When news of the Atlanta spa shootings first struck, the feeling I was overwhelmed with wasn’t sadness, despair or anger. It was fatigue.
I sat at a loss. It was maddening. I had become desensitized after struggling to process wave after wave of ugly attacks.
I no longer feel, even though eight people were shot dead, six of whom were Asian women. It is a defense mechanism that shields me from getting overwhelmed so often.
It tells me not to care and to accept this as normal: Just another day in America.
But there is a voice deep down that screams, this is not normal. None of this is normal. Feel something.
But I can’t.
Hate crimes against Asians rose by nearly 150% last year, and those in the Asian community know intimately who the number represents.
Since the start of the pandemic, Asians have been harassed, spat on, attacked on the street and, most recently, slaughtered with bullets.
Noel Quintana, 61, slashed across the face in the subway. Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, shoved to the ground and killed after taking a stroll in the neighborhood. Xiao Zhen Xie, 75, severely beaten on the street in broad daylight.
These are only a tiny fraction of the 3,795 hate incidents reported to the forum Stop AAPI Hate. The actual number is certainly larger.
These unprovoked attacks also represent a symbolic assault on the sense of identity Asian people feel. Many of the victims are elderly, a group that is particularly revered and respected in many Asian cultures. In some cities, the community is so alarmed that young activists have formed volunteer groups to help protect elderly Asians doing basic daily activities, like walking down the street for groceries.
What is even more disheartening than the attacks themselves is the broader environment that fosters such assaults.
The model-minority myth takes roots deeply inside the collective psyche of America. We have long been flattened figures: hard-working, meek and happy to keep our mouths shut. We are told to focus on math. We’re told to stay out of “trouble” like civil rights protests.
Our rich culture and heritage are reduced to a caricature. Politically, we are a shadow on the wall. Our pains and sufferings are rarely acknowledged. Our existence is barely visible.
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang said this in 2019 of the reality facing the Asian community: “The dominant political parties do not care about Asian Americans. They do not regard us as a very important constituency at all. They regard us as a low level ATM, where they will show up, take some pictures, get some money, leave and then not have to care about it for quite some time.”
Two years later, the statement still rings true. Nothing has changed.
To those not paying attention, the Atlanta shooting came as a shock. But Asian communities have been crying out for months. We knew it was coming; it was just a matter of time before one of the bigots riding this wave of anti-Asian sentiment picked up a gun.
When I saw people posting about the shooting and the backdrop of racism all over social media, I had a feeling of deja vu from the Instagram “slacktivism” during the Black Lives Matter protests. People jumped on the trend and posted black squares, imagining they were helping and participating in some great national progress.
Real change comes from active political participation and civic engagement. Voting for political candidates that vow to enact hate crime policies is a good place to start.
To those feeling exceedingly fatigued and dehumanized by the avalanche of attacks: I know it’s hard, but don’t hide in a shell of indifference. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Channel the frustration and anger, and let them be the fuel that keeps the fire burning.
What I fear the most is the moment when the trend is over and the news cycle passes. When people stop paying attention and forget about the atrocities, any effort to effect change loses momentum.
When that happens, what serves as a last day for innocent people becomes “just another bad day” for America.