5 Things You Can Do To Support Your Asian American Friends & Neighbors

by Nikkya Hargrove
manusapon kasosod/Getty

When people get hurt, and we witness this in some capacity, we want to help, don’t we? Shouldn’t we?

This summer, we watched the killing of George Floyd (though I have yet to sit and watch it; reading about it is enough). In the past year, we’ve heard of instance after instance of an unarmed black man or woman being killed by law enforcement, so much so that we’ve just expected to turn on the news and it becomes a common story.

Over the last year, we’ve also witnessed an increase in violent attacks on Asian Americans, ranging from the slashing of a man’s face on the New York City subway, to a group of boys attacking an Asian man in the laundromat, to the murder of six Asian Americans in Georgia two weeks ago. As a society, we know we must do better — at least, I hope we know that we must do better to show others compassion, love, and honor by showing up for them in their time of need.

So what are some things we can do to support our Asian friends and neighbors?

Educate Yourself About Asian History And Culture

First, we’ve passed the point of just casually reading up on Asian culture to help us be better people. Sure, that can help, but it will only get us so far. We must take responsibility and thoroughly educate ourselves about what it means to be Asian, and what the historical mistreatment of Asian folks has looked like. We must remember that Asia is a continent of many different countries, with people who are not all alike. The continent and people of Asia aren’t a monolith: they are comprised of many different cultures and languages. Do the work and learn about this.

Learn To Pronounce Asian Names

Be mindful and sensitive about Asian names and how they are pronounced. For example, in college I had a friend and roommate who was of Chinese descent. We all called her Winnie, because that is what she told us her name was. But, in time, we would find out that her given name was totally different from what we’d been calling her for a year. She thought her Chinese name would be too challenging for us Americans to pronounce. But it’s on all of us to make it possible for Asian Americans to share their real names if they choose to do so, and for us to learn how to properly pronounce them.

My wife, who is South Asian and from Sri Lanka, has a name that is very different from Chinese names, Vietnamese names, or Indian names. Again, Asia is a diverse continent that is home to many different cultures.

Listen To The Stories Of Your Asian Friends & Neighbors

We know that we all came to call ourselves Americans in many different ways. My own ancestors were forced onto boats, and brought to America to work. Others, like my wife’s family, fled civil wars in their native countries for a safer place to call home. We all have stories, and some of those have pain attached to them, while others have joy.

Diversity educator and Chinese American, Sharon Ng, shared some of her thoughts about these issues with Scary Mommy. “Please listen to our stories of pain AND showcase our stories of joy and excellence,” she said. “Please make an effort to understand the difference between the diaspora: Koreans, Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asians — Thai, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam… East Asians — Nepal, India, Sri Lankan, and Pakistani — our lived experiences are very different.”

Reflect On What It Means To Be An Ally

Ng goes on to say, “Reflect on the term ally.” Being someone who walks in solidarity with another is much more than simply a topical statement or attempt at an experience. It is an opportunity to be the change we often aspire to, but never quite get there–or at least we are forced backward with every act of violence committed against groups.

Ng also adds, “We need resources. Safety for me looks like making sure that we provide a protective network for our elders, making sure that there are community resources if there are attacks, and making sure that there is a response group that helps to provide the resources that they need.”

Push For Change

If we can learn anything from the momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s that the work never ends, even if the beatings or killings have paused. We must keep going, keep helping, keep pushing for change, whether that’s policy work, diversity and inclusion work, speaking up for a neighbor or frequenting business owned by people of color. Whatever the “it” is for you, do it. Being an ally isn’t just about saying you are one, or showing up in a text message.

Like the work that needed to be done to fully grasp the plight of the African American man or woman’s experience of living in America, we must do the same for Asian Americans. They are different people, from different countries, and millions of them are Americans.

We must also ask ourselves, and truly do some soul searching to answer this question: What makes you American, and not the person who you work with? Or the person who takes care of your kids? Regardless of the color of their skin or their ethnicity, their Americanness is no less (or more) than yours.

In the end, it isn’t enough to say that you are American because you were born here. You must honor what it means to be an American. That comes with a whole lotta requirements, but the first, if not the most important, is to treat others the way you would want to be treated.