Owning my racial identity took some time. Growing up as a first-generation Chinese American in New Jersey, I was made fun of for being Asian. And when I looked around me, it was non-Asians who represented success and coolness to me, so that’s who I found myself emulating.
I succeeded in realizing aspects of the American dream, but I did so in ways that often downplayed rather than celebrated my heritage—and there’s some shame in admitting that. With time, I’ve reflected and recalibrated. I’ve embraced a stronger appreciation for how my race has shaped me and will continue to.
Now as a married man with two bicultural daughters, I feel a much deeper connection to my Asian roots. The result isn’t merely heightened pride and comfort in who I am. My own self-discovery has changed how I process the world, with a deeper drive to champion what diversity brings to individuals and society.
As if trying to make sense of a global pandemic isn’t enough, we’ve also been thrown heightened dimensions of race, politics and culture to ponder. Though there have been shared moments of hope, this virus has been far from an equalizer. Instead, it has shined the light on a range of systemic inequalities, whether it be the digital divide, the disparity in death rate by race or the reported inequities associated with job flexibility and unemployment claims within the black, Latinx and Asian communities. And with this pandemic coinciding with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I’m particularly incensed by the fear and hatred that has been directed toward my community specifically.
In the past month alone, 1,500 racist incidents against Asian Americans were reported. It doesn’t sit well with me that nearly 20% of those reports came from my Bay Area home, which has often been considered a safe haven for Asians in the U.S. We see it in Google search data, too, with search interest in “attacks on Asians” reaching a dramatic all-time high in March 2020, with the highest relative intensity of searches in New York, California and Texas.
There’s also the more explicit finger-pointing trend, with searches for “China to blame for coronavirus” spiking over 5,000% in the past 90 days in the U.S. And then there’s the ignorance and discrimination posing as humor, like the spike in search interest for “bat fried rice T-shirt.”
On the other side of the numbers are emotional stories of real people—including myself—being called out or confronted for being Asian. But we can’t just turn inward and make it an “us or them” dynamic because diversity is not a zero-sum game. Instead, each of us must take the opportunity to think more broadly about what inclusiveness should look like among all identities and what active role we can play.
We have to do this as marketers, too, because brands (especially big ones) wield tremendous power in how attitudes are formed and ultimately how society evolves. This transcends Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and any specific moment, identity or community. Authentically and consistently championing diversity, equity and inclusion help move diversity from being seen as a moment, like AAPH Month, to a movement.
Here are three facets to consider:
Commit to continual progress
Bias is stubborn and sneaky. It has a way of creeping into our processes and our work if we’re not vigilant in defending against it. To work toward a more equitable world means continually deepening our understanding of privilege and power. In other words, our work is never done here.
Evolving our hiring practices and workplace culture is a good start, but we should also strive to constantly chip away at the systemic inequities that exist in society and thus in our programs, products and campaigns. We’ll know we’re making progress when marketers on our teams are troubled by an Asian or Latina represented in a subservient role, or when we are building accessibility into our products from the start.