Standing outside one of my restaurants in Coral Gables on a sunny afternoon, I never expected it to happen: an angry man yelling racist, anti-Asian slurs at me, blaming me and my “people” for the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a longtime business owner, I have a thick skin. But in that moment, the glaring reminder of the deep-seated, pervasive nature of racism shocked and saddened me. Indeed, racism affects us all, and when you’re alone on the street, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what you have.
A new Pew Research Center study shows one-third of Asian Americans live in fear of threats or physical attacks. And there’s no question the hatred and violence increased in the pandemic. The latest headlines included news of an Asian man attacked in broad daylight while walking his 1-year-old son in a stroller and two elderly Asian women stabbed on a public bus. A staggering 81 percent of the 352 Asian adults surveyed believe violence against Asians is on the rise in the United States. March’s shooting in Atlanta is further evidence of this sad reality.
At first, I didn’t tell my parents or most of my friends about the incident, mostly because I didn’t want them to worry. But I realized that if I was going to engage meaningfully in the dialogue, I must discuss everything, without holding back.
So far, the response to my story has been consistent: empathy and outrage. Notably, I’ve also heard this comment: “I wish there were something we could do to end this.” My response: There is plenty we can do:
▪ Talk about it — meaningfully, fearlessly. Own it. Call out the monster — “racism” — by name when we see it.
▪ Educate ourselves and our children. Stay abreast of the issues — not only affecting Asian Americans, but affecting people of all colors and backgrounds. Engage our kids in meaningful conversations and encourage them to share their feelings. Help them understand not only that it’s happening but also why it’s happening, and identify ways to address it.
▪ Build a network. Cultivate relationships with people with whom you have a “safe space” to discuss the issues. We need to vent and have a secure sounding board.
▪ Build bridges. All of us can, in our own way, bring people of diverse backgrounds together in ways that create mutual understanding and acceptance. Whether you’re a CEO or a stay-at-home parent, there’s a lot you can do. A great way is through one of the myriad of community organizations. My company has been involved for years with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami and the National Christian Foundation, community-focused organizations that bring together people of all backgrounds. Find an organization that speaks to you, whose mission you believe in and get involved in a way that’s meaningful to you.
Considering everything happening in our world, it can be easy to become jaded and hyper-sensitive, to adopt negative narratives that limit our potential and project our fears onto situations. All of this can be counter-productive and prevent us from achieving our goals of an inclusive society. No matter how tough it gets, let’s come from a place of love and do our part to work together, to be the bigger person, to stand up for what we believe and to continue to reach out with an open heart.
Against all odds, let’s stay positive and have faith. We can — and will — do this.
Abe Ng is CEO of Sushi Maki.