Last summer, I signed up to receive a daily prayer for anti-racism in my email. It comes in around noon each day, and forces me to stop working for a few minutes and ponder where God is in the work of anti-racism.
This spiritual discipline has been good for me. Without a daily prayer for anti-racism, I would spend most days not thinking at all about race or racism. That's my white privilege: I can choose whether or not to engage with racism and anti-racism, because it doesn't affect me personally. Every time my email inbox asks me to open the message instead of deleting it and going about my day, it's privilege that allows me to choose whether or not to devote time or energy to the subject.
Too often, we who are white and privileged hit the delete button on anti-racism. We never open the message. We don't do the work. We fail to listen to stories, perspectives, and prayers of persons of color. Even with my current spiritual practice of receiving these emails, most days I think about racism and anti-racism for a maximum of 5 minutes. Meanwhile, tens of millions of people in this country not only think about racism, but live it. Every day.
Why am I sharing this now? Because many Americans of Asian descent have been telling us for months that anti-Asian rhetoric about COVID has led to an increase in harassment, abuse, and violence against them and their communities. And many of us, myself included, never opened the message. We chose not to hear the cry of our neighbors. We pretended it wasn't an issue. And now, as eight people lay dead in Georgia, 6 of whom are of Asian descent, we must reckon with our silence and inaction.
It's still unclear if Tuesday's fatal shootings were racially motivated, and a motive has yet to be determined. It's possible that this was not a hate crime, and I will not presume one way or another until more information comes out.
What is clear is that #stopAsianhate didn't start trending until today. I have seen occasional statements by Asian-American celebrities and vague media reports about an increase in anti-Asian racism in the past year. But until this traumatic act of violence pushed it into mainstream consciousness, those messages were treated by most with the same urgency as junk mail.
I'm writing this on St. Patrick's Day, a holiday that was initially celebrated in the United States to promote civic pride among Irish immigrants who faced prejudice of their own in the late 19th Century. It has now become one of several U.S. holidays celebrated merely with cultural appropriation and binge drinking. Sometimes I wonder if we celebrate in unhealthy and offensive ways in an effort to forget our past racist sins.
Maybe if we acknowledged those sins more often, we would learn from them. America has a long history of discrimination against anyone who doesn't fit the definition of normative white culture, whether they come from the wrong place in Europe, the wrong continent, or - in the case of Native Americans - have been on this continent longer than anyone else.
It doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to wait for horrific acts to wake up our consciousness to racism in America. We could have the conversation first, and proactively stop hate speech in its tracks, thus reducing violent, racially motivated acts if not avoiding them entirely.
Anti-racist systems and attitudes have been in existence for the duration of our nation's history, usually so ingrained that it's seldom noticed. But every few decades, the conversation rises to the surface, and we are in such a moment now. Every day, I see more and more white people stepping out of their privilege to begin asking questions, listening, and learning how to be better allies. The emails I receive daily push me out of my privileged bubble, if only long enough to remember that the bubble is there. It's a start, but it will take much more than emails and conversations to finish the work of eliminating the racism of today, and every day.