Thirty-one years ago, I sat glued to my TV screen in Toronto watching military tanks and guns aim and shoot at college students in Tiananmen Square.
Students peacefully marched through Beijing to Tiananmen Square to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a leader who tried to introduce democratic reform in China. Those scenes of gas, gunfire and people running were branded on my brain.
I was born in Hong Kong and was living in North America thousands of miles away, where I could not imagine a government shooting at its own people. It took 28 years for me to overcome my fear of marching to participate in the 2017 Women’s March. I joined with hundreds of thousands of women in Washington, D.C.
We marched, chanted and sang for women’s rights. It was a beautiful experience of people coming together and dispersing peacefully.
Yet here we are in the United States of America in June 2020, and police are shooting rubber bullets and throwing chemical gas at people peacefully marching in at least 140 cities.
The protesters march to end police brutality against Black lives like George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson and a very long list of other beloved daughters and sons. The marchers deserve protection to march peacefully just like other civilians who march to make America better.
This outbreak of racism has been called a second pandemic, parallel and concurrent with COVID-19. For me, COVID-19 is also linked to racism. As an Asian American, I am fearful of and angry about the anti-Asian discrimination linked to the pandemic that has been unleashed by people who know that language matters and intentionally use it to harm.
As an Asian American I am broken-hearted that one of the officers who was involved in the killing of George Floyd is Asian. Maybe this tragic killing and his complicity will end the concept of a model minority, used by some to divide and feed the concept of a hierarchy of human value.
Every person harbors bias. Every person can learn to become better anti-racists. As a nation we have failed to protect black lives, and it will take all of us, no matter race, ethnicity, faith or gender, to change that reality.
As an Asian American immigrant, I am indebted to the black leaders who led marches and won protections for civil rights that allowed people like me to come to America and enjoy civil rights.
America needs to find its way back to the ideals of the Constitution and lead as a role model for democracy, protecting the rights of everyone, no matter who they are and where they stand.
We need people of conscience to invest in the efforts underway to hold our leaders accountable and policy change to end systemic racism embedded across all facets of life including education, housing, health, food, criminal justice and employment.
Cynthia Yung is president of the Boone Family Foundation and chair of the Orchid Giving Circle.