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Grace Galloway: It was just a bad day?

By Grace Galloway

“He had a bad day”

That is the excuse that Georgia Capt. Jay Baker gave for the massacre of eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent. Forgive me for not understanding. When I have a “bad day,” I curl up on the couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and devour the entire thing. I do not go on a shooting spree.

He had a bad day? Let me be clear. Here is what a “bad day” looks like: it is abject, intractable, sometimes irrational fear. 

It’s fear of walking outside, of being on a bus or any form of public transportation, of going to work. It’s fear of living, fear of breathing, going to sleep afraid, waking up afraid, not being able to eat because the food sticks in your throat, being terrified at a traffic stop even if you did nothing wrong, losing your bladder because a crossing guard stopped you. Fear. 

In the past year of COVID-19, hate crimes against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community has increased by over 900%. The victims targeted are generally the most vulnerable – the elderly, women and children. 

A box cutter was used to slash the face of a Thai man. A Vietnamese woman was assaulted and robbed of $1,000. A 91-year-old man was pushed to the ground. An 84-year-old Thai man was assaulted and killed. Asian children have been called names and even spat upon. A 16-year-old Asian student was beaten so badly he was taken to the emergency room. Asians have literally been sprayed with bleach and screamed at with racist slurs. One white woman wearing a Trump T-shirt shouted out, “Go home. We don’t want you here.  Don’t bring your infection here” to an Asian woman who was born here and knows no other home than America. All of this is not new. Racism against Asians has been around for hundreds of years.

Not to call this a hate crime is disingenuous at best. What do you call it when six people of the same race and color are killed? A bad day? What do you call it when African-Americans are lynched and strange fruit hang from trees? A bad day? What do you call it when Hispanics are massacred in El Paso because the perpetrator wanted to start a race war? A bad day?

Words matter. Words spoken by those in power matter even more.Capt.  Jay Baker’s words were cringeworthy at best. At worst, it showed a complete lack of comprehension of the type of fear that has permeated the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community because of race-baiting that was fostered and carried to the ultimate fruition that we knew but hoped would not happen.

More than 20,000 Asians risked their lives to blast dynamite and dig through the Sierrra Nevada by hand, yet have never been given the recognition. And when the powers that be sought to solidify their own power, they stoked the “they have come to steal our jobs” rhetoric that has persisted to vilify any group of immigrants that have graced our shores. 

The “forever foreigner” idea suggests that Asians in America simply cannot be fully American, giving rise to the most egregious of laws that resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the Japanese Internment during WWII and, more recently, the heinous Muslim ban put into place by the Trump administration. This “forever foreigner” idea also applied to the very slaves that worked the plantations to enrich white masters.

Asians were not considered citizens even after two or three generations. It was not until 1943 that Chinese were allowed to become “naturalized” citizens. Imagine that. For white people who were born in America, there was no need to be “naturalized.” They were just considered citizens. The same is true of the African-American slave who made this country rich and great. They were also not considered to be citizens by virtue of the color of their skin. Even after obtaining citizenship, the right to vote eluded people of color for generations.

This racism and discrimination comes on top of the devastation that the pandemic has had on the AAPI community, including business closures. While Filipino nurses make up only 4% of registered nurses in America, 67 of them have died from the pandemic — a mind-numbing 31% of all nursing deaths. 

Asians have contributed to society, not detracted. Dr. David Ho, a scientist, was the person who discovered the revolutionary way of treating HIV and AIDS and forever changed the mindset of pharmaceutics. AAPIs make up many of your doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, engineers, lawyers, professors, small business owners, IT specialists and scientists. Yet, despite the contributions of Asians to society writ large, we are today living in fear that only another person of color can understand. 

It is part of slavery. It is part of “keeping them down.” It is a concept so far away from what God made us to be that it must be evil itself. We cannot afford to be silent. It is this silence that has laid bare the racism and hate that is now Atlanta.

We must call this racism out for what it is — it is domestic terrorism laid bare by white supremacist thought and actions. We call on Capt. Jay Baker to explain his actions and urge Mayor Lance-Bottoms to call it out for what it is. It is not just a “poor choice of words.” It is racism. Staying silent or worse making excuses for such rhetoric makes you an accomplice to the crime.

Gracie Galloway is chair of the Asian-American Pacific Islanders of N.C.

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