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What happened in Atlanta shook me to my core, as my own American experience is deeply rooted in growing up Asian in Arkansas. During a time when identity was literally labeled as Black or white and where my family had to live in the "in-between." We confused the hell out of everyone. And when people feel confused, sometimes they lash out.
Like the relentless slanted-eye jokes and being karate chopped by kids at school because they assume you're related to Bruce Lee. Or the time a brick was thrown into our bedroom window, followed by a "get out of here you chinks." Or when my father ran the only Chinese restaurant in Conway, Arkansas and a pickup truck ran full speed into it.
Just for being Asian in Arkansas.The fear was always that the violence would escalate to something fatal. Now, we all share that experience with the shootings in Atlanta.
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Stay silent.. Just blend in. When combined with the immigrant mentality to survive at all costs, these are the grave cultural norms that reinforce our silence.
According to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, "We must invest in long-term solutions that address the root causes of violence and hate in our communities." One way to do that is to be silent no more. Tell the stories that need to be told. We are MORE than just Bruce Lee. We are NOT a global scapegoat for COVID-19. We need to change the narrative that is leading to Asian hate. Because when left unchanged, it perpetuates the violence we are experiencing today.
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We need to represent Asian Americans in different ways and beyond the model minority myth. I have spent so much of my life as the token minority. So much so, I was cast as the token Asian on The Apprentice. What was reeling about that experience for me was two-fold: i) the power of the media to influence the masses and ii) the way systemic racism is deeply embedded in the most unconscious of places.
I was constantly portrayed to match how I looked and what audiences would accept for an Asian female. This is when I learned about the power of the media. I wanted to deeply understand that which not only took my voice but used it to create a reality for others. And sometimes it unfortunately punctuated it.
Often the only Black male contestant, Kevin Allen, and I would be brought by our white peers into the "final boardroom." As Kevin and I advanced, it was harder to hide who was really doing the work. And yet the unconscious bias to continually target us for the "final boardroom" from our white peers remained. So much that in one episode, our white colleague couldn't even explain it himself. He was so indoctrinated by the bias; it was that pernicious. And Trump was a master at leaning into that which divides us. He learned quickly that it can produce compelling TV and record-breaking ratings. Little did we know back then, what normalizing that behavior would lead to.
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If current events have not proven already, WE CAN NO LONGER STAY SILENT. This is a call to BE INVISIBLE NO MORE. It is not ok and we need to break out of these cultural norms that bind us. Because it is coming at the cost of OUR VOICES, OUR PEOPLE, OUR LIVES.
- WE have an opportunity in this moment to change the narrative.
- YOU can be the driving force to bring to bear these diverse perspectives and stories about the AAPI experience.
- TOGETHER we can lift up Asian voices that break the mold and the bamboo ceiling.
If you identify as AAPI, it's your time to RAISE YOUR VOICE. We need to hear from you. We need to represent the Asian American experience beyond the tropes and stereotypes portrayed for us. People need to know the rich and diverse ways in which we live, love, and are human.
And if you are an AAPI ally, we need you now more than ever. We cannot leave these harmful acts left unchecked. Not just for all under represented groups and people of color, but for HUMANITY.
United together, let's raise our voices in this moment into a movement to #StopAsianHate and end racism for everyone.
Ivana Kirkbride is the Global Director of Content Strategy and Programming for Facebook and its family of apps including Facebook Watch, Instagram Video and Messenger Watch Together.
A version of this article first appeared on Medium, March 18, 2021
The statements and viewpoints expressed in the article above are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions or viewpoints of the Television Academy, the Television Academy Foundation, or their members, officers, directors, employees, or sponsors.