ColumnistsExecutive Director

From the Executive Director: Lean on Me

By April 3, 2020 April 9th, 2020 No Comments

David Inoue

It is almost inescapable that Asian Americans are being targeted in multiple ways because of misplaced blame for COVID-19. The website Stop AAPI Hate collected 673 reports of anti-Asian discrimination in its first week of operation.

It can be as mild as sideward glances on the street while walking the dog or vicious acts of violence such as the family that was attacked while shopping in Midland, Texas, resulting in a knife wound across the face of a young boy that will leave permanent scars, physically and emotionally.

What we sometimes overlook, because our own community is under such virulent assault, is how other communities are similarly being impacted. In times of distress, the hatred against one group, such as our own, inevitably bleeds into other groups. Those who hold strong hatred in their hearts are usually not exclusive to one group.

White supremacist groups have been revealed to suggest that people infected with COVID-19 should go to visit mosques, synagogues and any other gathering of minority communities to give the disease to targeted populations.

It’s inevitable that someone will, and has, come out with the trope that COVID-19 is God’s punishment to Jews for not following Christ. Any number of things has filled in for COVID-19 in the past, and it will be replaced by something else in the future.

In a twist of irony, anti-immigration advocates are getting their wish in closed borders, but not before many other nations closed their borders to Americans.

It is clear that hate does not discriminate. This is why over 180 Jewish organizations joined together in a letter of support to Asian Americans and other communities being targeted. Numerous other letters have circulated, garnering the support of broad swaths of national and local organizations decrying the vilification of any group due to COVID-19.

What draws many of us together is an understanding of our shared experience of discrimination. We may not all experience it in the same way, but we have developed an understanding of what it means to be cast as the outsider.

It is why when some people might try to cast divisions because one experience was not as bad as another, we recognize that though our experiences are different, they are all valid.

The other day during the president’s daily press conference, I sensed a significant change in his tone. He spoke of a close friend of his who had contracted COVID-19 and was not doing well.

What had changed in this press conference compared to others was that strong feeling of empathy. COVID-19 had become personal to the president, and he now understood at a deep personal level how dangerous this virus is and how it is indiscriminate in who it attacks. He felt the pain many others have been feeling.

Empathy is one way to combat racism and other forms of discrimination that are growing in tandem with the increasing infection rates. It is only through celebrating our common humanity and recognizing that though we all may have different experiences, we are all in pain right now.

We need to be able to tell one another, “Lean on Me.”

David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.