Editor’s note: This week we are sharing Samantha Wu’s thoughtful post on her personal response to the Atlanta massacre. This is Part 2 of our reflection on anti-Asian bias.
To be honest, should last week’s murders in Atlanta that left six Asians dead surprise us? With no exaggeration – there is a 1900% increase in racially-motivated hate crimes against Asians and Pacific Islanders (APIs) since COVID-19 started, perpetuated by the ‘Kung Flu’, which is apparently OK to say in America. If people shamed me, and Asians at-large, for its inception and deadly spread, that was only surpassed by our deep confusion, exhaustion, and sadness at feeling – once again – stereotyped, voiceless, and invisible. APIs often are not even considered people of color.
I am an Asian woman, and the intersectionality packed into those words have more meaning, and emotion than I could possibly share in these few lines. Still, I find myself sharing – because in addition to leaving me grieving and afraid, last week also served as a reckoning: I am not invisible; use my voice. Be the person I am, not the person others pigeonhole me to be (the one that gets asked where I’m “REALLY” from.)
I grew up in Sydney, Australia, at a time before the 1990’s wave of mass Asian emigration. I was one of two Asian kids in my elementary school, where I was taunted regularly by the phrase, “CHING CHONG” and by peers pulling their eyes in a slanted fashion. I remember feeling ashamed that my mom didn’t speak fluent English and fervently wishing for blonde hair and fair skin. I was in my world but not of it – an “other” that was both highly noticeable and at the same time invisible. It’s a feeling that’s stuck with me my entire life, regardless of where I’ve lived. I’ve been told to “go back to where I came from” wherever I went, without exception. Where do I come from, then?
There have been times where I felt similarly displaced in my professional life. When I was new to the workforce, I observed that being a top performer was not always paired with promotion. Top marks came when I did what was expected of me and focused on harmony over “disruption.” I was also told I needed to be more “assertive” and “get more points on the board” to achieve that promotion. As my scope and responsibility increased, I was getting lapped by white male peers. Incidentally, this mirrors what happens to Asians and women in the U.S. today. White men are 222% more likely to be an executive than Asian men, and white women are 164% more likely to be an executive than Asian women. In Silicon Valley, Asian-Americans are the largest cohort (47%) of entry-level professionals, but they’re only half as likely as white men and white women to hold positions within two reporting levels of the CEO.
In describing my personal story, the horror of six people dead in Atlanta is not lost on me. I am lucky, alive, employed, and privileged in many ways. But if Atlanta was the deluge that finally garnered the attention of the media about racism against Asians and Pacific Islanders (API), the daily, constant, water drip of micro-aggressions is what I feel in my body as I write this. It’s exhausting to feel both invisible and like a “model minority” all the time. It’s exhausting to be defined by others without question. At many companies, APIs are not even considered people of color. They are both “other” and “typical” in a way that their white peers aren’t.
Perhaps after Atlanta the question that keeps rattling around my head is: do we even matter?
The simple act of writing this makes me uncomfortable, and yet as a leader in Silicon Valley and as an Asian woman, I know this discomfort is both part of my story and the sound of my voice. I am committed to using it more, better, bolder, and for others.
Here are some things that I want (yes, it’s OK to want things):
- Let’s acknowledge, in this country, we need to stop stereotyping Asians in media and culture in predictable constant ways
- In the workplace, APIs should be included as part of a diverse hiring slate. We also need to acknowledge specific stereotypes and unique challenges that Asian women face that hit at the intersectionality of race and gender
- I want leaders to actively mine the potential on their teams, not simply value the loudest voice
- I want sponsorship to be more than a networking game; I want to drive deliberate action to build a pipeline of Asian American women talent that lifts all careers.
And of course, as soon as I commit to using my voice the questions and fear creep in (yes, I’m human):
- Is my point of view strong enough? What have I missed?
- Am I being confrontational? Do I look defensive?
- Should I put the needs of others above my own?
- Shouldn’t I be more passive, and just do things the way they tell me to?
- If I work harder, won’t I then be seen and valued?
- Is my voice going to anger or annoy anyone?
And the largest one: why is it that if I am outspoken, I am too aggressive, but if I don’t speak up, then I am not assertive enough?
At work, where I mentor women as much as I can, the most common question I hear from API females is that they don’t have a visual for senior leadership. They see others in the C-suite, but can’t see the path that might lead them there themselves.
I have few answers, but I know I’m on this journey. I’m called to action, and grateful for the support of so many around me who have expressed their solidarity, support, or sympathy.