At the start of April, I read an article from Andrew Yang about coronavirus and discrimination. In his op-ed on the Washington Post, “We Asian Americans are not the virus, but we can be part of the cure”, he writes that “For the first time in years, I felt it. I felt self-conscious – even a bit ashamed – of being Asian,”, and that Asian Americans “need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need”. Basically, it puts the onus on Asian-Americans to take action and, to a certain extent, removes the blame on racists.
Immediately, there was backlash. He got attacked by Asian Americans for not understanding what it’s like to be Asian American and how he doesn’t understand racism and the like.
But I agree with him.
I agree with him because I am living in reality. To get someone to change their mind, you don’t do it by defending your point of view, but by understanding their point of view and working from there. There is no logical way to argue about racism. You can only do it through empathy, and it’s not through your empathy. It’s through their empathy. That means it is not you that needs to empathize with the racists. It is getting the racists to empathize with you.
And don’t expect to be successful. The further reality is that changing someone’s mind is extremely hard, especially someone who doesn’t want to be changed. The best time to build empathy is during times of their crisis. Help them when they are at their lowest. That is when they will feel the most empathy.
Andrew Yang’s proposal to show that we are also Americans is doing exactly that. We are in a crisis. So find ways to help racists empathize. Strike at them on what they care about, being American. Help them connect.
Yes, blaming others and pointing fingers is cathartic. It also doesn’t change anything. It’s the equivalent of praying for gun violence to stop. It is idealistic and ineffective. Very few people change their mind when they are attacked on their ideology or their truth.
And this is true for all -isms. Sexism, racism, and all other prejudices are the status quo. To change the status quo, we need to be better than them. We need to be the ones to make the effort, because there is no way that they will voluntarily make the effort for you. If you have grievances, take action. Make the change happen. Fight. Endure. Connect. And start the movement. But remember, the movement is to allow the other side to empathize with you, not to attack them.
In all land wars, the only way to win is to win the hearts of the conquered. To win hearts, you need them to empathize with you. Fighting against racism is a war.
What do you think?