When I watched the video of Dr. David Dao protesting being bumped from his United Airlines flight, I wondered what my mother would say if I did the same thing.
After the initial shock of seeing me knocked unconscious and dragged off the plane had passed, my mother, a Korean born in 1946, would say, “If you kick the stone, you hurt your foot.”
In other words, fussing only hurts yourself.
My parents would not want me to refuse as Dao had. They would worry about my job, reputation and physical safety. They would even worry about things that those raised in the U.S. may not consider: disrupting social order and showing disrespect for authority.
But at the risk of further upsetting them, I publicly disagree. Asians are being called out, and we need to answer.
Governmental officials are exploiting personal safety fears to feed racism by proposing walls and travel bans against immigrants and declaring a military operation to find and deport undocumented immigrants. Their incendiary language turns economic anxiety into racism by directly accusing Asian competitors of stealing American jobs.
Our resistance will likely surprise many people, because we have not historically been agitators in the United States (with some notable exceptions detailed at the University of Washington and the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles).
My parents and many other Asians came here 50 years ago with their Confucian values, at a time when immigration restrictions were eased to fill the shortage of doctors and engineers.
Confucianism, also prevalent in Japan and China, teaches harmony, order, self-improvement and respect. Using these values, Asian immigrants in the 1960s quietly forged lives of economic stability. While the civil rights movement boiled over, most Asians were both absent from the movement and protected from it because public protest was not part of their culture.
The next generation of Asians, born in the late sixties and seventies, continued the “model minority” stereotype.
At holiday dinners with relatives, my parents can look around the room and see four doctors, one lawyer, a medical writer, a global market manager, a college professor, and grandchildren who are college-bound, play piano, and are captains of their sports teams. My parents’ fellow immigrant friends have produced similar families.
In many ways, the evidence for persistent Confusion values is the lack of evidence. Incidents of Asian resistance are rarely in the news. Most Asian-Americans avoid direct conflict and public escalation of emotions so no story is generated.
But a lack of public protest does not mean we are not the targets of abuse and insult. The incident with David Dao reminds us that Asian-Americans are subject to the same mistreatment as anyone else.
I have pointed out some of this mistreatment, including bigoted comments toward me and other non-white doctors. My mother has suggested that I would not need to bring attention to myself if I moved to a larger city with more diversity. She assumed that people would be more tolerant.
But racial hatred also exists in diverse metropolises. An unarmed black therapist was shot by police while caring for his autistic client in Miami last summer. In Kansas City, a white man told two Indian men to “get out of my country” and shot them, killing one. In Charleston, South Carolina, a white supremacist walked into a church and killed nine black parishioners. Jewish Community Centers across the country have received bomb threats.
No location, no matter how diverse, is immune to violent racism, bigotry and bias.
To combat racism, Asian-Americans must shed some of our Confucian ideals. Our elders used silence to succeed. However, the cost of silence now is higher than keeping the peace. We must stand against and rectify social and political injustices that not only discriminate against Asian-Americans, but all Americans.
Even though our elders will worry, we must take action now so the next generation does not have to. We should kick the stones so our children’s feet don’t hurt.