but I don’t think I ever feared for my safety because I’m Asian.

COVID-19 changed things for the Asian American community.

I can feel people looking at me. It’s not the “you’re from the Pac-12 Network” type of vibe. I shake it off telling myself it’s in my head, but I know it’s a new, strange reality.

I haven’t been physically attacked. No one has spit on me. A few dudes had social media muscles and tweeted some ridiculous things at me when I called for people to stop using “Chinese Virus” when referring to COVID-19.

I was shooed away by a woman on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, but she didn’t yell “chink” as I walked by shaking my head wearing my mask. Why was’t she wearing one? I don’t have coronavirus because I have straight black hair.

The “model minority” doesn’t get stereotyped as a terrorist or drug dealer ready to commit a crime. Nope, we’re good at math, become doctors, own dry cleaners or take out restaurants, but we aren’t dangerous. Until now. There are Asian Americans all over the country unjustly getting blamed for the pandemic.

I don’t want to make this just about discrimination against Asian Americans. I can’t after seeing the horror of George Floyd being murdered. I truly can’t understand that senseless and heinous act, but I certainly know evil when I see it. Every person deserves to be loved and feel safe. The isolation society imposes on some for being born a certain race or sex isn’t as blatant as a murder caught on video, but both are threads in the same egregious tapestry.

But something stood out to me with those tasteless tweets I received: racism is the minority. The supportive responses from strangers were the majority.

I believe most people are, deep down, good and accepting of others. Unfortunately, we give outnumbered bigots a megaphone by not collectively responding to their horrific acts. When an African American is murdered or wrongfully imprisoned it shouldn’t just be outraged members of the black community beating the drum seeking justice. We should all respond to victims as if he or she were our friend.

When there’s an attack on a mosque or a synagogue, everyone who goes to a church should be heartbroken, as if they weren’t able to pray comfortably in their building.

Bigotry is wrong no matter who it targets.

It’s going to be a long journey for society, but the first step is sustained empathy. Whenever we witness hatred and violence, we all have a human duty to imagine ourselves and our own in the place of the victims. If this simple act were to become habitual, a loving and supportive community would rise to become the majority I know we really are.

This article was originally published by Michael Yam on medium.


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